Staff development through coaching

Coaching is time spent supporting an individual to develop their confidence and ability to deliver excellence. It starts with the belief that the person has the ability to deliver a superb performance through their capacity of self learning.

This article looks at coaching for line managers as a way of developing staff and ultimately “buying back” management time as your staff develop.  Managers in the 3rd sector are being squeezed.  As funding gets tighter they have greater staff and technical responsibilities, therefore the old ways are no longer fit for purpose.

Coaching is a way to resolve the management time trap problem and aids the sector to develop its staff, as well as their beneficiaries.

What is coaching?

Coaching is time spent supporting an individual to develop their confidence and ability to deliver excellence.  It is different to training or mentoring in that it starts with the belief that the person has the ability to deliver a superb performance through their capacity of self learning.  Coaches believe staff can think for themselves and provide their own creative solutions.  If you don’t think that, coaching is not for you and I recommend you stop reading now!

Most 3rd sector managers that we speak to recognise their teams are both their greatest asset and have the ability to develop further.

Inner game

Non directive coaching developed out of the” Inner Game” made famous by Tim Gallwey with his first book “The inner game of tennis.”  He wrote  about the gap for individuals between their potential and their performance.  Gallwey explained that the gap is often created by what he called interference.  This is often caused by such things as fear, lack of self confidence, trying to be perfect, office politics, anger, frustration etc.  Through (non directive) coaching Gallwey showed how we as managers/coaches can help team members to focus their attention and developed a relaxed concentration enabling them to narrow the gap between performance and potential .  

What are the skills required?

As a manager, when coaching you have to temporarily put away your technical expertise to concentrate on helping the coachee to think through their challenge, build their confidence and help them to explore their options.

Where does it fit into management?

Sometimes you have to instruct or brief or train and transfer knowledge and skills but, particularly for experienced team members, it is more about helping them to develop themselves.  Coaching is a powerful way to do this.

How do you coach?

We recommend you use a simple but effective model for coaching your staff.  It is called T/GROW.  The initials stand for Topic, Goal, Reality, Options and Wrap Up.  The manager should approach the coaching session with total concentration and ensure s/he can listen actively to the staff member.  I will talk more about active listening in a future article.

So for example you might agree to a coaching session with one of your staff around their “biggest challenge”.

Topic: This allows the staff member to explore what this might be and what it feels like to them.  Your role as coach is to ask helpful but neutral (non leading) questions that allow the team member to explore and consider what they are thinking.  Sometimes just repeating back to them a phrase they have used such as “you are struggling with this” or keeping silent can help the staff member to unlock the problem area.

Goal: Using open questions and quality listening (not giving solutions or advice) can help the person to focus and provide their own answer to a question like “what do you want to achieve from this session?”

Reality:  This explores the topic and achieves an accurate picture of the issues.   The coach should concentrate on understanding from the team member’s perspective:  what it feels like, as well as the difficulties, concerns and  opportunities .  It is often in this section, if the manager can keep her wisdom under wraps, that the team member starts to have greater awareness of the issue and insights into the solutions.

Options:  Allows the person to develop a range of solutions with the manager acting as a mirror to reflect back what they are saying and thinking.  Again, through the manager’s restraint often comes the magic of the staff member’s own revelation of the best solution.

Wrap up: is the time to agree what the next step is and when the staff member is going to do what they have decided to do.


When do you coach?

As long time senior managers we have found that coaching can happen in both informal and formal settings.  It could be 10 minutes on the phone or on a shared journey, through to a formal 1 to 1.

We find the time coaching is never wasted and staff feedback indicates that this method helps to solve not only the current issue, but helps them to reflect better on other challenges for themselves and their teams.

What are the benefits of coaching?

Coaching results in great solutions that are owned and implemented by the person being coached.  If they have been coached well they are more committed to the solution than if directed by their manager.

This in turn increases the quality and reduces hands on management time required.  This is the Holy Grail for time pressed leaders in our charities.

Next steps

Coaching is a simple philosophy that can take a life time to master.

We recommend you read up on coaching .  We also suggest you get a coach to work with you.  This is not only a great way to develop and understand the coaching skills needed but, at the same time, give a strategic boost to your own performance.

Recommended Booklist:

Inner game of Work by Tim Gallwey

Effective Coaching by Myles Downey

Brilliant Coaching by Julie Starr

Rob Legge is an experienced senior manager in the third sector having lead the Oxfam shops national network, been fundraising director at RNIB, community services director at Sense and CEO of Focus Birmingham. Rob specialises in providing strategic advice and coaching to leaders of small to medium third sector organisations.

BVSC runs regular training sessions at BVSC around the topic of coaching. Check the website for any forthcoming dates.

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