Cohort Coaches – or Coco's for short

a support program for the _Patterns program

My Role

Winter of 2019, my primary role was to define, design, recruit, and lead Cohort Coaches in their inaugural class! I worked to design and develop a recruitment and assessment process, onboarding material, and created team management practices and material.


December 2019 - April 2019

CoCo Responsibilities

Our group of Cohort Coaches, Cocos, taught and supported best practices of working in a high-stress, fast-paced, multi-disciplinary design team. They were able to answer questions about IBM, connect these new designers to subject matter experts, and be a leadership figure in the many instances of disagreements. The cohort coaches made sure to conduct exercises with individuals to help them learn about their strengths and weaknesses (as identified by teammates) and test out managerial tasks like 1:1s, identifying goals, and tracking progress.

Spinning up the CoCo Program

Because this was a new role, I needed to communicate this new opportunity and source candidates ASAP for an approaching start date for the next program. I contacted managers from the business unit who are actively hiring new designers. I needed to inform them about this upcoming opportunity for rising design leads, give them time to absorb the role responsibilities, then ask that they suggest vetted candidates who have mutual expressed interest.

For this first test-run of the CoCo role, the process was a scrappy prototype. Working with design managers, I collected lots of feedback on the process and learned how to evolve the questionnaire to glean more detail.

This application process required the managers and applicants to sit together and discuss how best to fill in a worksheet addressing goals, strengths, and previous evidence of leading a group through a difficult project or phase of project. The hope was to force a career development conversation to happen around this opportunity, so that it is not treated as just an extra-curricular activity.

For the first round of recruitment, we had 10 applicants to fill 5 roles. The next round, had 20 applicants for 8 roles. And the popularity keeps rising.

Leading Leaders

Once we selected our inaugural troop of Cohort Coaches, I had to establish proper onboarding and guiding information to best enable these CoCos.

The onboarding week preceded the arrival of the new hire Patterns attendees. We covered required HR trainings, content on structuring and facilitating critique, education on typical "character tropes" of a team, and co-created team contract and practices.

In addition to forming practices that the "team of CoCos" would follow, I also created, vetted, and tweaked practices we would require patterns attendees to follow. These practices fed feedback loops for the program team to track and iterate upon. The techniques are based on previous user-interviews of graduates of the design program. The unique setting and pacing of the Patterns Incubator Projects make it pertinent to be proactive in organizing, scheduling, and protecting time spent on retrospectives, alignment, and planning.

Cultural Events

The CoCos were meant to lead elements of the program that breed a connected culture. Meaning, each season of Patterns should feel different based on the individuals attending the program, the people in CoCo positions, and other factors of that point in time.

To kick off this dynamic, and teach attendees what their relationships with CoCos should be, the first major touchpoint was running the "Welcome to IBM Scavenger Hunt". This fun activity forced attendees to bond together by working on teams, divide and conquer based on certain strengths or weaknesses, and quickly get up-to-speed on housekeeping type chores. Naturally, attendees hit speed-bumps where they looked to CoCos to provide the answers. This scavenger hunt created a lighthearted scenario for CoCos to deny outright problem solving for attendees, and instead, help point them in the right direction.

This dynamic was important to establish up front, so graduates of patterns are self-sufficient enough to be ready to deploy to their full-time product teams.

Craft Con

Historically, these design programs have an event called CraftCon, which is a conferences style event intended on fueling creativity and building relationships. The conferences welcomes any and all forms of "craft" to be demonstrated, talked about, taught via workshop, or discussed on a panel. The Winter, 2019 CoCos were responsible for planning and executing Craft Con during the program. This was a moment where my role transitioned from leading and guiding the CoCos to facilitating their work planning the event. This allowed for these rising leaders to take on an additional project while also managing and guiding people.

The 2019 CoCos happened to be extremely strong visual designers, and were able to make this very fun branding using some unique design tools in the studio's maker's space.

CoCo Success

After our first season of the Cohort Coach program, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, attributing the attendees favorable experiences to the fact that CoCos were around to offer support, critique, and compassion. Comparing the user's perceived value from Cocos to other support members in the ecosystem made a strong quantitative argument to continue and increase the Cohort Coach support staff.

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