Coaching a High Performance Team

In 25 years of leading and managing teams globally the most important attribute one can have is that of a coach. In particular with new generations looking for autonomy and consistent feedback the role of a coach will become more important as the workforce changes. Interestingly, whether I was coaching a colleague from France, Turkey or Japan there were consistent themes that made everyone more successful:

  • Trust between the coach and the player
  • Match the needs of the person with the needs of the team and business
  • Ensure both parties are clear on outcomes
  • Create a roadmap to ensure both parties are successful
  • Consistent follow up and frequent feedback

These are the key concepts I have found useful regardless of culture, ethnicity or the generation of the person I have coached successfully. I also find these concepts to apply in corporations, the U.S. government and not for profit organizations at all levels from executive to entry level employee. And yes, managing one’s boss and reverse coaching do apply.

You must have a mutual level of trust 

     The first level of a successful coaching engagement is mutual trust between the person conducting the coaching and the person receiving coaching. One should not assume this is the case even for a relationship that has existed for years. Building trust is the foundation of effective teamwork and improvement. This is accomplished in several ways. Honestly listening to the other person, responding appropriately to requests and concerns, giving credit for work completed, giving the other person the benefit of the doubt and understanding the other person in depth. Obviously this requires work over time and the field must be cultivated on a continuous basis. When these basics are accomplished the coaching relationship will be much easier and the return on your personal investment much higher.

Match the needs of the person with the needs of the business

     To the extent possible make the needs of all parties intersect. There are three parties in each coaching interaction; The coach, the player and the team to include the company. When a person on your team is focused on projects that satisfy a desire, they will contribute more discretionary effort than not. Work content that inspires them will receive the attention necessary to ensure the entire team is successful. And coaching points will be more salient as they will have an intrinsic reason to improve. Naturally if you and your team member have a shared need than the results will typically be extraordinary. While this will not always be possible, it should be possible to match 50 to 80% of work content assuming you recruited the correct person for the role in the beginning. Most of your employees can live with content they do not enjoy if they are inspired by a majority of the content they do enjoy. And the trust you established from the beginning of the relationship will ensure an open and honest conversation when discussing priorities. I will assume the needs of the company will be met and no hidden agendas are part of your relationship.

Ensure both parties are clear on outcomes

     The next critical step is to agree on the end state for projects and responsibilities. Make certain SMART (Specific, measurable, actionable, repeatable and time bound) goals are established and they are easy to track. During coaching sessions revisit goals and objectives to ensure the business hasn’t changed priorities and the team is making progress. The establishment of tollgates or check points will increase the feeling of accomplishment and increase the potential for success. If there are key stakeholders or dotted line managers created by a matrixed organization either include those people in the review or obtain feedback prior to the review. It is important that adjoining partners and customers are part of the goal setting process. If for any reason your team member is not making progress review the plan and make sure this team is not either late or if a key step was not accomplished. Not only will this empower the employee to make the necessary changes it will also help both of you understand why goals are not on track.

Create a roadmap to ensure both parties are successful

      As mentioned in the previous step, having a clear roadmap and steps will ensure accountability. If a team mate understands the objectives and creates a real plan they will be ahead of 90% of other people in the company. This document need not be overly complicated and is typically a companion of a clear project charter. This can be a simple who/what/when document or a more detailed GANT chart. At the very least the plan should include accountable parties, steps to ensure progress and key assumptions. This can be reviewed weekly or monthly to ensure the assumed drivers have not changed and if they do change, the implications for the project goals. It will also be useful when conducting quarterly reviews with more senior leaders in your business to discuss progress, changes and any revision to the final project outcome. The details and complexity of any project plan will be driven by the size of the project. For an ERP implementation, a GANT chart will be more appropriate. If your team member is working on a project that will deliver incremental change in the next month a simple punch card of actions will suffice. The key for both parties is a reasonably detailed plan with clear steps and a clear objective.

Consistent follow up and feedback

     A key task of any leader is to supervise ongoing work and make necessary corrections. The manager should ensure reasonable reviews are scheduled to provide coaching on progress and to account for business changes. Once again, the size of the project and the impact of the change will dictate frequency. One should also consider the longevity of the team member and that person’s business experience. Often a stretch assignment will dictate more frequent follow up initially until the person is more comfortable. Frequent follow up should not be confused with micromanaging a project. The intent of these reviews is to review progress to committed goals, give advice on next steps and ensure the accountability is assigned. Other considerations will be frequency of reviews with senior leaders and content to be reviewed. Formal and informal feedback should be shared and documented as appropriate. Areas to consider will be whether or not the project is on time, on budget and development opportunities based on project status. The intent is to ensure both parties are aligned and no surprises occur as the project nears completion. It is also a part of the development program for the team and can be used to determine follow on assignments and professional development opportunities.

Coaching your team is both a critical part of your job as a leader and also requires preparation to be effective. Follow these simple guidelines and keep the channels of communication open. Not only will your team be more successful, but you will also learn from the experience.

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