Here are some key tips I’ve come to consider core features of effective team coaching, a process that I believe should never be confused with advising and directing.
1. Dodge the bullet. The “bullet” comes in the form of an implicit supplication: “Solve our problem(s) for us.” It’s exceedingly tempting to fall into this role (there’s a seductive hint of idealisation in the invitation). However, as a coach, I’m not there to do other people’s thinking for them, which is actually a form of infantilisation; I’m there to encourage them to do their own original thinking.
2. Encourage reflection. Like the “solve our problem” trap, one often encounters intense (and equally seductive) pressure to give advice. Advice is, on occasion, necessary; but it isn’t part of the coaching role. When implicitly or explicitly asked for advice, I encourage coaches to free associate: “What comes into your mind when you start thinking of possible solutions?”
3. Offer space for thinking, not solutions. The temptation to offer a solution often comes from the coach rather than those being coached. We tend to be knowledgeable and experienced. However, in coaching, offering solutions is a form of sabotage, fostering mental passivity in teams rather than the agility and active creativity we’re actually seeking to unleash.
4. Listen through aporia. Don’t rush in to complete a faltering sentence or interrupt a “thinking aloud” sequence with a question. When teams feel listened to and heard, they feel validated and emboldened. Listening patiently while active thinking is underway conveys the message: your creative thinking matters – please carry on.
5. Be fully present. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the matters under discussion, being fully present to and attentively focused on the team discussion during every moment of the coaching session is indispensable. Presence can’t be faked, and it can readily be sensed by teams. However, it can be sabotaged by letting inner distractions clutter your mind.
Five more tips on effective team coaching in Part Two!