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Coaches On The Couch

Coaches On The Couch

By Rachel Birchmore and Louise Rodgers
Coaches On The Couch is the podcast from the coaches behind Step Up ( the leadership development programme for architects and built environment consultancies. Co-hosts Rachel Birchmore and Louise Rodgers bring their experience and knowledge of the sector and coaching insights to explore the world of work and progressive leadership through conversations with special guests.

Our publication 'Learning from Lockdown' marking 12 months of the podcast is available at

Produced by Aral Sea Sounds
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Alex Ely, Mae Architects “In the early years I was more of a chess master….now I am more like a gardener.”

Coaches On The Couch

David Gabe, Core Five “Growing and leading our team through a period of rapid growth has been far harder than delivering on a technical level.”
Four leaders from four different consultancies - architects Stride Treglown and Fathom, quantity surveyors Core Five, and landscape designers LDA - share their perspectives on leadership. The first of a two-parter on motivation to lead. How can we encourage more people to aspire to leadership roles?
December 2, 2021
Neal Shasore, London School of Architecture “The worst thing one could try to do would be to emulate one’s predecessor, when they are a founder.”
Neal Shasore, head of school and CEO at The London School of Architecture, takes his seat on the virtual couch to chat about his route to leadership, what it’s like taking over from a founder and the lessons he learned from his family role models.
November 18, 2021
Pete Swift, Planit-IE “To achieve continuous improvement it is absolutely vital to hold yourself accountable to the B Corp framework.”
On the first day of COP 26, Rachel and Louise talk to Pete Swift and Naomi Burl, Founding Director and Practice Manager of Planit-IE (Planit Intelligent Environments), landscape designers and architects, about their B Corp journey and how it has shaped not only what their business does, but how it is.
November 4, 2021
Alex Ely, Mae Architects “In the early years I was more of a chess master….now I am more like a gardener.”
Alex Ely, principal of Mae Architects, reflects on 20 years in practice and explains how Mae’s commitment to architecture that contributes to the betterment of society and improves people’s quality of life, helped the practice to navigate public sector procurement methods. Evolution of practice articles from RIBA Journal (by Rachel Birchmore and Emma Keyte referred to in this episode) Emerging Maturing Thinking on next gen Disruption
October 21, 2021
David West, Studio Egret West “Our relationship has matured as we have matured.”
We are joined by architectural story-tellers David West and Christophe Egret of Studio Egret West, to explore their beginnings and how they have navigated their relationship since founding the practice in 2004.
October 7, 2021
Pooja Agrawal, Public Practice “I think it is important to understand and to own your strategy for making change”
Joining us from her charpoi, and kicking off the fourth series of Coaches On The Couch, is Pooja Agrawal CEO of Public Practice and co-founder of spatial equality platform Sound Advice Among other things we discuss the intersection between strategic and provocative disruption and how to approach uncomfortable conversations.
September 23, 2021
“Working virtually has in some ways been a great leveller. That’s one of the positive things to take forward.”
In this final episode of the current series, Louise and Rachel take time out to reflect on the lessons from the guests who have been on their virtual coach since January and what these mean for how we live, work and lead in the new post-pandemic reality. To mark our 12 month anniversary we created our first publication 'Learning from Lockdown'. This includes contributions from all 46 guests from all three seasons of the podcast.  More information and get your copy here
May 18, 2021
Adam Scott, FreeState “There is an opportunity to rethink the office as a kind of perpetual field test.”
Adam Scott of FreeState talks to Louise and Rachel about the need to stop thinking of the workplace as a designed space, and start thinking of it as a curated space if we are to engender that sense of “belonging” that will bring people to the other side of the ‘soft line’ that will exist between home and office, post-Covid.
April 15, 2021
Jacob Willson, Sarah Beth Riley, and Luke Tozer “We like to think we put in a lot of the ground work as designers to help the projects fly.”
What happens when the client is also a designer? Rachel and Louise chat with Jacob Willson and Sarah Beth Riley of BeFirst and Luke Tozer of Pitman Tozer. We also touch on the difficulty of finding time to get “in the flow”, and discuss how learning partnerships may be a way to build strong client/architect relationships in a hybrid world.
April 1, 2021
Angharad Palmer and Bernadette Keane, Landsec “Influence requires a certain level of self-confidence.”
On International Women’s Day, Louise and Rachel chatted with developer Landsec’s Angharad Palmer (design director) and Bernadette Keane (marketing director) about influence, celebrating diversity and the importance of having an overall vision.
March 18, 2021
AJ’s 40 under 40 “I had an ethos I wanted to see through.”
A very full virtual coach as Rachel and Louise are joined by five young, emerging architects representing three practices featured in the AJ’s 40 under 40. We talk about the impetus to go it alone and what’s been important to them over the last year.
March 3, 2021
Paul Monaghan, AHMM “Zeev Aram once told me that he had never seen his own candle diminished by the light of someone else’s. And that stayed with me.”
Rachel and Louise are joined on the virtual couch by Paul Monaghan of AHMM for a rich conversation about the importance of joining, belonging and leaving with grace and generosity, and how his own experiences have shaped his style of leadership.
February 25, 2021
Dan Whittingham “I have certainly felt a weight of responsibility in terms of our people, who are giving the best years of their career to us. We have to make sure those years are well-served.”
Dan Whittingham is MD of the project management company, Opera. He joins Rachel and Louise to explore the differences between leading a project and leading a company, and to discuss how, at Opera, they leverage motivation by being attuned to the needs of the people who work for them.
February 17, 2021
Jo Bacon “We have taken the opportunity to reconsider our workspace and make a bigger commitment to long-term flexibility.”
Louise and Rachel are joined by Jo Bacon, managing partner of Allies and Morrison, who reflects on what the practice achieved during 2020 despite having to clear the 330 desks in their “mothership” London office and looks forward to a future of flexible working.
February 4, 2021
Grimshaw, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Gbolade Design Studio “How can leaders maintain connectivity, presence and visibility in distributed teams”
From our first ‘Made Visible’ event, Louise and Rachel explore, with their panel of speakers from Grimshaw, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Gbolade Design Studio, Hawkins\Brown and Place Careers, the new demands placed on leaders when uncertainty and agile working have been through a step change.
January 28, 2021
Domi Oliver and Alexis Butterfield “How do you retain the culture in a workforce that is more agile? How do you continue to do things that live and breathe the brand?” Domi Oliver, PTE
For this final episode of 2020, Louise and Rachel chat with Domi Oliver and Alexis Butterfield of architects Pollard Thomas Edwards, about how the practice has evolved and grown over five decades and in what ways it has changed forever as a result of this momentous year.
December 17, 2020
Catherine Greig, make:good “It feels incredible to be heard and to be seen. We don’t even have to agree with each other.”
Rachel and Louise get back to the basics of good communication as they are joined on the virtual coach by Charlotte Morphet of Women In Planning and Catherine Greig of make:good, to discuss the role of listening and empathy in design, planning and leadership.
December 10, 2020
Allan Dunsmore, Conisbee “For everything to function you can’t have everyone wanting to be a leader.”
Louise and Rachel talk succession with Allan Dunsmore, a director of award-winning civil and structural engineering design practice Conisbee. Conisbee’s approach ensures that technical and people skills have equal value, and we talk about how important it is to understand people’s individual motivations and play to their strengths.
December 3, 2020
Rachel Birchmore, Coaches On The Couch Co-Host “Leadership comes in many guises from different personality types and from different levels of the organisation.”
Five key leadership myths are busted, as Rachel and Louise take time out and put their feet up on their respective virtual couches to reflect on some common assumptions made about leaders and leadership.
November 26, 2020
Hari Phillips, Bell Phillips “Whether you are two or three you need enough common ground so that you’re pushing in the same direction.”
Hari Phillips, Tim Bell and Melissa Dowling of Bell Phillips Architects join Rachel and Louise on the virtual couch to discuss the Power of Three, and what it’s like to start a practice when you have barely finished your Part 3. They also reflect on what they would do differently if they were doing it all over again.
November 19, 2020
Matt Mason “We have some responsibility to make sure that all of our teams are functioning properly and that the people are well.”
As we head into a new national lockdown, Matt Mason, a partner at real estate company Crosstree, joins Rachel and Louise on the virtual coach to reflect on the peak experience of leading the team on London’s Standard Hotel and talk about how celebrating small wins and finding new ways to create team camaraderie are going to be important this winter.
November 5, 2020
Harbinder Birdi, Hawkins Brown “The apprenticeship route is a way of relieving some of the unnecessary stress that qualifying as an architect entails.”
Louise and Rachel are joined by Upinder Bahra, an architectural assistant Part 1 and level 7 apprentice with Hawkins Brown, and Harbinder Birdi, head of infrastructure and transport sector at the practice. We discuss the apprenticeship approach to training architects, including balancing work, training and time to chill on the couch; and the challenges of remote working when “collectivism” is key to culture.
October 29, 2020
David Ogunmuyiwa, ArchitectureDoingPlace “Reverse mentoring allows you access to a world that you are incapable of experiencing.”
Joining Louise and Rachel on the virtual couch this week are Yemi Aladerun and David Ogunmuyiwa. We chat about what, and who, motivates and inspires them; the importance of reverse mentoring and why architecture remains the least diverse of the “old professions.”
October 22, 2020
Joe Morris, Morris+Company “It is our responsibility as leaders of the practice to liberate people to explore with more abandon different ideas.”
Welcome back to the second series of Coaches On The Coach with Rachel and Louise. In this first episode, they are joined on the virtual couch by Joe Morris of Morris+Company to explore the importance of meaning, purpose, and veganism; and how to create a studio environment where “the best idea wins”.
October 15, 2020
Rachel and Louise discuss the impact of “The ‘disorientating dilemma’ that has broken an inertia around flexible working and is presenting quite a few opportunities.”
In a departure from the usual format, co-hosts Rachel and Louise reflect on the themes that have emerged from their couch conversations with leaders from across the built environment sector during the first series of Coaches On The Couch.
September 23, 2020
Ross Hutchinson, Hutchinson and Partners “We wanted to take control of our own destiny rather than waiting for the politicians to sort out what Brexit looks like.”
How do you open an office in a new city without either a business plan or a clear strategy? Coaches On The Couch goes international, as Louise and Rachel are joined by Hutchinson and Partner’s Ross Hutchinson in London, and Jorn Rabach in Berlin, to chat about curiosity, courage and organisational resilience.
September 9, 2020
Bradley Webster, Baily Garner “What I yearned for was clear, strong, experienced leadership which people may perceive now as being autocratic or dictatorial.”
In this episode, Rachel and Louise explore leadership styles and the importance of flexing between them with Bradley Webster, equity partner of multidisciplinary consultancy Baily Garner. In two interviews, one recorded during lockdown and one just after, the conversation covers this, and also what’s required of leadership now that everyone’s lives are different.
September 2, 2020
Leanne Tritton of ING Media “You’ve got to get back, show yourself and hustle for new work.”
The good, the bad and the bonkers of everyday office life. Leanne Tritton, Managing Director of ING Media, joins Rachel and Louise from her office couch to discuss the challenges of getting her team out of their bedrooms and back into the office, and why it was so important to her (and for them), that she bit that bullet.
July 28, 2020
Nick Searl of Argent “One of the most important characteristics of a good leader is optimism and it’s optimism that leads to inspiration.”
Nick Searl, Joint Managing Partner of Argent, joins Rachel and Louise from the couch in the reception area of the gasholder building in King’s Cross. They discuss how realistic optimism is a key  leadership quality which can gather people around a particular ambition or vision and encourage and inspire them to exceed even their own expectations.
July 22, 2020
Leah Stuart and Andrew Ruck, Civic Engineers “We have to be prepared to decline a commission if it doesn’t fit and if it’s not appropriate, and that takes soul-searching and courage.”
Joining Rachel and Louise for this episode of Coaches On The Couch are Leah Stuart and Andrew Ruck of Civic Engineers. The conversation explores authentic leadership and its importance and impact within an organisation committed to environmentalism and tackling climate change.
July 16, 2020
Kirsten Lees and Katie Atkinson, Grimshaw “We can’t ignore the fact that there has been a massive shift in our expectations of working life.”
Louise and Rachel are joined on their virtual coach by Kirsten Lees and Katie Atkinson of Grimshaw, to discuss soft-skills training, Grimshaw’s approach to diversity and how a practice used to working remotely and across time zones is using its most recent experience to rethink the role of the office.
July 8, 2020
John McRae and Colin McColl, ORMS Architects "An Employee Ownership Trust still needs leadership."
In this third episode of Coaches On The Couch, Rachel and Louise are joined by John McRae and Colin McColl of architectural practice Orms, to discuss the leadership challenges of becoming an EOT and explore how the business of architecture needs to reposition itself to thrive in the 'new normal'.
July 1, 2020
Priya Shah, BAME in Property “We all have unconscious bias, acknowledging it is the first step.”
Welcome to the second episode of the Coaches on the Couch podcast, in which Louise and Rachel explore purpose, personal impact and unconscious bias with their guest Priya Shah, founder of BAME in Property.
June 25, 2020
Martyn Evans, U+I "I can't believe you made me say oatmeal."
Welcome to the first ever Coaches on the Couch podcast, in which Louise Rodgers and Rachel Birchmore talk to Martyn Evans, Creative Director of development and investment company U+I, about the challenges of nurturing company culture and creativity during the time of Covid-19.
June 18, 2020
Welcome to Coaches On The Couch
Coaches On The Couch is the podcast from the coaches behind Step Up ( the leadership development programme for architects and built environment consultancies. Co-hosts Rachel Birchmore and Louise Rodgers bring their experience and knowledge of the sector and coaching insights to explore the world of work and progressive leadership through conversations with special guests.
June 9, 2020