One indicator of a good manager is the way they develop individuals in their team. They always seem to have both the time and the inclination to help Topi* improve his skills and problem solving ability, knowing how to coach. How do they do it? In addition to recognising the benefits of investing in people,
- They take advantage of opportunities for coaching conversations
- They understand the coaching process
- They have a good repertoire of coaching questions
There are times when seizing the moment is a good idea; some situations naturally lend themselves to thinking about what could be done differently, or better, which is what coaching is all about. They give a context, which can make it easier to focus. Times to look out for include:
- When there are changes to put in place
- When you want to delegate something new
- You want Topi to take more responsibility, or be more proactive
- Results have been different from usual, be it good or bad
- There has been an incident that can be learned from
It may not always be possible to have a conversation right there and then, but you can aim to do it soon while the topic is still fresh and relevant.
The Coaching Process
There are many resources that can introduce you to different coaching structures or models. It’s good idea to be aware of a few, so that you can choose one that suits the circumstance.
One approach that works well when something has happened is to take Topi through the learning cycle (Kolb) , ie. There is an event> we reflect on it > we draw conclusions > we plan a course of action.
So, using the example of getting exceptionally good sales one week, you would start by discussing the results, making sure of the facts and the situation. Reflecting on it would help you explore why the results were so good – what factors were involved? What was done differently? What are the variables? You might help Topi draw conclusions about what needs to be replicated to continue to get good results, and come up with some planning and action points to make it happen again.
Another approach, based on Egan’s Skilled Helper** model, is
- Where are you now?
- Where are you going?
- How will you get there?
This straightforward structure is useful when you want Topi to take responsibility for problem solving or self development. It allows you to examine the pros and cons of the status quo, explore a range of options and identify what Topi would like the future to look like, and then plan how to get there.
Of course, these are just the barest of bones, but hopefully you can see how a conversation can be structured to get a positive outcome.
Coaching involves directing a discussion to make it purposeful, but it is the skilful use of questions that is powerful. As far as possible, the coach should be helping Topi find his own answers, rather than providing them for him, so asking instead of telling is the way to go.
There are many lists of great coaching questions available on line, here’s a few that are popular:
- What would you like to be different?
- What is the best way of making this change?
- What can you control? What is outside your control?
- What is stopping you from moving forward?
- Who could help you solve this?
- What would the best solution be?
You are probably thinking that some of these questions could open a can of worms – and you would be right! Effective coaching requires an advanced set of skills to effectively manage the process. Researching can inform you, but training that involves practising in a safe environment and getting feedback is invaluable.
Today’s team leaders are expected to have some coaching skills, but you don’t need to do it all yourself. If you have a team member that could benefit from coaching at a deeper level than you can offer, hiring a skilled coach is a good option worth considering.
** Gerard Egan, “The Skilled Helper”. Egan’s Skilled helper model is described, along with many other useful coaching tools, in “The One to One Toolkit: Tips and Strategies for Advisers, Coaches and Mentors” available from Amazon. You will also find more about coaching, and many other conversations in Face to Face in the Workplace
By Julie Cooper
Author of Face to Face in the Workplace
“If you deal with people you need this book” Buy your copy here