Coaching Your Team at Work

Last Updated Jun 14, 2007 1:59 PM EDT

In the context of business management, coaching is the process by which one person helps another to enhance his or her performance through guidance and reflection. It uses effective questioning and exploration to enable someone to learn how best to do his or her job.

Coaching benefits the coach, the person being coached, and the organization. It helps those involved to grow and develop, increases the coach's effectiveness as a leader or manager, and fosters good working relationships. It also encourages a learning and supportive culture, in which empowerment can flourish. Coaching is an important skill to acquire—though some people come by it more easily than others.

What You Need to KnowI have so much management responsibility of my own that it's hard to find extra time to coach others. Should I really invest in this activity?

Coaching is an increasingly important tool for managing others, and in today's world you need to update your skills regularly. An investment in coaching will pay off in a number of ways. By coaching others you will become better at delegating, at understanding how to better align staff to roles and responsibilities, and be more attuned to behaviors in the workplace. In addition, coaching adds a useful dimension to the development of leadership skills.

I enjoy coaching others, but have a tendency to become involved in their personal problems. How should I deal with this?

Sometimes by helping people to move forward, we get caught up in problems relating to their past. Coaching needs to be planned and focused, and you need to assess your own performance to be sure you are able to guide the situation. Set clear objectives and outline your role as coach from the start. The relationship between the coachee and coach may be so open that anything can be discussed, but someone with complex personal problems is likely to need counseling, which requires skills that coaches do not have. Be sure to remain focused on the objectives you set at the start.

I'm interested in becoming a coach. How can I acquire the necessary skills?

Coaching requires a range of skills and experience, and an interest in others. A coach may provide feedback, encourage and explore changes in behavior or attitude, improve performance, teach new skills or competences, provide career guidance, or any combination of these. First you need to identify your strengths, and then find someone who needs coaching in one of these areas. Many educational institutions offer courses on coaching, from short programs to degrees.

What to DoUnderstand the Basics of Coaching

Whether we are aware of it or not, we have all experienced some sort of coaching, either at school, through our parents, or in the workplace. The key defining element of coaching is performance improvement. It must encourage purposeful change. A coach must understand the context in which the individual operates and ensure that there is support within the organization for the change.

Three types of coaching are used in the workplace.

  • In coaching for skills, the coach helps an individual or team to develop skills needed in a particular project or work relationship. Coaching is required only while the skill is being developed and strengthened.
  • In coaching for development, the coach helps an individual to stretch and develop for the future. The individual may be given a stretch assignment which meets some of his or her development needs. This type of coaching is particularly helpful in retaining key talent.
  • In coaching for performance, the coach's role is to help an individual become more effective in his or her role. It requires clarifying performance goals and examining how work is done, as well as what is done. Coaching provides an excellent way for individuals to move quickly and successfully into new roles. It also refocuses those who seem to be falling short of achieving their goals.
Determine Who Needs Coaching

Businesses will invest in coaching if they see the likelihood of a "return on the investment." This is likely in situations where, for example:

  • an employee demonstrates a high level of performance, has the potential to develop further, or needs to grow quickly to fill a critical role;
  • the complexity or demands of a role increase significantly, and support is needed;
  • maintaining performance in a critical area of the business is vital, or where failure would have serious consequences;
  • time for development is limited;
  • an individual needs support in a specialized area.
Identify a Good Coachee

All the coaching in the world won't have any effect if the person being coached (the "coachee") isn't ready to take part in the process fully. Coachees need to demonstrate commitment and a willingness to change, and understand the benefit of being coached. They also must be ready to take constructive feedback.

Draw Up a Contract

It is usual, when a coach comes from outside the business, to draw up a contract between the organization, the person being coached, and the coach. It should cover the coaching objectives, specify the way in feedback will be provided, and include an expected timeframe.

Consider the Important Factors

Two important factors t should be considered when coaching for performance:

  • Understand the context and how coaching will benefit both the organization and the individual. It could be helpful to speak to your coachee's manager. Performance may be seen as an issue because the coachee and the manager do not have the same understanding of the purpose or extent of the coachee's role. All that may be required to improve performance is to align the expectations of the coachee and his or her manager.
  • Make sure that you know yourself and how your preferences may influence your coachee. As the coach, you need to be impartial when asked to provide guidance.

The boundaries must remain clear between work performance and issues, and any personal issues the coachee may have. It may be difficult to make all your interaction work related, but be aware when you getting close to the boundary and know how back away.

Establish a Process
  • Determine at the start how improvement may be measured.
  • Use models such as GROW—Goals, Reality, Options, Will/Wrap up—to ensure that you are working within a framework.
  • Be sure that each coaching contract has clear goals and a timetable, and that it is well supported by other stakeholders in the business, including at least the coachee's manager and the human resources team.
  • Arrange for regular meetings with the coachee, the manager, and any other stakeholders to keep up-to-date on progress.
Remember the Dos and Don'ts of Being a Coach

Do

  • Remember that you are steering the individual and that he or she may need to provide your advice
  • Help them to explore and understand
  • Analyze the issues from many perspectives, but be prepared to intervene and provide an expert opinion when necessary
  • Be sure that, if coachees encounter an obstacle, you are able to help them understand what it is, and implications it may have, and its implications
  • Pass on some of your skills as a coach to coachees, so that they can, in time, work with others in the same way
  • Coach in small doses, as this can often be more effective than prolonged sessions
  • Give and invite feedback during a coaching session
  • Be prepared to involve others, particularly where there may be a relationship or motivational issue

Don't

  • Worry if you don't have all the answers
  • Be overly directive
  • Allow the coachee to simply stumble on upon a decision without going through a coherent logical process
Remember the Benefits of Coaching
  • Coaching enables teams and individuals to work more effectively and deliver the results the business needs.
  • It encourages individuals to think differently about their jobs and how they do them—this helps to encourage a broader range of styles and approaches in the workplace.
  • Coaching can be a timely intervention that stops people from losing sight of their goals.
  • It helps the business and key decisionmakers focus on important aspects of the business.
  • It helps remove or prevent dysfunctional behaviors that limit individual and business success.
  • It helps retain key individuals and the best talent.
  • It is an important tool for good managers and leaders to have.
What to AvoidYou Confuse the Roles of Coach and Mentor

Many people see coaching and mentoring as interchangeable, but they do differ. A mentor is someone who understands the organization and its issues, and is used often as a sounding board for ideas. A coach's role, on the other hand, is to develop, change, or build new skills and behaviors in order to improve performance.

You Fail to Establish Guidelines and Roles Early Enough

If you do not set clear guidelines and roles early enough in a coaching relationship, it could slide into either a mentor or counselor relationship. A coach's job is to encourage and sustain development and change by providing a balance between support and appropriate challenge.

You Continue to Coach after the Coachee Has Lost Interest

Motivation and desire to learn are essential ingredients in any coaching assignment. There is no point in continuing with the assignment if the coachee has clearly lost interest. Move on so that you can both spend your time on a more productive assignment.

You Have No Rapport with the Coachee

A coach needs to have credibility with the coachee in order for a coaching assignment to succeed. If no rapport exists between you and your coachee, your energy will be expended on the relationship rather than on the coaching objectives, and the coaching assignment will benefit no one.

Where to Learn MoreBooks:

Coach U, Inc. Coach U's Essential Coaching Tools: Your Complete Practice Resource. Wiley, 2005.

O'Connor, Joseph, and Andrea Lages, How Coaching Works. A & C Black, 2007.

Web Site:

International Coaching Federation: www.coachfederation.org