Coaching Skills: The way to develop a team

Workplace Coaching skills are a skill set separate from training.  It is a vital complement for any manager who needs to get the best performance from their staff members.  Yet many managers don’t recognise what skills they need to motivate staff and increase their levels of engagement.   

The premise of these coaching skills is your attitude.  It is crucial for a coach to adopt an attitude of belief to be successful.  A coach needs to believe in the person being coached, to believe they have the ability and desire to do their very best in their job.  A good coach will believe there are no difficult staff members; it’s just that as a coach, they haven’t yet found the best approach.  And a successful coach has a range of flexible approaches to working with individuals. 

Here are 7 specific coaching skills managers can develop to be an effective workplace coach:

Coaching Skill 1. Learn how to structure a conversation to achieve the intended outcome. 

All conversations have a context and content.  You need to know how to establish the right context for the coachee to be receptive to engaging in a coaching relationship.  Then you need to have a clear structure for coaching.  There is a cursory model used in basic coaching called the G.R.O.W. model.  For beginner coaches, this can be useful, but it is limited.  An effective coach creates a relationship with the coachee so there are high levels of safety and confidentiality to explore how to overcome the behaviours that prevent one from being and doing their best.

Coaching Skill 2. Consider how you will to begin the conversation. 

Stephen Covey and his 7 Habits of Highly Successful People embrace the notion of beginning with the end in mind – what result is desired from the coaching conversation?  Who will be responsible for what actions that are agreed upon?  A good start is to have no agenda, but to be willing to find common ground on which to have the conversation.  It may start something like this: “I would like to thank you for agreeing to engage in workplace coaching.  My role in this will be {XXXX} and I would like to understand what you think your role is.  What I would like to achieve from the coaching relationship over all is (HHHH) and for today I would like to know what your thoughts are on (matter at hand) so that we can (work toward desired outcome).  How do you see yours and my role in coaching, and what would you like to get out of today’s conversation?”  Remember though to begin the coaching conversation, you first need to create a coaching relationship with the coachee.

Coaching Skill 3. Know how to establish realistic outcomes for each and every conversation. 

This may seem to contradict #2 above – don’t go in with an agenda.  Yet you have to have some idea of a desired outcome, such as measurable progress toward a defined objective.  This can be in the form of increased awareness of one’s tone of voice, agreeing to work on improving their emotional control, or even being open to go to a training course to acquire skills they may not currently have.

A common mistake workplace coaches make is in getting agreement that improvement is needed, but then they leave it at that.   Awareness is only the first step! There are several steps involved in realising the desired improvement, and each coaching session should make progress toward the established outcome or goal.  Each coaching session needs a level of reasonableness in terms of what is possible – just because a person acknowledges they should stop overreacting doesn’t mean they know how.  This is what coaching is for – to support their development in not only acquiring the desired skills, but also in applying them for success.

Coaching Skill 4. Be able to identify weaknesses as well as strengths in each and every employee that reports to you. 

Most managers, particularly when it comes to ‘difficult staff members’, struggle to come up with positive attributes of their team members.  Effective managers can identify a large range of skills and knowledge that their coachee has.  They can also identify gaps in required skill levels, and using their abilities as a coach, they can devise an effective development path to close the gap.  Ineffective managers focus on what is not working well and what needs to be ‘fixed’.   Effective managers aim to catch their employees ‘doing it right’ and focus on where they want to go, not what isn’t working.

Coaching Skill 5. Understand how to get an individual to take responsibility and be accountable for their actions.

Good managers understand what their role entails – and definitely, what it does not involve.  Each employee and staff member plays a clearly defined role, and things get messy when the distinctions get blurred.  For example, when a manager gives an employee the answer to something the employee really ought to know because it is quicker to give them the information needed, or easier than letting them work it out themselves.  And the more a manager engages in this behaviour, the more the employee relies on the manager to find the information for them.  And it causes the employees to think less.  Which, in turn, causes the managers to think more, and not about their particular job role.  Effective managers know how to coach their employees toward development that is driven by the employee, along a path that benefits the employee as well as the organisation, and one that is embraced by the employee as they can see how their improvement is favourable for their career progression

Coaching Skill 6. Practice the ability to effectively listen, to truly hear what is being said, and to tune in to what is not being said. 

We’ve all heard about open, closed and probing questions.  But layers of questions?  What does that mean? Different layers of questions refer to acquiring relevant information in a progressive manner.  It involves big-picture thinking and patience, as well as an awareness that to achieve meaningful and lasting change, one has to understand all that is in play in any given situation.

To do this, one needs the ability to step out of one’s own perspective, and be able to see things from another point of view.   People can only reveal a small amount of information in any given workplace conversation so a good listener will pay attention to firstly understanding from what perspective the speaker views a situation.  Then the effective listener will listen for what are the aspirations and goals of the speaker.  Finally we get to the layer that matters – what solutions or ways forward can be created.  Most managers are only focused on this final layer.  Yet when we learn to truly listen to where another person is coming from, then a strategic and gradual approach can be taken, with dramatically different results.

Coaching Skill 7.  Refine your ability to get information about an entire situation. 

This goes hand in hand with the previous skill.  Ask more open questions.  As a skill this one tool is highly under utilised.  The tool of telling is, on the other hand, extremely overused.  And to the detriment of the performance of your staff, not to mention trust, morale, and respect.  When you tell another person what to do, what you think, what solutions you consider to be the best, you negate their opinions, and even their ability to play a significant role, the role they are paid to play according to their job description.

If they cannot do that fundamentally, you will be taking on more than  your job role entails.  It will fall upon you to continually tell the employee what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and the more you do this, the more you need to do this.  Instead, use open questions to learn how your employees view a situation, what they consider to be important tasks to do, in what order and at what time…… and you will involve them more wholly, and more respectfully.

Of course there are many coaching skills that apply, including knowing how to set your own agenda aside, being able to operate from an objective perspective, being tactful and skilfully handling delicate situations.  The above 7 coaching skills are our essential starters for managers that are also workplace coaches.


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