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Coaching: A Team Effort

It is easy to spot the difference between a work team that is “motivated” and one that just goes through the motions. The motivated team produces at or above the level expected by top management, has only occasional absences or tardiness, and low employee turnover. The second group has trouble meeting its goals, greater absenteeism, and higher turnover. In addition, members of the latter work team may be more apt to argue with one another or to band together against their supervisor. Can a supervisor who is also a good coach really make a difference?

The answer is a definite “yes” with a few qualifiers.


There are three things you can do to have a solid, productive work force.

  1. You can: Hire only fully competent people who already know the job and who do things right all the time. There aren’t many such people but you could look around and keep on searching.
  2. You can: Wish for a miracle.
  3. You can: Take the employees you have and train them to be highly competent.

Of those three choices, doing a good job of training and coaching is the most practical way to have successful and productive employees. Training is teaching employees the necessary skills before they are given the job to do on their own. Coaching is helping employees day-by-day to do a better job. It’s making them more able to do their present job on their own and to enjoy doing it well. It’s also preparing them for bigger future responsibilities. Good coaching is motivating people to want to do the best they can and more.

This takes time and effort. The payoff comes when the work gets done better and your team does the job with less waste of time, money, and energy.

Individual employee’s expectations need to be considered in your coaching efforts too.

Employees’ interests and values are changing. More than ever they expect to participate. They also believe that their skills should be used and that they should be provided with on-the-job training. Employees want a challenging job which will provide them with satisfaction and a sense of worth. They respond to broader responsibility and don’t enjoy fragmented or highly specialized jobs. They want to have some sense of independence.

Today’s employees are not only interested in security or in pay and fringe benefits. They are often placing increased value on being recognized and involved in reaching personal growth goals.

As a supervisor you must be aware of these new values. Keeping your employees’ interests and priorities will help you better motivate them to work well.


STEP 1. Fostering Good Communication To Coach Your Team

The reason jobs are often not done right and employees are fired is because of lack of skill. Right? Wrong! Poor communication and ineffective human relations are the major causes.

Remember: Communication is a “meeting of meanings.” It’s getting through to the other person what you mean in a way that they understand. In fact, you want them to do more than understand, you want them to act on the information in the correct way. Effective communication is talking and listening to create that understanding. The end result is to get things done in a way so that you, the organization, and the employee will all be satisfied.

Poor communication with your boss or your employees means the job won’t be done well. It will mean friction and frustration. It can also result in foul-ups, misunderstood orders, wasted time, and unnecessary grievances. It could even cause work stoppages and strikes.

To Foster Good Communication:
  1. Ask rather than tell.

    Whenever possible, ask employees for their ideas and opinions. If some of the task includes their ideas they are more likely to go along with it.

    If there are no choices, don’t kid employees by asking their opinion about what should be done.

  2. Listen more and talk less.

    Help show your employees that what they say is worthwhile.

    Keep eye contact.

    Avoid thinking about what you want to say next or judging what you hear until your employee has finished talking.

  3. Explain the reasons.

    Explain such things as work orders, rules, and the reasons the task is necessary.

    If people understand why they get assignments and what the work is about, they will cooperate more and do a better job.

  4. Talk as one adult to another.

    Sure you’re their boss, but people listen better when you show respect and consideration.

    Remember how you felt in school when the teacher talked down to you?

    When employees are treated as adults, they are more likely to act like adults.

  5. Check employees’ understanding.

    Be certain you and your employees have the same understanding of the task.

    Ask them to tell you in their own words what they heard.

    You can do the same by saying, “Okay, what you’re saying is . . .", and reviewing what they said to you.

  6. Plan what you are going to say.

    Think about how to give directions and assignments clearly.

    Review, in your mind, what you are going to say to see if it could be misunderstood before you say it.

  7. Consider employees’ feelings.

    Try to see situations from their point of view. How would you feel if you were in their shoes?

    Ask how they feel about the task.

    Tell them how you feel about the task’s importance and what having it done well means to you.

    Think about how ready the employee is to receive your message. Would another time be better?

  8. Try to keep calm and cool.

    Even at busy times when all are under pressure, you can help by communicating clearly and calmly. If you get upset others will too. That won’t help get the job done.

    Yelling is not good communicating. People don’t hear well or accurately when you or they are hot under the collar.

    Being cool in hot situations will earn you your employees’ respect, understanding, and support.

Remember: Good communication and good performance go together.

STEP 2. Recognizing Feelings

How we feel is really more important than what we know. This is because how we feel plays a bigger role in our behavior than knowing what we should or should not do. For instance, we “know” smoking is bad for us. We see research that tell us auto accident injuries and deaths can be greatly reduced by using seat belts. We “know” that brushing our teeth after each meal fights tooth decay. Despite these facts that we “know", many of us smoke, don’t use seat belts, and fail to brush after eating. We have other needs and feelings that are stronger and take the place of our “knowing” what we should do.

As a supervisor you have feelings too. It is difficult to recognize and deal with your own feelings and feel secure enough to look at yourself and accept responsibility for your actions. But when you can do this you are also strong enough to help your employees do the same thing — be able to evaluate themselves and to be responsible for their actions.

It takes real strength to perform as a leader. Feeling good about yourself can provide the support you need to give support to others. Situations inside and outside work sometimes get people down. Being unhappy affects the team as well as individual performance. Your ability to listen at those times is critical to maintaining equilibrium; both your individual employee’s and the group’s.

As a team leader/supervisor:
  • Let employees know that having feelings is okay. Feelings are facts and need to be dealt with.
  • Praise in public, criticize in private. Nothing improves a person’s behavior better than well-timed, sincere, and justified praise. Nothing builds resentment faster than being yelled at in front of others.
  • Be available and easy to talk with. The open door is helpful but it’s not enough. You need an open mind. Set a specific time to meet with staff. Make the rounds to see employees and to let them know you are interested in them and what they are doing and feeling.
  • Listen to employees and accept suggestions. It’s easier to give advice than to receive it, but you don’t learn much listening only to yourself.
  • Pay as much attention to how you say something as to what you say. Begin the conversation with a positive comment and/or statement that shows you are empathizing with the individual. Be sure your face says the same thing as your words.
  • Refrain from saying “should,” “ought,” and "don’t". When you give advice or directions do it directly and politely.“Please take this material to the front office.” It sometimes helps to phrase things as questions: “Have you thought about doing it this way?” “What if we did this. . .?” Use “I” or “me” statements: “I do it this way” “I try to. . .” In response to incorrect behaviors express your feelings rather than blaming: “I’m bothered when you do that. It makes me feel . . .”.
  • Don’t ask or expect your employees to do things you wouldn’t do. Giving consideration to job assignments shows you have respect for the employee. Think about whether the assignment is fair before you give it.
  • Discuss your expectations with employees and check to see that both sides are in agreement. Lack of agreement on the nature and scope of tasks is a big cause of poor supervisor-employee relations.
  • Stand up for your employees. Take whatever steps you can to reduce pressures on employees. Look out for their interests. Take their part in matters when you can do so.
  • Show employees respect and confidence. Delegate important jobs you’re sure they can handle well.This will show that you see them as trustworthy and that you respect them and their skills.
STEP 3. Promoting Participation

In some organizations the saying is “Beware of supervisors bearing gifts.” For this reason employees are careful about taking you up on the “opportunity” to participate. Participation, however, can make your work life and theirs much richer and more productive.

Today, people want to understand and they want to be involved. Usual forms of authority don’t seem to get results. If you make demands, your employees may comply but without much cooperation. In the long run, their feelings about taking orders and not having a chance to give their views will build up and cause problems.

In the old authoritarian form of supervision “the boss” held all the power and made all the decisions without involving anyone.Participatory supervision has proven more effective. Managers who use this style involve employees in decision making and ask for their help and ideas. Such behavior results in the supervisor having more influence on employees. Formal power comes from the position one holds. Research shows that informal power also has great impact.

Managers who invite participation believe that people directly affected by a decision should be involved in making that decision. The effort is toward joint, cooperative decision making. The aim is to give employees a chance to have a say about things that affect them. This means giving them more control over their own work and giving up some of your own power and control.

The Effects Of Participation

As a supervisor you’d like your people to work hard. You’d like to have the information you need to operate well and to get ideas on how to solve problems you face. It would be great to have high quality decisions carried out well and willingly. Having employees participate in decision making can produce these results.

STEP 4. Building A Good Work Climate

An employee who feels that work is a good place to be is more productive. Work is more enjoyable when the area is pleasant, the people easy to get along with, and where there is team work. In such settings tardiness and absences go down, while productivity goes up.

A good work environment can improve morale and encourage employees to cooperate to get the job done. It helps them become a team, rather than just a group of people waiting for a paycheck who don’t care about their work, their fellow employees, the organization, or themselves.

Research shows that how the immediate supervisor acts is the most significant factor in creating a good work climate. One of the most important things that can help the situation is for employees to feel trusted and for the employees to trust you as a supervisor. Trust is vital, but not easy to develop. You can build trust by:

  • Being reliable. Following through on things. Keeping your promises.
  • Having ethics. Telling your people the truth and not revealing their confidences. Being fair and honest with employees.
  • Showing respect for your employees. Treating them as adults and showing appreciation for their ideas and for the work they do.
  • Knowing and caring about your employees and their families. Being sure they feel you see them as people as well as employees.
  • Involving employees in planning and problem-solving. Asking for and using their contributions.
  • Delegating work. Giving employees important tasks and the support they need to carry them out well.

STEP 5. Creating Helping Relationships

When have you received help from a supervisor/coach/peer that made you feel good about yourself?

When has a supervisor/coach/peer helped you grow and develop?

Under certain conditions both the coach and the employee can grow and develop in a helping relationship. Group members can also coach each other.

The guidelines for helping are:
  • Create a dependence — create a project in which people need each other to succeed and are aware of that.
  • Determine goals together, with input from each person involved.
  • Practice quality communication.
  • Build reciprocal trust by being open, accepting, and cooperative.

A supervisor can support and assist in creating helping relationships within their departments by acting as a model by using orientations that help and by supporting, and encouraging, these skills in their employees as they interact with each other.

STEP 6. Eliciting Extraordinary Performance

A coach creates a context in which people can perform extraordinarily. “Creating a context” is not a new idea. For example, you can look at an eight-ounce glass that has four ounces of water in it as half empty or half full, and have two entirely different reactions to the same glass of water. It all depends on your perspective. There are four ounces of water in that glass, no more, no less. How you look at it doesn’t change the glass of water. But your perspective can change what you do with it and how you feel about it.

It’s the same with performance. You can look at a project you’ve completed as a success or a failure. Either way, it’s the same project. But the context you hold it in can empower you or disempower you when you do your next project. It is said that Thomas Edison invented the storage battery only after thousands of tries. By thinking of each unsuccessful try as a step along the way to eventual success by holding each unsuccessful attempt in the “context of success,” he was able to keep working until he finally succeeded.

Clearly, the right kind of coaching can alter a team’s or an organization’s performance. The implication for business is that if you create a climate of coaching in any organization, you can produce performance that exceeds your expectations —and you won’t have to change the people to do so. Coaching can produce star performers in organizations, even when the players are people of ordinary talent and ability.

These are big claims to make. But consider this: when you look at a human endeavor where coaching is the norm, you see extraordinary results. In sports, for example, coaching is recognized as crucial among those who strive for extraordinary performance. No athlete would dream of training for the Olympics without a great coach. Great coaching shows up in sports all the time, but it’s as rare in business as pitching a no-hitter is in the major leagues. That’s because although a supervisor’s job is to coach, it is not always recognized as part of that job.

Although we are ultimately talking about how to get better results, a great coach doesn’t focus only on the results and doesn’t coach to change the specific mechanics of someone’s behavior. The mechanics are only one part of producing the results.

There is of course a catch to all this. In order for coaching to work, the performer has to listen. That’s a big catch, because coaching is often heard as criticism. When people think they are hearing criticism, they can become defensive or invalidate themselves. Usually, they do both. In any case, people tend to ignore what they don’t want to hear. This further emphasizes how important empathetic communication is for effective coaching.


The following are five (5) steps a coach can take to change behavior and performance. The goal of this process is to create the context for the person being coached towards one in which excellence becomes the norm

  1. Observe the action/behavior you want to change.
  2. Describe the situation/action you saw.
  3. Ask the employees what they saw, their perspective/point of view.
  4. Tell the person how you saw the behavior, then
  5. Describe what needs to happen instead and why — if appropriate.

Remember: A good coach:

  • Communicates regularly/frequently.
  • Is direct and honest.
  • Accepts people where they are and goes from there!


What’s exciting about the possibility coaching presents is that it continually demands from you the commitment to perform beyond the levels you’ve reached in the past. It demands the willingness to treat each situation as brand new and to treat people with compassion. Above all, being a great coach demands that you be coachable yourself. Your coach could be anyone, and to the extent that you let people coach you, your own coaching will be empowered.

Coaching is the art/skill of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes; imagining yourself in the situation, and asking yourself what your interpretation would be.

Coaching means being straight with people and accepting people as they are.

A good coach relates to people as the people they can be, not as the mistakes they made in the past.

Good coaching practices will provide an example for others and set the tone for better communication in the workplace. Keep your mind open to new suggestions and give your employees room and encouragement to participate more fully, and productivity and well as morale will be changed.