Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

Do you make these five team coaching mistakes?

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

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To me, to you...

To me, to you...

As those of you who have attended my programmes will know, I consider the development of high-performing, work-based teams to be coaching’s greatest challenge. The doubts, fears and confusions around which we coach individuals are magnified and multiplied in teams by the nature of the relationships amongst its members.

There is more to coaching in teams than I could (or should) ever cover in a short article, so for now let’s just highlight some of the common pitfalls.

Creating ambiguous goals

Some team members will be concerned with quality: doing the best job possible. Other team members will be concerned with output: getting the job done at speed. Some team members will simply be concerned with outdoing another team and some team members will not be concerned with anything.

It’s hard to reconcile these differing views in terms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ but we must use coaching to find out individual drivers and motivations and then to get agreement to a common set of team goals. It may be impossible to get consensus on what the goals should be, but individuals will subordinate their individual views in favour of team goals if they can see the rationale.

Failing to deal with moving goal posts

It is naive in the extreme to think that goals won’t change. Shifting goal posts is as much a part of working life as dodgy coffee and pointless meetings. The job of the team coach is to acknowledge the frustration that changing goal posts causes and then to refocus the team on processes as quickly as possible. Let me explain. Whether the goal is to sell one hundered widgets or two hundred it can only be achieved through the process of good client relations and product knowledge. Whether the goal is to deliver the project by the end of June or end of March, it’s about the processes of planning, monitoring risks and dependencies, securing sign-off and so on.

Over communication

I participated in countless staff surveys in my corporate life and there was never a time when the results didn’t indicate dissatisfaction with communication. The management response to this was invariably to do more communicating; more memos and emails, more meetings and quality groups, more pamphlets and brochures. This usually was counter productive because what was needed was not more communication but better communication.

This means enough communication to get the message across and then leaving people to get on with it. Too much communication creates ‘white noise’, It also creates confusion and sees the team wasting energy explaining it all to each other.

Dealing poorly with changes in team membership

Most people know Tuckman’s model of team development and its four stages of Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. Less well known is the fifth stage of Mourning. In other words dealing properly with the upset even the best performing teams experience when the make up changes. People can quite literally ‘mourn’ the previous set up. Ironically, where our team coaching has been successful and we have created a close-knit, high performing team, such losses can be felt most keenly.

Where possible I recommend that people be allowed to move on from a team gradually rather than suddenly. This gives everyone a chance to adjust and enables the knowledge of the departing member to be disseminated to those that remain. A similarly careful approach is needed when inducting new team members so everyone can forge new relationships and move on from “It’s not the same now that Johnny isn’t here”.

Not valuing diversity

Talk of diversity these days tends to focus on age, gender, race and the whole equal opportunities agenda. But here I mean the diversity that comes from having a team made up of people with different strengths and weaknesses. A team with a wide range of talents and abilities that can come to the fore when facing different challenges. A team of University graduates will face every problem like….University graduates. A team with as many GCSEs in woodwork as PHDs in Engineering is likely to be more flexible, creative and innovative.

Most work teams achieve their targets with some degree of success or they would be disbanded, but they fail to really achieve their potential because they are not coached beyond the Storming and Norming stages where so many teams get stuck.

How to coach a virtual team

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

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Where on Earth are my team?

Where on Earth are my team?

Firstly, let’s establish what we mean by a virtual team. It is:

  • A collection of people physically separated by location and/or time
  • A network of people who are able to work together and interact using advances in technology
  • Often temporary, consisting of people with a range of skills and experiences who work in different locations to achieve a specific task in a set time period
  • Rarely 100% virtual and may sometimes meet

Virtual teams are proving to be a great way of meeting some modern business challenges. While organisations have always operated in different locations, people are increasingly being asked to work together across locations and share responsibility for a product or result. Global corporations have emerged, spanning a range of industries or services operating globally 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on different continents and across time zones. Customers’ higher expectations mean that the pressure is on to deliver products to market often within tight deadlines. Relationships with customers, suppliers and stakeholders are increasingly based on co-operation and collaboration and strategic alliances and partnerships have become more common.

This means that knowledge is undoubtedly key and possibly the most important resource for our new economy. When organisations downsized in the 80s and 90s they lost a lot of their knowledge and it’s happening again now. Knowledge management thus becomes crucial to meet the challenge of tackling the complexity of today’s products and product cycles. While knowledge will always be a source of power, the emphasis now is on sharing what we know both within the whole organisation and, where appropriate, with others, rather than keeping it to ourselves. But, of course, knowledge is only useful if we can do something with it.

So virtual teams are a great way of disseminating k knowledge in the complex world of work today, but there are many challenges in coaching such teams to work effectively, not least of which is managing the almost inevitable cultural differences that will exist in a team comprised of people from different locations or organisations. People from different countries and cultures will have their own view of the world and ways of doing things. When setting up a virtual team it’s easy to overlook this and end up unknowingly causing offence. All cultures and complex and it’s so easy to generalise and make assumptions with little or no evidence to back them up. When working with different cultures it pays to stand back and consider any assumptions you are making. Check them out and, if necessary, make adjustments.

If the team is to be successful, it really does pay to meet face to face at the start. This enables the team to:

  • Get to know each other and build relationships
  • Talk through the project and work out the best way of tackling it
  • Set ground rules and agreed ways of operating
  • Agree on ways of communicating and the technology to be used
  • Carry out any necessary training
  • Plan the next steps

Whatever the financial and logistical difficulties, it’s worth making the strongest possible case for a face to face meeting and for everyone to try to attend. High performing teams work at high levels of trust and the team members will have a hard time trusting each other if they have not met.

If a meeting is not possible try a combination of email and web or video conferencing. In the early stages put your efforts into getting to know each other socially rather than focussing totally on work. Be prepared to raise the subject of trust, discuss what it means and work at getting a common understanding. Coach for involvement from all team members to increase the chances of trust developing.

In the absence of the regular social contact associated with conventional teams, look for other ways of promoting team development and relationship building. Ideas include:

  • Working out ways of sharing when people are available and their contact information
  • Talking to each other outside of formal meetings
  • Varying the communication tools used
  • Allowing for, and accepting, cultural differences

Don’t fall into the trap of believing the challenges of working with a virtual team can be solved by technology. It’s people that make for successful teams, not computers. Your contact with each other may be remote but always remember that you are dealing with human beings who have feelings, needs, hopes and aspirations. Treat people with respect, involve them, take care with your communications and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Don’t operate in virtual teams in ways that would be unacceptable if everyone was in the same room. Try to avoid an over reliance on email and pick up the phone wherever possible.

Never underestimate the power of a simple thank you. Not only when things are going well, but also in the difficult times. It’s so easy to feel isolated in a virtual team.

Coaching & Delegation

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

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Time to delegate?

Time to delegate?

On our coaching skills training course we discuss a well known communication spectrum that considers the pros and cons of “telling” and one end and “delegating” at the other.

There are other points on the spectrum too such as “selling” – communicating through persuasion and “consulting” – communicating through discussion.

Poorer managers tend to “stick or swing” i.e. stay with one method irrespective of what’s happening or go from one extreme to the other leaving their teams bewildered and unable to identify what sort of boss they have.

Coaching managers on the other hand take a performer centred approach. i.e. moving up and down the spectrum as required by the needs of the coachee. In this way they ensure that they give just the right amount of help at the right time; using their experience wisely.

The added benefit of this approach is that they remain in close communication with the coachee. People who are coached in this way tend to learn and improve much faster as they construct their own understanding in their own way.

Recently some course participants have revealed how difficult they find it to delegate. It appears they fear losing control and the consequent recriminations that will come their way if things don’t work out.

“Telling” appears attractive because the manager retains control but there is no involvement or commitment from the coachee. “Delegating” hands over control to the coachee which is perhaps a step too far.

The beauty of the coaching approach is that both coach and coachee have control. The coachee has control because they choose the way forward. The coach has control because they know exactly what is to be done.

Through coaching, the coachee is making choices with high awareness and is 100% responsible. The coach, in hearing the details of the coachee’s plan, gains confidence in their intention to carry it out and has the opportunity to check it out against any rules or constraints.

Coaching is therefore the best approach to delegation because it caters for the concerns, expectations and experience of the coach and respects the need of the coachee to be properly involved, utilising their experience, knowledge and skills.