Our working lives are busy.
And they have changed considerably over the past 18 months. Many of us now only work in the office a couple of times a day at most.
Others have not set foot in the workplace since the start of the pandemic.
This combination can make it hard for leaders to find time to coach their teams.
Yet, modern employees typically want more coaching. They want to feel empowered and trusted to overcome challenges and solve problems. They want to be developed and strive to reach their best.
To tackle the disconnect, we believe that leaders should adopt ‘in the moment’ coaching.
It is a way of leaders finding coaching moments, whether face-to-face or remotely, as their teams go about their day-to-day activities.
Instead of spending an hour coaching one team member, they could potentially coach five employees in the same amount of time.
To find out more about it, I spoke to Tienie Loubser, an independent executive coach.
Tienie says it can be as simple as talking to your team members in the corridors, while they are making coffee, or at the end of Zoom or Team calls, and making them think differently about something they are working on.
“You might just need to ask three questions,” says Tienie.
“Ask three questions that gets someone to think differently about their situation. Once you have done that, you have coached.
“They are conversations that might take place around the water cooler or when someone is making a coffee, to give a couple of examples. And it can take as little as five to 10 minutes.”
In the moment coaching can take place at anytime and anywhere.
But what sort of questions should leaders be asking?
To help, Tienie has devised a series of questions designed to turn any conversation into a coaching one and help people think and act differently.
To use them effectively, leaders should put these questions into their words, so it seems natural.
One of the fascinating aspects of in the moment coaching is that many leaders are already almost having these conversations.
Think about it. Many leaders will ask their team members how their weekend was, how their football team is getting on, or what they think about the latest television programme everyone is discussing.
Tienie says the next step is to move what he describes as ‘rapport’ conversations into coaching ones.
“I think there are missed opportunities,” he said.
“Many leaders go up to someone and say ‘hey, how’s it going?’ or ‘what are you up to on the weekend?’. These are rapport-building conversations.
“But leaders could build on those and say ‘is there something you are struggling with today?’ or ‘what is your priority to achieve by the end of the day?’.
“Then you are starting to help them with whatever topic they are facing that day, and people might walk away thinking ‘that helped me see that differently’. That is coaching in the moment.”
As well as helping people to think and act differently, another great advantage of in the moment coaching is that once someone starts doing it, others follow.
It gains momentum and builds a culture where all leaders are looking for these coaching opportunities, and team members seek more opportunities where they can benefit from coaching.
“People emulate what the leader does because that’s what they think should be done,” Tienie said.
“If someone starts coaching, other people will start coaching. They do it subconsciously as an extension of what they are seeing. And then the impact is much bigger.
“People are also orientated towards reward. So, if in the moment coaching works for someone, they will want to receive more of it.
“They will go to the coffee machine when the leader is there, hoping to be asked questions.”
In the moment coaching can also lead to more formal business coaching.
Tienie said: “In the moment coaching is a good trigger for more formal coaching sessions.
“You are not going to solve everything in five or 10 minutes. But you can trigger thoughts and processes that will prepare people for deeper conversations at a later stage.”
There is, however, a big temptation leaders need to overcome with these conversations. It is the urge to provide the answers to the problems their team members are facing.
It is an impulse that is easy to understand. But it must be avoided.
Tienie said: “As soon as you give an answer to any of those questions and say what you think the answer is, you have destroyed your coaching.
“When you are coaching, it is about the ownership of the individual and what they are going to do about it – you want them to come up with the answers for themselves.
“When you are telling someone what to do and giving them the answers, you are either micromanaging or mentoring.
“So, you need to manage your interference. Coaching is about empowering your colleagues to do and think differently.”
Coaching in the moment is something that anyone can do. As we’ve shown, it is about being curious and asking simple questions.
But its success, at least initially, will depend on how a leader is perceived. And their leadership style.
Tienie said: “If you are a leader that consistently micromanages, the people you are talking to will have their barriers up.
“They’ll be thinking ‘he’s asking me questions again, and I’m just trying to get a coffee’.
“But if you are a collaborative leader, that embraces feedback and who has a natural coaching style, then you asking questions at the watercooler will not be seen as a punitive activity.”
While it will work in most situations, leaders need to be aware of how the person they are talking to is feeling.
Tienie said: “You need to use your emotional intelligence. If someone is having a really bad day, or just heard bad news, it is pointless coaching.
“So, be aware of your surroundings and the situation that person is in.”
Leaders should also be mindful some people will not want to be coached.
“Also, remember that not everyone wants to be coached,” Tienie said. “So, know when to abandon it.”
“Negative body language, a reluctance to give any information and people looking over your shoulder are signals to look out for.”
The BCF group has been helping organisations develop their talent, inspire their people and overcome obstacles and challenges for the past 25 years.
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