Coaching is a useful way of developing people’s skills and abilities as well as boosting performance. It can also help deal with issues and challenges before they become major problems. A coaching session will typically take place as a conversation between the coach and the beneficiary, and it focuses on helping the latter discover answers for himself. After all, people are much more likely to engage with solutions that they have come up with as individuals, rather than those that are forced upon them. In some organizations, coaching is still seen as a corrective tool, used only when things have gone wrong. But in others, it is considered to be a positive and proven approach for helping individuals explore their goals and ambitions, and then achieve them.
Teamwork is the force that drives most organizations. Whether it’s a functional team, a team of managers, or a project team, people achieve a lot when they work together effectively. So when members of a team don’t work well together, performance and productivity can suffer. That’s not good for anyone. Have you ever witnessed hostility, conflicting goals and unclear expectations within your teams? These are symptoms of an unhealthy team. To avoid these harmful effects, you need to be proactive about improving team performance. And even when a team is meeting its objectives, there’s often room for improvement. So how can you help your team improve? With good coaching of a team (distinct from individual coaching) you can take it to the next level. It’s a valuable activity, and it’s an essential management and leadership tool.
Team coaching helps people understand how to work better with others. It’s an effective method for showing teams how to reduce conflict and improve their working relationships. The team can then focus on its real work, and achieve its objectives. To coach your team, focus on interpersonal skills and interactions instead of on individual development (as you tend to do with individually-focused coaching). The way people act with their teammates, and the way they communicate with one another are important drivers of effective team performance. After all, you can put many highperforming individuals in a team and still have performance problems. People must learn to work together and understand how to relate to one another – otherwise the team’s output will be less than expected.
Understand Team Dynamics
An ideal place to start team coaching is by understanding its dynamics. This is the process of figuring out how team members relate to one another. We all have different styles of working and communicating, and when we encounter a person with a style that’s different from ours, we can often get frustrated with that person, and fail to recognize his or her unique strengths. Some people tend to push things than others. A pushy person may think everything is going well – however, his or her teammates might have a different perspective. If one person walks away from conflict, and another speaks his mind and doesn’t back down from an argument, this can lead to poor decision-making and unproductive work.
Personality and behaviour assessments are great tools for improving a team’s understanding of its own dynamics, and they give team members a better understanding of why they react to their colleagues in certain ways. This new understanding helps them think about how they can relate to one another more effectively and at the same time breeds tolerance by helping people understand that different approaches may be valid in different situations.
Establish Behaviour Expectations
Understanding other people’s perspectives is a great way to improve relationships with them. However, teams still need to follow ground rules so that they can accomplish their goals. For example, you may know that one team member prefers to avoid conflict. However, you can’t really accept that from him/her if you also expect him/her to provide expert opinions that may not match the general consensus. That is why developing a clear set of behaviour and communication expectations is an important aspect of team coaching. The expectations help to build empathy and understanding, and they ensure that individual preferences aren’t given more importance than team objectives.
A great way to formalize these expectations is with a team charter. In a charter or contract, you outline a set of behavioural rules that everyone is expected to follow and support. Treating everyone with respect, offering opinions when needed, and talking directly to a person when you feel wronged are all examples of ground rules that a team can use. Taking that step further, you can also define processes for team members to follow so as to meet their expectations. For example, a conflict resolution process would define the steps to take when one team member feels offended by another. Typically, the process would state that the offended person first speaks with the offender before going to a supervisor. Likewise, if expressing opinions is an issue, then you might use the Stepladder Technique to encourage individual participation. These types of rules and processes help build trust among colleagues and create a more unified team.
One way is by helping your people to be more effective and productive in their existing roles, and at the same time empowering them to take on new challenges and responsibilities. Indeed, coaching is an excellent tool for achieving this, alongside other elements of a comprehensive talent management strategy.
In particular, coaching can help you:
Reveal people’s capacity to develop new skills and take on increased responsibility.
Develop their existing skills and talent through supported experimentation – when you encourage people to try new ways to do essential tasks and processes.
Identify where unhelpful attitudes are preventing them from succeeding in their roles, so that you can help them to deal with it.
Develop your people by helping them solve problems that are blocking their progress.
Improve operational efficiency by identifying fundamental problems within the business processes.
Highlight succession planning issues and provide people with a more realistic understanding of their career expectations.
Coaching through change
Change is ongoing. The world is changing fast, and no successful organization can stand still for long. New products, services and ways of working mean that many of us are continually learning new skills and adapting to changes in the workplace. One of the key measures of success in change management is whether you’ve managed to get support from all the people affected by a change. With this support, you can implement changes smoothly, and with less disruption. But, despite the effort of managers and senior executives, getting support for change can be difficult. Many people will feel that change is affecting them only, rather than appreciate that they are a valuable part of the future of the organization. And people who benefit from the status quo – for example, expert users of legacy systems – will quite rightly recognize that they may lose as a result of the change.
Coaching should be something that all managers do with their teams. It helps one understand how people think about their work, careers, and relationships with the organization. It can also help you to improve a person’s performance, and deal with any issues before these become major problems. Many managers use formal coaching as a way of guiding people through change, briefing them on organizational developments, carrying out performance appraisals, and so on. However, sometimes you need to react quickly to situations and issues, and that’s where you can adopt a more informal approach to coaching. But how can you recognize these situations? And, when is it best to coach, rather than manage someone?
Getting these decisions wrong and missing those vital coaching opportunities can make a huge difference to the effectiveness of your team. You may also hurt the good relationships you’ve developed with team members.
You may think that “high-performance coaching” means coaching for high performers – in other words, people who, for whatever reason, have been identified as “star talent.” Actually, high-performance coaching is about helping all people reach their full potential, in any area of their lives. For a manager to coach effectively, it entails working with people to improve their performance at work. High-performance coaching may also involve working with other people within your organization – collaborating with other managers and leaders so as to make the workplace a high-performance organization, one that helps everybody to perform at their best.
The approaches and techniques used in high-performance coaching borrow heavily from the worlds of sport and the military – areas where optimal performance is of vital importance. High-performance coaching conversations usually start with finding out people’s ‘starting points’ – their visions or life ambitions. Then, it moves on to explore the directions in which people need to move to achieve those visions, and the steps they need to take now so as to do so.
Developing mutual understanding and trust
Many of us naturally work at building rapport with others in our everyday relationships, both at home and at work. In coaching, building this rapport is even more important. For the exercise to be successful, coaches and their clients must work together and share information about each other. So it’s essential for them to be on the same wavelength. Consequently, the client can trust the coach, and feel emotionally safe as the relationship develops.
Mutual trust is critical in a coaching relationship, and building rapport can help people gain that trust. David Maister, an expert in professional relationships, identified the main characteristics of our behaviour that help to build trust as credibility, reliability, intimacy, and care.
Coaching to develop self awareness
Developing self-awareness is important for better relationships and a more fulfilling life, both at the workplace and home. With a good understanding of how we relate to others, we can adjust our behaviour so that we deal with them positively. By understanding what upsets us, we can improve our self-control. And by understanding our weaknesses, we can learn how to manage them, and reach our goals. However, it’s difficult to be objective when we think about ourselves, and how others actually see us can be quite different from what we think they see. There are ways in which people can develop self-awareness on their own. However, coaching can be a better way of helping people view their own actions and reactions objectively, so it’s useful for helping people to build self-awareness.
Coaching to explore beliefs and motives
This is all about understanding what drives people. Self-awareness is important because it helps people make the right choices in life, and understand how we relate to other people. Having an accurate understanding of beliefs and motives is a key part of developing self awareness. For example, what makes you work apart from your pay cheque? What choices do you make when choosing who you work with? What are your principles? What will you defend, or even fight for? Why do you behave or react the way you do, when faced with a demand or a challenge? These questions are important, because people’s attitudes contribute a lot to their success or failure at work. If their values and beliefs are strongly aligned with those of your organization, and if they’re motivated by the work they do, then they’re likely to be exceptionally productive. In itself, this makes it important to support and reinforce the values you need.
In coaching, working with values and beliefs doesn’t mean challenging people’s religious beliefs or personal philosophies. On the contrary, it means examining the source of their energy, and exploring how to work with that energy so as to achieve the best results.
While most of us think about our beliefs and values from time to time, coaching can really bring these to life. This is because coaches ask questions that their clients might avoid on their own, helping them get a more accurate and detailed picture of what motivates them.
Understanding what drives us
At a shallow level, we work hard to get the things we want and need in life – whether they are basic, such as housing and food, or mere luxuries, for example buying a fancy car to impress the neighbours and friends. To some extent, this is true and those needs and wants will vary greatly from person to person. But at a deeper level, we’re more complex than this. Our behaviour does not always follow the pattern of simply working hard to get what we want. So it’s important for managers to be able to uncover what really drives and motivates people, so they can help them enjoy their work and get real satisfaction from it.