The (Cat) Blob Tree Coaching Exercise
Updated: Oct 12
Rob Bixby CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0 via www.flickr.com/photos/scubabix/16649344425/
What is a blob tree?
The Cat Blob Tree is a prompt for coaching conversations, it's a homage to the Blob Tree by Pip Wilson, it works in exactly the same way, with added cat appeal. If you’re not familiar with blob based coaching conversations, a brief overview follows. An in-depth explanation, and official downloads of blobs are available from its creators.
The Blob Tree, feline or otherwise, encourages thought and insight by presenting the thinker with a picture open to many interpretations and self-discovered meanings. Its abstract nature can make it easier to surface and approach challenging topics. All these factors provide a great way to start a thinking session, sparking thoughts and ideas for further exploration.
For leadership coaching it presents a refreshing change for those used to looking at prescriptive quadrants and carefully curated concentric circles, it doesn’t tell anyone what to think or cajole them into a category. It provides a different perspective and just enough guidance to spark new thoughts and encourage the thinker to explore.
For example, a coaching session might start with a question like “Which blob resonates with you?” The thinker might choose “the one clinging to the tree” and then go on to explain why, perhaps talking about resilience and how they are looking up, keen to go higher. Then the conversation might explore “So what would help you go higher?”, “Where are you heading?” or ask what is being looked at or for, which may lead to conversations about aspirations and how to achieve them.
How to use a Blob Tree
Here’s an overview of how I use the Cat Blob Tree when coaching, for more detail take a look at The Blob Tree site for an in-depth explanation of how to use it with different audiences, many variations, and official blob downloads.
In my opinion, how the exercise is introduced is key to getting the most from it. I view it as four stages, the first three stages create the circumstances for a longer coaching conversation stage. As with any other coaching method it may be useful to run through a number of cycles in order to establish what is useful to think through.
Stage 1. Offer a minimal explanation of the exercise
Introduction of the exercise depends on factors such as rapport, engagement, energy levels, willingness to play. I tend to say very little in order to avoid influencing the conversation. For example:
“I’d like to show you a drawing to start our conversation.”
“So, you mentioned cats…”
“..and now for something completely different”
I’ve heard some coaches introduce with caveats like ‘This is not a test’ and ‘There are no right or wrong answers’. I prefer not to mention this in case it draws the thinker’s attention to those possibilities and stifles or distracts thinking.
Stage 2. Provide ample space to consider the picture
Hand over (or send) the drawing and invite the thinker to take a look, encouraging them to take time and do so at their own pace. Remember thoughts may be occurring which aren’t shared but are valuable to the thinker.
Invite them to personalise the picture, for instance by drawing or colouring if they like.
If they ask permission, mention there are no rules, it’s for them.
Stage 3. Make an inviting first question or offer
The next step is to invite the thinker to share their thoughts, reactions and emotions. This often frames the conversation, suggesting the path thinking will follow. For example a very specific question like “Are you this blob?” is likely to anchor thinking to that particular blob. As usual, the more open the better, whilst being considerate that the thinker may not be familiar with the exercise and what they are being invited to do.
Example Open Questions
What do you notice?
What do you see?
What do you feel?
Example Ajar (Slightly Open) Questions
Are you drawn to any blobs?
Who else is here?
I noticed a smile, what prompted that?
Example Guiding Questions
Are you in the picture?
Where would you like to be?
What does the tree represent to you?
Stage 4. Listen and go with the flow
From here we move towards other coaching techniques and the art of the coach, the degree to which the narrative of blobs, cats and pictures is maintained depends on the situation. What matters here is to follow up responses, including declining the exercise or changing topic, the thoughts arising from this are just as valuable.
The Blob Tree, with or without cats, is a simple and highly insightful tool which, accompanied by an effective coach, helps to start thinking and generate insights. It has a novel, playful aspect which can be particularly useful for challenging topics and sparking insights, leading to personal and professional growth.