Managers are often told that they need to coach more. For managers who want to improve their coaching skills, it is not enough to just learn how to coach. It is equally important to learn when to coach.
Yes, we should all take advantage of coaching opportunities when they come up organically. If a team member shares a current struggle or recent win, these are great opportunities to respond with coaching techniques!
But taking an exclusively opportunistic approach is not enough. Depending on factors like team member personalities or your work environment (remote work = fewer spontaneous interactions), you may go weeks or months between these opportunities. And if you are new to coaching, it will take practice to form new habits, like helping your team member solve the problem themselves instead of offering your own solution or advice.
If you want to improve your skills as a coach and maximize your impact on your team’s personal growth, I recommend intentionally dedicating time to coaching with your team. Good managers build systems to ensure the important work gets done. Don’t be afraid to treat your coaching process with the same rigor you use for quality assurance!
Two strategies for systematic coaching
Here are two systems I recommend for managers looking to make coaching a regular feature of their team. Feel free to customize based on your team’s unique style and needs.
Whichever strategy works, commit to doing it regularly. Choose a cadence to repeat your process so it truly becomes systematic. And feel free to add more coaching sessions on an ad hoc basis when new challenges arise.
Strategy #1: explicitly dedicate a 1-1 for coaching
Before the meeting:
Let your team member know you will dedicate the entire meeting to coaching
Ask them to come up with a coaching topic. It could be a concrete problem they are facing, like a project that is behind schedule. Or it could be a broader aspiration for self-improvement, like a desire to speak up more during meetings.
During the meeting:
Spend the entire meeting in a coaching conversation about the chosen topic.
Remember to show up with curiosity and ask lots of open-ended questions. Do your best to avoid the temptation of telling them what to do and solving their problems for them.
At the end of the meeting, ask them to summarize what they learned from the conversation and help them come up with concrete action items.
After the meeting
Follow up with them to follow progress and keep them accountable
Recommended cadence: one to three dedicated coaching meetings per quarter.
Strategy #2: run a 5-meeting coaching sprint
For a more intensive coaching program, I recommend batching meetings into a 5 session sprint.
Ask your team member to choose one to three coaching topics. It is best if they identify skills, goals, challenges, or opportunities themselves (though it is ok for you as their manager to provide some input).
Here is how I structure 5 meeting sprints:
Session 1: explore and clarify the coaching topics and set some action items, like gathering more information on a given challenge.
Sessions 2-4: review the action items from the previous session, come up with insights/tactics/strategies, and generate action items for next time. This is coaching! The goal is for your team member to come up with their own insights/strategies. You can share ideas, but try to refrain from giving advice or telling them what to do.
Session 5: review progress from the previous sessions, explore how their new insight fits into their bigger picture career goals, and come up with actions to keep the momentum going.
Recommended cadence: two to four sprints per year.
The benefits of systematic coaching
There are three main reasons why dedicating regular time, attention, and energy to developing your team members will increase the likelihood that your coaching will have an impact.
First, you are guaranteeing yourself and your team more reps. Regular coaching gives your team more opportunities for self reflection and you more practice as a coach.
Second, you send a clear signal that, as a manager, you are invested in developing your team. If you show your team you are thoughtful and intentional about investing in their personal growth, they will be more likely to actively engage in the process.
Third, by explicitly labeling the session as a coaching time, you set a clear intention. In a coaching conversation, both the coach and the coachee know what to expect, which means you are all more likely to be in the appropriate state of mind.
Getting your managers ready to coach
This article is about when to coach. But a prerequisite for effective, systematic coaching is making sure your managers know how to coach. In order to make an organization-wide impact, companies should provide coaching training or practice for managers. They should also educate coachees on the coaching process. Companies can do this by bringing in a professional coach to run workshops or sending managers to an accredited ICF coaching program.
Without this context, the initiative can create confusion and uncertainty, which decreases the likelihood of success for your coaching and increases the risk of a frustrating and demoralizing experience for everyone.
The goal is to establish a culture where everyone is ready to grow and learn so that employees can thrive both as a team and as humans.