Teams play an important part in how most of us work these days and the synergy that can be gained from an effective working team is a very powerful tool for all business. A critical part of team development is the coaching role a manager plays for team members.

The purpose of this article is to provide some practical advice on how to go about an effective coaching role, what the difference is between coaching and mentoring and what will effective coaching actually look like.


What is coaching versus mentoring?

Coaching is a non directive approach to personal development that enables a person to achieve their chosen goals and reach their potential. Whereas mentoring is the process of imparting knowledge and advice, based on the mentor’s previous experience, ie role modelling the attributes of a high performer.

You can find that the distinction can often become rather blurred with a manager affecting both in their role within a team.


Why undertake a coaching role?

There is a business need for people managers to lead and manage their people and business units effectively. Coaching and developing people is a fundamental behaviour in this process and is critical to the growth of a team and helping it to also deal with change. My previous article Managing Change in the Workplace provides some useful advice around an effective change process.

Coaching enables us to motivate and empower people, release potential and maintain the focus and energy of high performers. So it not only provides a fundamental tool in helping people to work on areas requiring development and improvement but, just as importantly, helping team members to excel in areas of strength.

How to coach?

A critical difference in effective coaching is that the questions raised in discussion compel attention for an answer, focus attention for precision of exactly what needs to be developed and creates a feedback loop. Whereas instructing does not require any of these attributes.

A simple and effective method to help managers to coach and generate more consistent and long-lasting results is the GROW model developed by Sir John Whitmore in his book Coaching For Performance: GROWing Human Potenial and Purpose and is used by many businesses. This model has four components:

  • G – Goal: what is the objective or goal of the coaching for the team member (and for the manager);
  • R – Reality: what is the situation right now. Where are their core skills, where is there need for improvement and where are they excelling;
  • O – Options: what are our options to achieving the objectives / goal identified above; and
  • W – Will: what will we do to achieve our goal and what will this look like?


What do I need to think about?

In applying the GROW model, whether it’s in an informal five minute chat in the corridor or a scheduled meeting, an effective coach will:

  • use active listening;
  • use open and probing questioning;
  • be supportive;
  • create rapport;
  • help the team member focus towards their prioritised goals; and
  • apply each stage of the GROW model in structuring the conversation effectively.


What are Goal type questions?

The Goal stage addresses what are the objectives or goal you and the team member are trying to achieve? To reach this you need to be answering questions such as:

  • what is it you really want to achieve;
  • what is your ideal outcome;
  • what are the main reasons this is important to you;
  • what would success look like for you; and
  • what are the personal consequences for you of not achieving your goal?

A great quote from Anthony Robins is “setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible”. It highlights how important setting a good foundation or framework is in an effective coaching process.


What are Reality type questions?

So once the goals are set an assessment needs to be made of what is the current reality. These questions may include:

  • what is currently preventing you achieving your goal;
  • what have you tried so far and how successful have these approaches been for you;
  • what else have you tried and how did they work towards you achieving your goals at that time;
  • what are the three most important issues for you right now; and
  • how is your current situation helping and hindering you?


What are Options type questions?

The Reality questions provide you with an assessment of needs to be addressed and what has worked and not worked in the past. Now the Options questions provide you an opportunity to explore the direction to head into next. These questions would include:

  • if time, money and resource were unlimited what could you try;
  • what would person X do in your shoes;
  • what ideas do you have about moving this issue forward;
  • what would make the situation worse for you if you did it (then reverse everything they come up with); and
  • where else could you get ideas, support, and insight to help you with this?


What are Will type questions?

With the Options now set out the final step is to address the Will questions. This discussion would include questions like:

  • how motivated are you right now to go and do the things we have talked about;
  • what could stop you taking the next step and how can we address any of these barriers;
  • what two things are you going to do now to move this situation forward;
  • when are you going to do it and how will you know it is done – how will the situation look different; and
  • what contingency plan do you have if option A does not go the way you want it to?

It is often said that without WILL there is no responsibility or action.


Hints and Tips

Having worked through the GROW model and the questions set out above, you have a framework in place to provide an effective coaching role. Some additional points also worth considering include:

  • play back their own words when summarising;
  • don’t lead and make judgements on the situation;
  • keep the momentum and focus of the conversation – move things on – don’t get stuck in Reality;
  • you may have to review the initial Goal as the conversation develops to Options – don’t be afraid to review and adjust;
  • test the motivation and the Will to act. This could be done through how realistic and challenging the proposed actions are;
  • do not impose solution. The working through of what the solutions could be by the team member is very important to their commitment in seeing them through;
  • ensure confidentiality; and
  • support the individual.