Category Archives: SF Articles and Books

‘Solution-Focused’ or ‘solution-focused’… or what?

sfAs part of my work with the HESIAN research hub at the University of Hertfordshire ( I compile a list of recent research into Solution-Focused therapy, theory and practice (link). Part of this involves keeping an eye on what comes up in Google Scholar under the search term ‘solution-focused’.

I’ve been monitoring this quite closely one way and another over the past year or so.  One thing I am seeing more and more is the term ‘solution-focused’ used (with a small s and f) as a general term relating to coaching, social work and other caring practices.   For example, the definition of coaching offered by the Association for Coaching in 2005:

“Coaching is a collaborative, solution focused, result-orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and person growth of the coachee.”

Now, this is not a bad definition of coaching at all.  However, there is no indication (and I think no intention) to point to Solution-Focused work as developed by Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg and many others around BFTC Milwaukee.  To be fair to them, Steve always insisted that his field was called Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT for short), as the ‘Solution-Focused’ was an adjective qualifying the noun ‘brief therapy’. However, as the reach of BFTC’s thinking has extended over the past two decades to include the helping professions, coaching, teaching, managing and so on, it has become more common to refer to such work as Solution Focused coaching or whatever.  I myself can take a share of the blame for this, having co-authored a book entitled The Solutions Focus in an attempt to draw attention to the more general applications of these ideas.

Recent years have also seen editorial style moving away from using Initial Capital Letters in written prose.  The Guardian newspaper’s style guide, a common reference point and a surprisingly fun read, now recommends that terms like prime minister are now rendered in lower case.  This is in part because using too many Initial Capitals is Often the Sign Of A Madman writing in Green Ink.  (The initial capital is supposed to suggest to the reader that some special meaning of the word is in use, but any more than a few of these is a clear sign of someone attempting to redefine the English language. English, by the way, should still be spelled using a capital E.)

Under these circumstances, it would be no surprise if enthusiasts for BFTC-rooted SF work started writing it as solution-focused.  However, this potentially gets confused with the more general solution-focused described above.  Other forms of work such as CBT have an advantage here – even if cognitive behavioural is written in lower case, the term is unlikely to be used in a general sense.

Chris Iveson of BRIEF started a discussion recently about whether people referred to themselves as solution-focused or Solution-Focused.  I was shocked to see some very experienced practitioners from the SF world being reluctant to identify themselves as Solution-Focused, not wishing to tie themselves to any particular approach.  Presumably, they so much wish to help their clients that they are prepared to do anything to achieve that.

I find it quite shocking that there are those in the SF community who are reluctant to identify themselves – possibly skilful mavericks, possibly people who just do whatever they think is right, possibly people who are seriously misguided as to their abilities.  If you just do anything, then whatever you do must be right.  And this again muddies the waters around what people might expect when seeing a ‘solution-focused’ practitioner.

I am concerned that there is a risk that we may lose sight of the huge progress produced by Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg and their colleagues.  In my view, they have shown us a new way forward.  Now we have to find a way to build on it without either dissolving into a not-knowing mush or forming bands of brothers/old comrades who are unchallengeable and gnomically diffident.  Thoughts please?



My landmark review of Solution-Focused Approaches in Management is now out with Oxford University Press!

Two years ago I was approached by Cynthia Franklin to write a chapter on SF approaches in Management for her comprehensive research review ‘Solution Focused Brief Therapy’. It’s now out (finally!) – <a href=””>click here to see it at</a> . This contains a huge collection of research and evidence about SF practice in many field. Continue reading →

SF strategy at the BBC – “coping with the complexities of an uncertain future”

A new download from our articles page is available now!  Read about sfwork’s Bruce Woodings and his work with the BBC Performing Groups (symphony orchestras and chorus) as reported in Classical Music magazine.  Bruce skilfully uses the power of the SF approach to help this group cope with the complexities of an uncertain future, and deliver results beyond the expectations of those involved at the outset.  Download the articles (7MB pdf). 

This is an example of our consulting work with senior executives.  We use the power of SF, our long experience of both public and private sector organisations, and brilliant facilitation skills to help you tackle serious issues in an engaging and positive way.  Call 08453 707145 to talk to one of our consulting team about YOUR tough situation.

Great article on narrative practice – lots of connections

I have been interested in narrative practice for some years, and attended a training a few years ago with narrative therapy pioneer Michael White, sadly no longer with us.   I was taking my annual look at Mark Hayward’s website to see whether I can fit in one of their trainings this year (I can’t, as usual! What a pity), and noticed that there is now a rather more formalised organisation starting, the Institute for Narrative Therapy,  Interesting website, with some very interesting articles.  Continue reading →

Two new articles – SF leadership and improving poor performance

I’m delighted to announce two new articles on the sfwork Articles page at

No More Heroes (from Coaching at Work, September 2009) – Leaders are finding that a traditional directive approach no longer gets the job done. Could solution-focused coaching be the answer in these more ambiguous times?  Mark McKergow and Mike Brent (Ashridge Business School) report.  Read the article at

Another in my series on ‘Manager As Coach’ – this time on handling poor performance by finding what’s working.  One of the most frequent questions I am asked when introducing Solutions Focused coaching is about how to handle poor performers. “This idea of building on what’s working is all very well when things are OK – but what about when their work is simply not acceptable?”  Read the article at

New article Gathering Know-how for Improved Performance

Another in Mark’s series of articles for the manager-as-coach has appeared in Coaching At Work magazine.  You can read about how to gather know-how in an SF way – a great skill with wide possibilities for application – at

Mark’s latest article – Project review booster

Mark’s latest article from Coaching At Work magazine is now available here.  It’s aimed at the Manager-as-Coach (but useful for all SF coaches and consultants as well) and it’s about how to apply SF to after-action reviews.  We call this the Project Booster method!  Read it at,

Conversation with complexity guru Prof Ralph Stacey

I have been interested in the connections between SF and complexity science for over fifteen years now – there has always seemed to me to be an important parallel here, the way complex systems self-organise and the way conversations unfold and emerging future.  One of the key writers in this area is Professor Ralph Stacey, who runs the Complexity and Management Centre at University of Hertfordshire Business School (

I was lucky enough to be able to meet Ralph in London this week, and my notes of the conversation are in the Karlstad Group area  of – see it at  I hope to write more about Ralph’s work on Transformational Teleology in the near future – I think we are saying very similar things, and his writing is a great way into a difficult topic.

By the way, the Karlstad Group is an international co-operation of people interested in exploring the connections between SF and other intellectual/philosophical traditions, in order to place SF better in the ‘landscape of ideas’.  Our work can been seen in part at The group is free to look at and free to join, so get over there if you haven’t already!

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