Many people are expected to coach others at work. This can be across a range of disciplines, from skills to processes, behaviours to actions. In some cases, managers and leaders intuitively get it right. Some people have a natural sense of how to coach others effectively – perhaps as a result of experiencing the results of effective coaching themselves.
However, plenty of people struggle, as they sometimes confuse coaching for counselling or even mentoring. Even for skilled leaders with natural coaching ability, some assistance with learning how to coach can go a long way to avoid using techniques that one may not be qualified or equipped to do.
Ideally any person in a position where they are expected to coach others should attend some kind of coaching or training program themselves to understand the how to connect, convey and converse in dialogue and questioning. But you can also help get the foundations right with some basic tips and skills development.
What coaching is NOT
It’s important to start with the things that are often mistaken for coaching, like giving advice about how to approach a task, providing feedback about tasks, instructing staff what to do, telling staff what not to do or reading the riot act and asserting authority or discipline.
Each of these activities will serve to maintain the manager/staff divide and does not empower either the coach or the coachee.
The goal of coaching is to guide the coachee through the maze of options and questions that may roadblock their potential or provide them with an opportunity to have an outside thinking partner and external confidante to help them get clarity and purpose in different areas. Additionally a coach can help the coachee see where improvement is required and work out together where improvement and development can take place.
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It’s also important to bear in mind that coaching is not a finished or closed process. Although it is a well worn analogy, its relevance remains powerful: the very best elite athletes do not stop needing to be coached once they are at the top of their game. Every person who wants to improve performance and/or maintain a high level of performance can benefit from coaching.
What coaching IS
Coaching is less about business goals and more about personal performance goals. Never underestimate how crucial individual performance is to business goals and outcomes. No employee – no matter how well behaved – can be driven solely by company goals or even by their pay cheque.
People crave the opportunity to improve and perform, assurance that they are on track, resources to draw on in times of doubt, and another lens to illustrate different perspectives.
Coaching the coaches within your organisation will help make sure all staff can fulfill these key needs.
At a foundation level, a good way to look at coaching within your organisation is a means of assisting two needs: 1) helping a person solve a problem, and 2) helping a person achieve a goal.
Instill a culture of coaching in your work place
There are many different schools of thought on what coaching can achieve and when it can best be utilised in every day work contexts. The two most common protests to implementing a culture of coaching are time and expertise.
Coaching conversations do not have to take up excessive amounts of time. They can be structured in a semi-formal ways so they are part of a regular staff meeting or supervision session.
Coaching does not have to provide answers. It is important to encourage a culture of exploring options, uncover the right questions that will help guide toward relevant answers. Many people, even senior managers or leaders, feel uncomfortable casting themselves in the role of ‘expert.’ Coaching is not about answering every question, it is about providing a framework so that people can see their own situation more clearly. In most cases providing time, reflection and a new perspective is a very powerful coaching technique – and one that any of your team can manage.
Creating constructive coaching conversations
The use of specific, limited and open-ended questions is instrumental in creating good coaching the coach conversations.
A fewspecific questions relate to the issue at hand include what problem are you trying to solve? What techniques have you already tried? Which have worked and which have not? What is the outcome you are hoping for? What is a new technique you might be able to try? How will you know if the technique has been successful?
Limited questions mean that time management stays under control. You might implement a Five Minute or Five Question coaching the coach methodology. Staff may have access to each other at set times during the week or understand that these ‘mini’ coaching sessions can take place as required.
Open-ended questions relieve the pressure of having to get things ‘right.’
Coaching is a process of reflection and helping others to recognise the skills and strengths they already possess. It is also an ongoing process; a problem or goal may not be resolved in one coaching conversation, but it can evolve over time. This also has the added benefit of people continuing to think and reflect in their own time – thus learning and implementing self-coaching skills.
Don’t limit coaching the coach to senior management
Most organisations can identify a handful of people who have natural leadership skills. These people may be in current positions of management or they may be embedded within teams.
You could ask for interest among all staff members of people who would like to learn about coaching. These people could then be provided with training offsite or resources onsite to build their skills.
The real benefit of coaching is that over the long term you start to see improvements across all levels of your organisation. As people feel more empowered to identify problems or challenges, ask for coaching assistance and reflect on how they can initiate self-improvement, you will see both ownership and pride in work increase.
Coaching circles or small coaching groups
You can create coaching circles or small coaching groups that consist of 4 to 6 people who might meet once a month. Stick with the above guide of specific, limited and open-ended questions. This can become a non-threatening and not too time consuming way to keep growing the culture of coaching within your organisation. Having stakeholders involved in the coaching program is a great way to increase overall accountability and helps measure outcomes.
Many people enjoy the opportunity to draw on a more experienced worker’s skills and knowledge in this less formal way. It is a good way to build rapport and also increase team respect and confidence. It is also a great way to show others that you have the intent to improve. That intent is your choice.
Ricky Nowak is one of Australia's most referred and well-known professional speakers, executive coaches and consultants specialising in leadership development. A published author in the field of leadership, Ricky is also only one of eighteen Australian Stakeholder Engagement Coaches accredited by Marshall Goldsmith, a Forbes Thought Leader.