Teams play an essential part in how most of us work these days, and the synergy you can gain from an effective working team is a potent business tool. A critical part of team development is the coaching role a manager plays for team members. So in continuing our article series of effective teams in business, today we look at effective coaching in the workplace.
The purpose of this article is to provide some practical advice on how to go about an effective coaching role, what the difference is between coaching and mentoring, and what will effective coaching look like.
What is Coaching Versus Mentoring?
Coaching is a non-directive approach to personal development that enables people to achieve their chosen goals and reach their potential. In contrast, mentoring is the process of imparting knowledge and advice based on the mentor’s previous experience, i.e. role modelling the attributes of a high performer.
You can find that the distinction can often become somewhat blurred with a manager affecting both in their role within a team. If you want more information on these crucial differences, we have a separate article that provides helpful guidance.
Why Undertake a Coaching Role?
There is a business need for people managers to lead and manage their people and business units effectively. Coaching and developing people is a fundamental behaviour in this process and is critical to a team’s growth and helping it deal with change. Our previous article looking at how you can manage business change provides helpful advice on an effective change process.
Coaching enables us to motivate and empower people, release potential and maintain the focus and energy of high performers. So it not only provides a fundamental tool in helping people to work on areas requiring development and improvement but, just as importantly, helping team members to excel in areas of strength.
How to Coach
A critical difference in effective coaching is that the questions raised in discussion compel attention for an answer, focus on the precision of what needs you to develop and create a feedback loop. Whereas instructing does not require any of these attributes.
A simple and effective method to help managers coach and generate more consistent and long-lasting results is the GROW model developed by Sir John Whitmore in his book Coaching For Performance: GROWing Human Potential and Purpose, and is used by many businesses. This model has four components:
- G – Goal: what is the objective or goal of the coaching for the team member (and for the manager);
- R – Reality: what is the situation right now. Where are their core skills, where is there need for improvement and where are they excelling;
- O – Options: what are our options to achieving the objectives and goals identified above, and;
- W – Will: what will we do to achieve our goals and what will this look like?
What Do I Need To Think About?
In applying the GROW model, an effective coach will demonstrate the following characteristics, whether in an informal five-minute chat in the corridor or a scheduled meeting.
Use Active Listening
There is a lot written about what active listening looks like. And at a deep level, most of us know when someone is listening to us and when they are not. Some techniques can help us better engage with those we are coaching and focus on the conversation. With the best will in the world, all of us have at times let our minds wander. Although we are hearing what the person is saying, we aren’t listening.
It is a little like telling someone how to “suck eggs” (link if you are not familiar with this expression) when it comes to how we can “better” listen. However, a few pointers can sometimes really help. The guys over at mindtools.com have some excellent material and highlight the following (we have also posted their youtube clip below too).
1. Pay Attention
It is stating the obvious, but as we mentioned above, sometimes you need to keep this more at the front of the mind. Especially if it’s getting late in the day, you have that pressing deadline, or you were hoping to get out of the office early today.
2. Show That You’re Listening
You know the body language that people demonstrate when they are listening to you. They are facing you. They make eye contact. They nod to encourage in the right places.
3. Provide Feedback
A critical part of coaching, in general, is feedback. It’s not a one-off thing but a continual process and a skill that is critical to the development of others.
4. Defer Judgment
This is probably the part I’m worst at – the postponement of judgment. Even if the mind has stopped the mouth from engaging when it should remain shut, my mind is already in judgement mode. On the flip side, knowing where your weaknesses are means, you can be more attuned to how you can better help others.
5. Respond Appropriately
And finally, having appropriate responses to the conversation. And what they mean here is treating the other person how you would want to be. Be honest, be supportive but be constructive in helping them along, even where you need to disagree.
Use Open and Probing Questions
At its simplest definition, an open question is one that you cannot answer with a yes or no. A closed question would be something like “Did you enjoy the training course?”. While an open question might be, “What did you get out of the training course?”. And then following through on this with “How do you think communication module will help with your current goals?”.
Being supportive in your coaching takes on many forms and is more of a general approach. For example, behaviours that would look supportive would be ensuring you are on time. Regular meetings are set, and keep to be active in your listening and honest in your feedback. There are many other behaviours you could add to this list, but you get the idea.
As with a lot of these issues, they are very much interconnected; rapport is no different. So what is rapport? Webster defines it as “A friendly, harmonious relationship, especially a relationship characterised by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication possible or easy.” With that in mind, the guys over at masterclass.com have some pointers to get you in the right direction.
1. Remembering and Using Names
People love to hear their name and are typically impressed when you remember it. Why is this? It makes them feel important enough to you that you have bothered to remember their name. I’m sure most of us have experienced it; you only met some two minutes ago, and they can’t recall your name. It doesn’t make us feel great. And then another person you met six months ago, and they still remember your name. Get good at remembering names.
2. Shared and Common Ground
Establishing common interests, experiences or views can be a quick and effective means to the start of building a relationship. Finding this ground can go a long way to helping the other person be at ease and make communication much easier and effective.
3. Be an Active Listener
As we have already covered, using those active listening skills makes a big difference in building rapport in the coaching relationship.
4. The Questions
Again, all part of the active listening approach we should be using in our coaching. And perhaps more precisely, asking open and supporting questions.
5. Check the Body Language
If you are active with listening, being supportive, and providing feedback, you are more than likely naturally displaying the appropriate body language. The more genuine this flows from your other behaviours, the more natural it will be and the more supportive to those you are coaching.
Help the Team Member Focus on Their Goals
As part of being supportive is providing direction and focus where you see this is not being achieved. Some people you coach have this very much all in control and need little help. While others will need assistance in ensuring these goals are kept very much in focus. There is a direct correlation between this focus and maturity. Those taking their coaching seriously and bringing a mature approach to their work-life won’t have any issues. We all have had times of distractions from personal matters or stresses at work that can knock us off course. Having a coach who is well attuned to ensuring corrections are made when needed is invaluable.
Whitmore’s GROW Questions – A Coaching Framework
Because of communication’s importance and, in particular, the questions we ask, the rest of the article is now about expanding on this. In particular, taking Whitmore’s GROW framework and looking at the type of questions that can help those we are coaching. These are just examples, but they show how our questions feed into what we have already covered in listening, support, rapport and prioritising our focus on the set goals.
What Are Goal Type Questions?
The Goal stage addresses the objectives or goals you and the team member are trying to achieve. To reach this, you need to be answering questions such as:
- what is it you really want to achieve;
- what is your ideal outcome;
- what are the main reasons this is important to you;
- what would success look like for you, and;
- what are the personal consequences for you of not achieving your goal?
A great quote from Tony Robbins is, “setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible”. It highlights how important setting a good foundation or framework is in an effective coaching process. And one of the best in the world in this area has to be Tony Robbins. Not that I’ve ever attended his seminars, but I read his book Money: Master the Game. It was a lot better than I thought it was going to be. Of course, I’m a bit of a nobody to critique someone like Tony, but I recommend his book for those wanting a good read in personal finance.
What Are Reality Type Questions?
So once we have set the goals, an assessment needs to be made of the current reality. These questions may include:
- what is currently preventing you achieving your goal;
- what have you tried so far and how successful have these approaches been for you;
- what else have you tried and how did they work towards you achieving your goals at that time;
- what are the three most important issues for you right now; and
- how is your current situation helping and hindering you?
What Are Options Type Questions?
The “reality” questions provide you with an evaluation of the needs you must address. They also help to highlight what has worked and not worked in the past. Now the Options questions provide you with an opportunity to explore the direction to head into next. These questions would include:
- if time, money and resource were unlimited what could you try;
- what would person X do in your shoes;
- what ideas do you have about moving this issue forward;
- what would make the situation worse for you if you did it (then reverse everything they come up with); and
- where else could you get ideas, support, and insight to help you with this?
What Are Will Type Questions?
With the Options now set out, the final step is to address the Will questions. This discussion would consist of questions like:
- how motivated are you right now to go and do the things we have talked about;
- what could stop you taking the next step and how can we address any of these barriers;
- what two things are you going to do now to move this situation forward;
- when are you going to do it and how will you know it is done – how will the situation look different; and
- what contingency plan do you have if option A does not go the way you want it to?
It is often said that without WILL, there is no responsibility or action.
Hints and Tips
Having worked through the GROW model and the questions set out above, you have a framework to provide an effective and influential coaching role. Some additional points also worth considering we include below.
1. Play Back
Using their own words when summarising is an effective means to show active listening and support and ensure you have understood. It may have been what they meant when first iterated, but this can be a very effective means of reflection when heard back from someone else.
2. Leading and Judgements
The most effective coaching is usually that lead and critiqued by those being coached. For example, we face two days of flight simulation testing every six months within airline flying. Over my years of flying, I’ve seen training move towards more of this type of instruction. In particular, what is being more encouraged is the self-critique at the end of simulator details. You notice that pilots are much more critical of themselves than most training departments.
3. Keep Momentum
Keep the momentum and focus of the conversation – move things on – don’t get stuck in reality. The conversations need to be very focused, or they can end up soaking up time and energy. This isn’t to say some chit-chat isn’t helpful; it is. It helps build on the relationship rather than the issues at hand. But we need to keep the coaching goal-focused.
4. Review and Adjustment
You may have to review the initial Goal as the conversation develops to Options – don’t be afraid to review and adjust as you go along. This helps the coaching to adapt as the needs and circumstances change. In particular, coaching over a more extended period makes the review and adjustment even more critical.
5. Motivation and Will
Test the motivation and the Will to act. This could be done through how realistic and challenging the proposed actions are. As we mentioned under review and adjustment, regular testing and challenge should form part of the ongoing coaching process.
Be very careful in the imposition of solutions. Working through what the answers could be by the team member is very important to their commitment to seeing them through. Of course, in being a supportive coach, you don’t want them heading off in a completely wrong direction with a solution with no hope of success. As one training captain, I once heard say about a fellow pilot … “he is someone with a firm grip on the wrong end of the stick”. If someone is holding onto the “wrong end of the stick”, you need to let them know.
Very difficult to be an effective coach without ensuring confidentiality in the coaching relationship. Opening up to someone, asking for help are human activities that take trust. Building rapport, being an active listener, being supportive are all steps that will help build the relationship.
8. Support the Individual
This brings us nicely onto our last point, support for the individual. Through all of this, we are dealing with people with all of their skills and vulnerabilities. Our focus should be on them as a person – which means we focus on the relationship and not the issues. The issues, challenges, problems and victories will all pass. But the relationship will always remain. Even once the coaching relationship has finished, that human relationship will always be there. And the experience from that time could have career-long impacts upon the team member.