In this series, we present BetterUp coaches with realistic scenarios that we commonly encounter (and struggle with) in the workplace. They walk us through how they’d coach a client through the challenge and identify possible solutions. Got an issue you’d like one of our coaches to tackle in a Coaching Insider feature? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Nick has just completed a two day management off-site training. Although he’s been in management for some time, this was his first formal leadership development opportunity. Nick is grateful for his newfound knowledge and is eager to put what he has learned into action with his own team. He is most excited to revamp his one-on-one meetings and shift them from the typical project status update to more meaningful conversations about how he can best support his team’s development. Nick wants to define a structure for his interactions that creates an environment where his team members feel comfortable being authentic and bringing their whole self to the conversation.
One-on-one meetings generally lack focus and structure. Often, managers spend a large portion of their week in conversation with team members without gaining deeper insight into what they need from their manager to perform at their best. Here is how I would work with Nick to help him and his teammates get the most out of their 1-on-1s.
I would start off a coaching session with Nick by acknowledging his enthusiasm for change and the importance he is placing on fostering an environment where his team has the freedom to show up as both aspiring leaders and individuals. Next, I would invite him into a discussion to help him identify what a favorable outcome looks like for his one-on-one meetings so we can work backwards to define the structure:
It is unrealistic to think we leave our personal worries, excitements, and challenges on our doorstep when we enter the office.
When setting the intention for a one-on-one discussion, it’s important to take a whole person approach and authentically address both our personal and professional drivers so that we can thrive as individuals and inspire as leaders. It is unrealistic to think we leave our personal worries, excitements, and challenges on our doorstep when we enter the office. What happens outside of work impacts our energy levels, sense of control, and our ability to feel engaged and productive while on the job. Likewise, our work world can positively and negatively blur into our home life.
As a leader, Nick must cultivate emotional intelligence and learn to be attuned to what is going on for others. He can then create a one-on-one space where his team members can freely address their work performance. Don’t be surprised if what looks like disengagement is distraction from suddenly having to care for an aging family member, the stress of having a personal health scare, or the excitement of preparing for a child’s graduation. To guide the conversation, I would ask Nick questions to expand his self-awareness and help him verbalize what he would like to see more of in his one-on-one interactions. Questions I might ask include:
Nick can now move to creating an agenda and environment that best supports his desired outcomes from a state of enhanced awareness.
I rarely get through a day of coaching without incorporating my all-time favorite quote by David Cooperrider: “we live in a world of the questions we create.” In recognizing that the questions we ask give direction to a conversation, it is important to cultivate the skill of learning how to ask questions that evoke information-filled responses. In Nick’s case, he is seeking greater input from his team on how he can support their project and career developments. All too often, we make the mistake of asking polar questions – ones which can easily be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The trick here is to ask directive open-ended questions to solicit the information you need.
With a little coaching, Nick may generate questions like:
Research has shown frequent recognition and encouragement can greatly improve productivity and engagement – in some cases, up to 40%!
Without communicating the intent of a one-on-one discussion, many team members arrive prepared to deliver a project status update. They are simply ill-equipped for an in-depth discussion. As much as we would like for them to, our teammates can’t read our minds. Once Nick has created his intentions and agenda, he will want to communicate them so the team knows what to expect. Nick may also want to include his teammates in the development of the agenda, giving them the opportunity to express their needs and interests for having a one-on-one. Feedback will likely be an agenda item of interest to the team. Research has shown frequent recognition and encouragement can greatly improve productivity and engagement – in some cases, up to 40%*!
Many of my clients report immediate impact to their team’s engagement and performance when they take a process approach to feedback.
When it comes to feedback, there are some best practices that I might offer to Nick. One of these is differentiating between person and process feedback and aiming for the latter. Research has shown person feedback such as “you are great at this” can lead us to contingent self-worth and measuring ourselves based on performance. This approach can trigger helpless reactions to setbacks. Process feedback leads to a more master-oriented response to setbacks where we connect the feedback to our abilities rather than self-worth.
Process feedback looks like this:
You may notice that process feedback speaks to specific behaviors in a very detailed way. Although it can take slightly more effort to prepare and deliver, many of my clients report immediate impact to their team’s engagement and performance when they take a process approach to feedback.
It may take several coaching sessions to support Nick in gaining clarity and developing a mutually supportive one-on-one meeting for him to learn how he can best guide and develop his team. Learning new ways of thinking and skills, such as delivering process feedback, can be tricky and take practice to override our habitual thought and behavioral patterns. Nick may also find it difficult to support and challenge the team until he understands how they are internally motivated. For next steps, Nick and I may progress in our sessions to integrate powerful questioning within his leadership style. Empowerment will flow more fluidly when Nick learns to uncover his team’ individual motivational differences, and understand and play to their strengths.
*Source: Arakawa, D., & Greenberg, M. (2007). Optimistic managers and their influence on productivity and employee engagement in a technology organization: Implications for coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2, 78-89.
Original art by Vaclav Bicha.