Great leaders learn how to coach

While most managers have the skills required to “get work done,” many lack the skills required to effectively coach others. But increasingly, managers are being asked to use coaching as a preferred management style and, as a result, are being required to develop entirely new skill sets.

Learning coaching skills is a process — it requires role-modeling, training, practice and feedback. It often involves “unlearning” old methods and styles that are no longer effective in today’s workplace.

In trying to define what makes a great coach, think about the last time someone coached (or helped) you to achieve something important to you. What did he or she do that helped? Most people might list qualities such as the following:

  • Listening well.
  • Believing in me.
  • Providing feedback to help me improve my skills.
  • Being willing to show me the way.
  • Giving me a new task or responsibility that was a learning opportunity.

The list is always long as there are many components of effective coaching. That’s because coaching is an art — a balance between the softer relationship skills (empathy, caring, listening and interpersonal competence) and business skills (process expertise, setting clear expectations, giving direction and offering constructive feedback).

Here are a few of the traits and skills of great leaders with coaching skills:

The ability to build genuine trust, respect and rapport. This is the foundation for coaching success — it’s what fuels the coaching partnership. Employees who distrust or are uncomfortable with their coach find it easy to dismiss the coach’s message. Effective coaches convey sincere interest and concern for workers’ well-being and growth. They are credible; their audio matches their video; and they demonstrate integrity and personal respect.

They are active listeners (versus passive observers). The leader-as-coach is in tune with the person’s story, intentions and feelings (the emotions behind the words). If you have ever had someone listen to truly understand you, you have no doubt experienced the difference. This interaction can be truly profound and inspirational.

They demonstrate genuine empathy. While not everyone is naturally empathetic, empathy is a skill that can be developed. Empathy means trying to understand how an experience affects the other person — what it’s like to walk in their shoes. An important distinction: Empathy is not agreement; it’s understanding and acknowledging the feelings and experience of the other.

They have personal authority and credibility. Great coaches are adept at challenging and suggesting or demonstrating new behaviors. Their personal authority, confidence and competence allows them to challenge, reward success in a meaningful way and treat errors as learning opportunities while employees learn new skills.

The best leader/coaches establish clear direction and protection, and create a motivating environment. They are persistent regarding the need for follow-through on commitments.

They ask powerful questions. They encourage learning by asking questions to raise the employee’s awareness, level of performance and accountability. The questions are open-ended (i.e., those that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no).

This approach is very different from “telling” employees what to do or giving them the answers to their problems. Here are a few examples:

  • What resources are needed?
  • What obstacles might get in the way?
  • What has not been tried?
  • What will you commit to doing and when?

They set clear goals and expectations. Have you ever seen the words “Vince Lombardi” and “wishy-washy” in the same sentence (until now)? A key to effective coaching is the ability to clearly communicate goals, define specific action plans and foster ownership of or commitment to the attainment of these goals.

They are realists who can hold others accountable for activity, action and results. The SMART acronym is a useful guide for coaching — it defines setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

Coaching is an activity that always involves the question, “What’s the next step?” Great leaders with coaching skills hold people accountable for taking action and achieving results.

They provide clear, effective and challenging feedback. This coaching skill is so critical that it deserves its own column (see next week).

The challenge for many organizations is how to establish an effective program for managers to learn and master these skills. Most organizations require outside expertise to accomplish this.

Leading Teams Require Skills

Teams have become critical to workplace success — they are everywhere in business today. Teams offer many advantages, including improved problem-solving capabilities with complex challenges, expanded creativity and synergies resulting in greater overall performance. While the benefits of high-performing workplace teams are well known, leading them effectively remains a tremendous challenge for many managers.

Working in a team environment can bring out the best — and the worst — in people. Individuals often struggle working cooperatively with each other and adapting to the variety of personalities, interpretations, opinions and varying skills of other team members. Many employees may have specific expertise or technical skills but can lack the “people” skills required to be an effective contributor in a team environment. Throw in competing agendas, office politics, limited resources and time pressures, and teams can be a recipe for trouble. It can be enough to make even the most seasoned manager cry out for help.

There is an art to effectively leading teams. It requires a specific skill set and a high level of emotional intelligence. Yet many managers have never been taught the necessary leadership, emotional intelligence, interpersonal and facilitation skills required to successfully lead a team. In a recent survey from the Center for Creative Leadership, marketplace leaders identified the ability to build effective teams and being collaborative as the top skills required for managers to be successful. Alarmingly, this same survey reflected that only 30 percent of respondents believed their leaders were currently skilled collaborators.

Succeeding at leading teams in a way that maximizes the performance potential of the individuals (often with competing interests and different approaches to conflict and problem solving) is a fundamental leadership challenge.

This is one of the reasons that high-performing teams tend to be the exception versus the rule. Successful companies almost always have them, whereas failing companies do not. Many managers are painfully aware that simply throwing a group of people together doesn’t mean they will necessarily jell as a team. Most teams fail to achieve their potential due to a variety of reasons, including:

  • Lack of clarity around team goals and objectives — and accountability to each other to meet those responsibilities (who will do what by when).
  • Ineffective decision-making and/or conflict resolution — either conflict is avoided or dealt with in a way that harms team performance.
  • Lack of trust between members.
  • Lack of emotional intelligence among members.

Facing these kinds of challenges is difficult, though certainly doable with the right help. Typical off-the-shelf team building solutions rarely address the heart of what’s wrong nor give individuals the skills they need (including the team leader) to fare well on their own. They may provide temporary cheerleading relief but rarely address the long-term issues.

Teams need effective leadership to get to a high-performance stage. It’s a team leader’s job to create the conditions for teams to be successful. These include:

  • Establishing structure — clear direction, objectives, decision-making, meeting processes and team member roles.
  • Establishing effective team norms (how we will solve problems, communicate openly, honestly and constructively with each other).
  • Setting a team emotional tone and environment to maximize collaboration and creativity and to ensure the team benefits from the talents of each member.

Team leaders need skills to work with (not against) competing interests, approaches and varying individual motivations. The most effective team leaders balance their time and attention between a) the task demands of the team and b) facilitating team processes (making continuous adjustments) to work better together (enhancing trust and camaraderie).

The best team leaders pay close attention to what is going on interpersonally and emotionally in their teams. They clarify for team members how their behaviors are affecting others (helping them to increase self-awareness) and support them in minimizing unproductive habits that hinder team performance. For example, if Joe has been interrupting Sharon repeatedly during meetings, the leader may note this and remind Joe that the rest of the team might benefit from hearing Sharon’s idea.

If you are a team leader, call me for help: 360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com   I can help you  a) grow your skills in leading teams effectively and b) provide facilitation and coaching expertise to lead team sessions more productively and collaboratively.

 

Hire A Facilitator to Increase Team Engagement

Teams are everywhere in business today. When managed well, teams can increase quality, innovation, productivity, employee commitment, creativity and bottom line results. When teams are managed poorly, however, morale and commitment can deteriorate, resulting in frustration and deadlock.

One way to improve how your team functions is to use an outside facilitator. A facilitator’s role is to improve how the team identifies challenges, solves complex problems and ultimately makes decisions. Facilitators help teams clarify their scope, goals, task roles and action plans — resulting in faster and better decision-making.

Everyone’s unique perspective and input on a team is valuable — it’s this diversity that makes teams so powerful (bringing the best minds together to address complex situations). Yet one of the great challenges managing teams is dealing with all those varying points of view. Facilitators add structure and process to foster maximum input and engagement of team members while still helping teams end meetings with members clear about “who will do what by when.” Team members are naturally more committed and buy into decisions in which their input was heard and considered. They are also more satisfied leaving meetings knowing what they are responsible for. Meetings that are well facilitated are typically energizing, vs. boring or frustrating.

Here are some common challenges that facilitators can help teams overcome:

  • Long meetings with few (or no) actionable decisions or outcomes.
  • Lack of engagement, contribution or accountability.
  • Inability to effectively review divergent viewpoints.
  • Pressure to conform to dominant members’ ideas.
  • Ineffective or dysfunctional conflict patterns.
  • Surfacing “stuck” team issues (often long underground).
  • Unclear roles, task expectations and goals/objectives.

Effective facilitators do not participate as a “member” or “manager” of the work team. In contrast, they are an impartial, neutral resource, without an agenda. In fact, team facilitators should have no decision-making power or authority over the team — it’s from this nonthreatening “outside” position that they can help the team facilitate productive change.

There is science and art behind good facilitation. Facilitators help teams learn and follow effective group process. Skilled facilitators have a unique lens and can help a team see the “forest through the trees.” They often help teams identify alternatives to their traditional (and frequently ineffective) patterns.

What do facilitators do?

  • They help the team build (and frequently rebuild) the structure for effective team process.
  • They help teams establish their own “rules of conduct/ engagement” (ground rules for issues such as electronic interruptions, handling disagreements, etc.).
  • They provide a process to foster a climate for maximum participation and engagement — including helping the team listen effectively and acknowledge others’ viewpoints.
  • They help the team learn how to engage in healthy, creative debate.
  • They help keep the team on track and deal with “disruptive” behaviors. They know when and how to intervene and redirect on behaviors that hinder team performance.
  • They have tools to guide teams through solid discovery, planning, problem-solving and decision-making processes.
  • They promote accountability and follow-through.

Facilitators are also called in when teams have reached a point of total ineffectiveness — or worse. In these cases, facilitators can bring safety to a team in which emotions are running high. Skilled facilitators can help team members communicate their emotions in ways that contribute to the group’s effectiveness vs. harm it. Teams that can work through these tough situations often come out on the other side more bonded and better equipped to deal with future sticky situations.

Effective facilitators often bring value to even the best-run teams. A fresh set of eyes, ears, perspective and solid team development skills can help teams achieve an even higher level of performance.  I can help!  mmoriarty@pathtochange.com or 360 682 5807.

 

Keeping Your Workplace Team on Track

Most team leaders understand that focus, participation, action planning and commitment are important for team success — and find managing the “process” challenging. Two common challenges are 1) keeping the team on track and 2) generating commitment toward achieving the goal.

Teams are often a group of diverse individuals (with a wide variety of opinions and viewpoints). It takes sound planning, structure and an effective process to foster team commitment to a shared vision and accomplish results. There are many methods that can help, but here are a few to consider.

Warm-up: Icebreakers can be helpful to “warm” the team. They often promote team-building, trust, rapport and familiarity with each other — some encourage creativity and “out-of-the-box” thinking. There are hundreds of icebreaker ideas to choose from; the most effective provide the team with insight into each other and those that promote shared laughter and fun.

Creative idea generation: Brainstorming is a group technique to generate a large number of ideas and/or potential solutions to a problem. Unfortunately, most team leaders don’t lead brainstorming sessions in a way that maximizes the creative synergy or potential of the team. There are a number of “dos and don’ts” for effective brainstorming. A few guidelines:

  • Brainstorm at the beginning of meetings (preferably in the morning) when people are fresh.
  • Go for quantity — record all ideas (on a flip chart or whiteboard).
  • Encourage creativity and fun (laughter aids participation) — even wild and crazy ideas can generate a winning formula.
  • Encourage people to build on the ideas of others.
  • Allow plenty of time.
  • While the team is brainstorming, do not allow anyone to use this time to criticize, reject, ridicule or evaluate ideas (no speeches, pontifications or arguments). Suspending judgment during this time allows participants to freely generate unusual ideas and “out-of-the-box” thinking.

Visuals help support clarity and creativity. “Mind mapping” is another technique that promotes creative problem solving via the use of nonlinear visual diagrams. In this exercise participants put up “branches” of words, ideas or tasks around a central issue or subject (represented by a circle at the center). Some teams use mind mapping to problem solve using each “branch” to represent who, what, when, why and how.

Refinement and consolidation: Once the team has collectively generated new creative ideas, the team often needs to decide (unless the leader is deciding) which idea is the best solution. There are a number of processes that can help — here are a few:

  • Establishing evaluation criteria. It’s a good idea for the team to generate criteria to judge which ideas best solve the problem — examples: “should be cost effective” or “should be able to complete by our target date.” Consider establishing a scale (0 to 5) to determine how each idea best meets the criteria.
  • Narrowing the list. Again, there are many methods for teams to prioritize and make decisions. If the idea list is long, it may be helpful to let the team “group” related or similar ideas and generate a heading idea that captures the essence of those that are similar. Another useful technique to narrow a list is called “dot voting.” It’s a simple and quick way to give everyone votes and flush out what the majority of the team wants. Each member gets a set number of color-coded dots to “vote” on their favorite ideas.

Evaluating strategies: A valuable technique to further examine upcoming change, decisions and strategies is a “Force-Field Analysis” (developed by Kurt Lewin in 1947). Using this method, teams chart two important forces — what is working toward the desired state (helpful forces in the team’s favor, such as new markets, products, technologies or other resources) and those working against it (restraining forces such as competitors, lack of resources, organizational apathy, etc.). This method helps teams visualize, understand and make clear all the forces acting on an issue. Using this technique can provide a team with new insights in the assessment of potential strategies.

The plan to move forward: Without action there are no results. Promote accountability with action plans that make clear to the team “who will do what by when.” What gets measured and tracked is often what gets done!

I can help: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com or 360 682 5807.