December 07, 2020

Building a culture of coaching: Finding alignment

It’s hard to imagine what 2021 might bring for our work lives. 2020 has been a shocking year, bringing endless challenges and possibilities to our lives, especially regarding the way we work. As we all find our footing with working remotely and maintaining the connections we keep with our colleagues, it will benefit us greatly to find ways to make the greatest impact with the smallest amount of time and energy. Building coaching into the fabric of workplace culture will be an essential component of our strategies to maintain productivity and drive toward our business goals and cultivate connection and psychological safety among our teams in 2021.

Stacey Payne, VP of People at Sweetgreen, offers her wisdom and advice on implementing coaching as a foundational element of successful teams as part of our series on Building A Culture of Coaching. Our goal is to shift from an authoritative, hierarchical structure to collaborative co-creation, from managing to coaching. “You don’t have to be a manager to be a coach. Peer to peer coaching is one of the most important aspects of the success of a business and is an incredibly important skill set that needs to be developed in every organization,” says Stacey. 


This year’s events have placed a spotlight on how organizations live up to the values they espouse and the gaps that often exist between an org’s intentions and the lived, felt impact. Strengthening internal cultural norms through coaching is key to closing those gaps and seeing your peoples’ behaviors more accurately reflect your values. Start by keeping your values top of mind: “At Sweetgreen, we start all of our meetings with a slide of our values and we invite people to share the ways that someone in the group embodies and represents one of our values.” Reflection and storytelling are also critical elements of coaching. 

Keeping values at the forefront of our culture is essential to embodying those intentions in your organization’s everyday actions. One way to do this is by using consistent language that reflects your company values. Stacey shared that at all of the Sweetgreen restaurants, “the people who run the restaurants are called ‘head coaches’ because the language that we use organizationally sets the stage for how our values come alive.Values are the behaviors you want your people to display, and that makes up your culture. Be clear and transparent internally, and they will shine externally. Coaching your people to recognize their spheres of influence and embrace their coaching identity will build your teams’ strength.


Stacey echoes Vanessa Le’s sentiment in our previous post (Building A Culture of Coaching Begins With Assessing Where You Are), saying, “change happens when you take small steps. In making any change start with a team of influential people.” Stacey explains that a germane population to start with is your Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Typically, members of ERGs are especially invested in the organization and the people they seek to serve. ERGs usually have an established cadence of coming together, a topic per meeting, and a shared vision. Rallying these groups around the initiatives you seek to implement, like coaching, can ensure your greater success. “Leverage those groups. They are vital to the cultural health of your organizations.” 

Create opportunities for folks to mentor each other and learn more about each other. Groups work best together when there is clear, flowing communication and feel they’re on a shared journey. One way to encourage this behavior is to introduce a self-assessment like the Disc Assessment. “I’m such a huge fan of the Disc because it gives a robust report of different motivations and communication styles, and also provides insight into your stress responses and natural reactions to conflict.” Self-assessments are often a great way to keep people out of the shame zone and open to connecting with others in a similar space of self-reflection. 

Stacey knows first hand that coaching enhances the culture to be more collaborative and innovative. “In high growth companies, our goal is often to fail fast and make adjustments. The only way to do that is to really understand and trust your teammates. To build that trust, you need tools and instruments to communicate this information well to each other.” The goal is to articulate your strengths and what you bring to the table and create feedback dialogue with honest, transparent communication. 


 “People don’t want to be told what to do. They want to be part of a journey.”

Storytelling is a key component to cultivating a shared journey for your team. People build psychological safety and trust with each other when they share from an authentically vulnerable place. When people-leaders model the behavior they wish to see in their direct reports, they are indirectly storytelling, showcasing the actions that are felt and seen and creating a story about the company and the kinds of people who work there.

Stacey explains that “in every organization, people understand that culture changes when the market changes or when the executive team changes- there’s always an opportunity to teach large, interdependent teams to learn something new. When introducing things like Disc or coaching, start with a small group and get them to storytell. The way we tell stories and experiences allows people to be part of that shared journey.” Think about the ways that your organization spreads information and encourages conversation. Consider monthly town halls or weekly dept meetings to give people an understanding of what’s happening in the org and the opportunity to share their experiences. 


  • Building a culture of coaching can strengthen your team’s resilience and interdependence.
  • By centering your team in your values, keeping them top of mind, and coaching people towards embodying those values, you close the gap between intention and impact. 
  • Rally your most influential people to embrace a culture shift. 
  • Utilize your ERG’s for momentum in culture shifts. 
  • Use storytelling as a means to cultivating connection and cohesion among your team. 
  • Facilitate mentorship opportunities and group connection via self-assessments like the DISC assessment.

More from the blog

  • Culture Transformation

    From Listening to Leading: How Active Listening Shapes Successful Organizations

    Elevating Leadership and Team Dynamics by Listening Like a Coach With all that is expected of leaders, the many responsibilities…

    Read More
  • Culture Transformation

    Mastering Emotional Intelligence: The Keys to Thriving in the Modern Workplace

    Dive into emotional intelligence and explore its profound impact on individual and team performance.

    Read More
  • Culture Transformation

    The COACH Framework: Empowering Managers to Build Success

    To provide managers with a practical and memorable framework for learning how to coach, Bravely has created the COACH framework.

    Read More

Partner with Bravely today

Reach out to schedule a conversation about how Bravely can support your team with individualized support