Informal Coaching for Managers: Knowing When to be a Coach

05-10-2013

Coaching should be something that all managers do with their teams. It helps you understand how people think about their work, their careers, and their relationships with the organization. It can also help you to improve a person's performance, and deal with any issues before these become major problems.

Use informal coaching to react quickly to situations and issues.

Many managers use formal coaching as a way of guiding people through change, briefing them on organisational developments, carrying out performance appraisals, and so on. However, sometimes you need to react quickly to situations and issues, and that's where you can adopt a more informal approach to coaching.

But how can you recognise these situations? And, when is it best to "coach," rather than "manage," someone? Getting these decisions wrong and missing those vital coaching opportunities can make a huge difference to the effectiveness of your team. You may also hurt the good relationships you've developed with team members.

If you follow the guidance below, you'll be better at identifying potential coaching opportunities. Then, with practice, informal coaching will become an instinctive skill.

Using Informal Coaching As Part of Your Management Approach

Here's a five point guide for using informal coaching as part of your day-to-day approach to management:

Be patient, and change your perspective

Take time to explore the current and upcoming workloads of team members. This is a great way of gaining an awareness of what each person is doing, and gives you the knowledge you need to identify an informal coaching opportunity. The most able and talented workers are often those who don't recognise that they are overloaded, or who try to combine challenging personal and work commitments.

Where you can, make sure that you adjust your own schedule to the demands placed upon your team, so that you're ready when someone needs coaching.
It's also useful to know that a team member is preparing for a key task such as a sales meeting, new project, or a difficult conversation with a colleague. Be aware of what members of your team are doing, and be available so that you can offer support and informal coaching if required.

Be aware of a people's moods

With practice, we can all become more sensitive to other people's emotions. Learn to recognise small changes in behaviour and body language – this is often the prompt for initiating a coaching conversation.

Perhaps the person has received unhelpful feedback at a meeting you attended, or maybe his or her daily patterns of work change suddenly. Also, note how people react when a task or project has been successful – this is equally important, and it's an opportunity to coach for further successes. (People often experience a sense of anti-climax after achieving a major goal – you may need to help them through this.)

Ask for permission before coaching

You may recognise a perfect opportunity for informal coaching, but it could be at a time when a person least wants it.

For example, the person may prefer to prepare for a sales meeting through quiet thinking, or by rehearsing the key messages, rather than through coaching. So always ask whether it's a good time to take a few minutes for a coaching conversation – this is a professional way to approach informal coaching.

Coach – don't manage or direct

Avoid offering advice or direction and calling it "coaching."

As a rule, if you find yourself saying "I think" in a sentence, it's unlikely to be a coaching conversation. Try to ask questions and summarise what you hear, rather than offering your own views (however insightful) about the person's situation.

Use informal moments to make the best use of time

To start an informal coaching conversation, use informal moments like sitting in the break room, or passing the person in the hallway. You could also use time at the end of a meeting that ends early, or when travelling together to a client's office or other work location. The spirit of informal coaching is to be spontaneous, efficient, and professional.

Tip: Informal coaching works best in small doses. If you've asked whether the person would like a coaching conversation, agree to keep the session short and focused on the specific issue. In the long run, this "just in time" approach will pay off and become an easy working habit.

An Informal Coaching Example

You've accompanied a team member to an internal meeting at which she received negative feedback from people in other departments.

During the meeting, you didn't defend her, but you also didn't provide any of the negative feedback. Her body language shows you that her pride has been hurt. She reacted defensively and blamed many others for the issues raised.

Immediately after the meeting, you could initiate the following conversation:

You: Do you want to talk about what happened there? I don't mean the specifics, but from a coaching point of view? Maybe we could have a cup of coffee and discuss it.

Team member: If you think it would help.

You: Well, more from the view that you might think it would help.

Team member: Well, I got angry. I blamed you, the rest of the team, and others in the room. In fact, did I leave anyone out?

You: Maybe not, but what were you feeling then?

Team member: There's no excuse. I hadn't prepared. I have a lot going on at home and in my personal life. I felt stressed, and it seemed like everyone was trying to make me look stupid or unprofessional, and I'm not – except for when I got angry, of course.

You: What do you want to do about it?

Team member: Aside from run away and hide? I think I should apologise to our team and to the others at the meeting – and to you. Sorry.

You: Thanks. Anything else?

Team member: Do you mean something that would prevent this from happening again? I think I should ask for help when I'm under pressure.

You: Sounds good to me.

 

Originally published in Mindtools

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