From making “real-ness” their superpower, to raising up other female colleagues – women are presented with an abundance of tips for becoming successful leaders.
Elizabeth Kavanagh, our People and Change Lead, used lockdown downtime to (virtually) career coach women in the AEC sector. 
Here she tells us about the experience – and why such schemes are so important to creating effective, happy workplaces.
Where did your coaching career begin?

At home. As a big sister to two brothers, I spent my childhood leading and guiding (they might call it something else…).

I have always been interested in listening to people, understanding their challenges and helping them to figure out ways to address them.

The first time I remember this happening was helping my brother to work out what to study by matching his talents to possible careers. His skill at problem solving and fixing engines (including an interest in VW camper van restoration) led him into engineering.

My coaching is a result of this interest combined with my passion for the ‘people’ and cultural aspects of this shift to digital that our sector is undergoing. I look at the ‘people integration’ side of a digital integration approach.

Culture change requires individuals, teams and processes to transform. It starts with individual behaviour and looks at the way we organise ourselves for success – using the High Performing Teams model, for example.

Was there a big demand for these workshops?

Yes – this came out of a call for mentoring and I suggested to the coordinator that a group approach could help our coaches learn from each other.

The workshops are run through Women in BIM (Building Information Modelling) – a non-profit organisation which seeks to build a more diverse industry.

We had interest not just from the UK but globally. Women logged-in from Malaysia and Kenya. They included architects, engineering lecturers and entrepreneurs.

What format did the sessions follow? 

We ran them over two months and used reflection tools and group based coaching conversations. Topics we covered included: Individual strengths and the challenge of making ourselves heard.

We also looked at how to deal with imposter syndrome – the syndrome describing those who are full of doubt about their abilities and don’t experience an internal sense of success –  even when they are highly successful.

The group formed a great rapport. Experience sharing is a critical element of the sessions.

We ended by identifying our support networks and by planning how to move ourselves forwards.

How did you measure the groups’ success?

The feedback we have had is great. One participant told us that the sessions “braced and nurtured all who participated.”

Helping to build resilience and growth in the women we supported during such a challenging time makes me feel proud and confirms to me that this was a totally worthwhile activity.

Was it an enjoyable experience for you? What did you get out of it?

For me, I learned so much from the group as is often the case. It helped me to focus on impostor syndrome and recognise how the lessons we discussed can be useful to me also. I also learnt about internal self-referencing. We plan to hold more sessions over the coming months.

What role do these sort of coaching groups play in helping to create happier, higher-performing teams?

Support for each other is always important. Feeling safe to talk about what is holding us back means we are released to be our best selves and sharing our thoughts and feelings is hugely validating.

The strengths-based nature of the workshops mean that we also covered what others see in us – useful when you are selling yourselves to others.

As a group we recognised our own focus on seeking external approval so we focused on cultivating trust in our own intuition.

Sessions like this can help us to assemble our own support network and develop this into a set of voices cheering us on (like a virtual marathon support crew in our minds) and encouraging us when we doubt ourselves. Because we all need cheerleaders.

The bid to encourage a cultural shift within the built environment sector has been active for many years and marked by key milestones such as the Latham Report –  is that shift finally happening?

Organisations are definitely getting on board and the change made to date is to be very much welcomed. We are at the start of a maturity journey so we see actions such as a behavioural assessment used as the starting point to a relationship. The next stages in developing this capability is to follow this up and consciously develop our relationships.

Building and nurturing the right culture within any organisation is so important – as the saying goes, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. The hard skills of planning and technical skill, need to be partnered with the softer cultural backing and a great chemistry between people and organisations.

Where we see great wins is where the individuals within the team recognise how their strengths can reinforce their colleagues’ strengths, how we can foster and create trust so that we can get things done and resolved swiftly. This relationship currency carries with it a momentum to make great progress.

And where does the promotion of female talent and diversity, more generally, fit within this?

Quite simply, high-performing cultures result from recruiting and retaining the best, most capable people from all backgrounds. To achieve the best outcomes for our clients and the highest-performing infrastructure we need greater thought diversity.  Specifically, to get greater collaboration we know we need diverse teams.

We hear much about ‘psychological safety’ – what is it and what role does it play in effective business?

Essentially, it’s about ensuring every single person in the room feels safe to express their opinion, to speak up, even if that view might not be popular.

As with any industry, within the built environment sector we gain by creating psychologically safe, collaborative environments where people are keen to learn from each other and to draw on individual talents.

Image right: Elizabeth with her two brothers

To learn more about PCSG’s work helping organisations in the built environment to manage and navigate change and build high-performing teams, please contact: