How much coaching should line managers give direct reports?
It’s a natural assumption that, the more coaching a line manager gives his or her direct reports, the greater the positive impact on performance and engagement. In reality, however, according to a study by Gartner, there is very little correlation. The study suggests instead that quantity of coaching is much less important than quality. It also finds that the most effective managers focus on identifying the skills and development needs of their direct reports and on finding the best learning resource for them. Rather than assume they must coach, they recognise that coaching may best be done by peers or people outside the team – especially when it is related to tasks, where they do not have specific expertise.
All of which reinforces the perspective that line manager coaching is less about doing coaching than about creating the environment, where coaching can happen. Practical steps a line manager can take include:
- Making sure that individual strengths and expertise are recognised and valued within the team, by talking about them in team meetings and creating opportunities for people to demonstrate expertise to colleagues
- Building an environment of psychological safety, where everyone feels confident enough to ask colleagues for coaching
- Rewarding knowledge sharing and peer coaching; one simple method is to have an appreciation system, based on peer recognition for both task help and learning help
- Getting to know who outside the team might be a good learning resource for team members and creating connections
- Fostering amongst team members the habit of asking for coaching. “Learning check-ins” help to overcome people’s tendency to plough on without seeking input, for fear of looking stupid or wasting other people’s time. The check-in process is very simple. It asks:
- Am I missing anything?
- What else would be useful to know?
- What do I need to watch out for?
- Very often, all that is needed, is a simple assurance – and that usually takes only moments. But every now and then a need or opportunity for coaching will arise.
- Making sure that everyone’s development needs (including their own) are included in a transparent Team Development Plan, which clarifies and integrates individual and collective learning requirements.
One of the benefits, when team leaders and managers adopt this kind of approach, is that they spread the burden of development across the team – which, frees up time for them to think, and perhaps invest a bit more time in their own development….!
David Clutterbuck, 2018
 2018, Managers can’t be great coaches all by themselves, Harvard Business Review, May-June 2018, 22-24
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