How leaders should approach coaching in a hybrid world

How leaders should approach coaching in a hybrid world
Sep 28, 2021

In adjusting to hybrid work environments, leaders need to consider how they approach coaching. Effective coaching can improve leadership skills, team performance, and support evolving employee needs.

Right now, many of us are still adjusting to the new reality of a hybrid work environment. The future of work is already here.

As a qualified coach, I think a lot about the role coaching will play in this hybrid world. And how coaching can help us become better leaders.

Coaching supports people to be more effective and to perform better as individuals and teams. Coaching—when done well—provides a better understanding of individual employee needs, impact, and performance. Being a good coach also develops our interpersonal skills and makes us better leaders.

As we adapt to a hybrid workplace, I believe we need to focus on coaching.

Coaching will help us prepare for the future of work

My colleague, Andy Dobson—ICF Aviation division director and global airline sector leader—trained in manager coaching over 15 years ago. Now, he actively coaches again after taking a training refresher with me. And that has rekindled his passion for the practice.

As we explore leadership in a hybrid world, how has a rediscovery of coaching impacted Andy?

Andy Dobson: It has simply reminded me of the value of coaching. The refresher session brought it all back to me. For example, remembering to ask questions and not to give answers or digress—which is easy to do if you're not careful—it all came flooding back.

The topics Andy explored during the refresher session felt highly relevant to our current changing working environment. As a result, he now uses coaching methods in regular conversations with the rest of his team.

Andy Dobson: In working through challenges around workload, prioritization, and delegation with them, it was fascinating to understand what drives people to do what they do. When we don’t understand those things, we’re not doing our jobs as line managers fully. Although I'd known my team for a long time, I still was thinking: “wow, that's why you do that!" or “right, that's where you're feeling the pressure from. It unlocked lots of fascinating and very useful things that I wouldn't have known without those sessions.”

Identifying the root causes of challenges will help hybrid leaders

For Andy, the coaching conversations with his team have been about identifying the root causes of their challenges.

Andy Dobson: Before, I was only exposed to the symptoms of their challenges. Seeing them and then trying to manage them in the best possible way. But if you can understand the root causes, then you can manage it much better.

Coaching allows us to know more about someone, go deeper, and cover new ground—compared to typical manager-colleague conversations. But how has coaching helped Andy develop his remote team?

Andy Dobson: There is a challenge with remote work. Of course, there are some more sensitive conversations you just need to have face-to-face. Microsoft Teams works, but it's not always ideal. With coaching, you don't necessarily know what's coming because it's a living conversation that continues to develop. I found the coaching sessions easier than some of the more sensitive HR-related conversations that I've had over the last 18 months.

According to Andy, people were often happy to talk about things that they hadn't discussed before.

Andy Dobson: Absolutely, we covered stuff that we’d never get into normally. Generally, there are parameters around normal conversations which mean you don't touch on things that are sitting below the surface.

Andy told me a bit more about his approach to setting parameters in his coaching conversations.

Andy Dobson: It is actually pretty loose. Now, I have 30-minute individual sessions with two or three of my team every month. There is no set agenda, but we don’t talk about projects, billing, holidays, or any of that stuff. Instead, it's simply about thinking of the things that they could use some support thinking through. They come up with a topic, a challenge, we define the objectives for the session and off we go. I help them with questions, or just follow the motto: “just shut up and listen.”

Coaching is a chance to understand what makes hybrid teams work

How useful is this kind of remote coaching for hybrid teams?

Andy Dobson: I believe that knowing what makes people tick is fundamental to running a successful business, and managing, leading, and inspiring people to the best of our abilities. It's even more important in the hybrid world because we don't see each other as much. It's a very useful tool that you can use remotely to get to root causes more easily than just having an unstructured chat about what's on your mind. You get to know people much better, and you can do a lot with that once you do.

Andy bases his coaching around that first specific challenge and then builds on it to delve deeper into the conversation over the 30 minutes. And while it is always hard to point to any individual sign of business improvement as a direct result of coaching, Andy is certain that one recent session will have an important impact.

Andy Dobson: It was around engaging with clients more and we made good progress. The coachee is an outstanding performer, so I'm hoping the impact will be significant. The coaching centered on how to better manage time, how to influence others, those kinds of things; all in order to free them up and make them even more productive than they are now.

How to build coaching into the employee experience

I’ve learned that with coaching you are never the finished product. You always have more to do and learn, so I was keen to find out what is next for Andy. It seems that he sees a future of work where coaching conversations become part of the fabric of the employee experience.

Andy Dobson: I'm ramping up the coaching I'm doing and making it a regular and usual thing to do by having these sessions with the team. And personally, I’m simply looking for more opportunities to coach. I know the benefits of coaching, but I know I need to practice it too.

Within ICF, we also have an excellent mentoring network, so there are more opportunities to develop and empower people even further. Mentoring and coaching work in complementary ways. Mentors support their mentees by sharing their expertise. Coaches guide their coaches and create a strategy to find—and overcome—any obstacles in their way.

One of the insights of the recent Center for Creative Leadership white paper, “The Future of Corporate Coaching: Guiding Leaders Through Organization-Wide Transformation in a Digitally Accelerated World” by Frederic Funck, is that these two disciplines will soon converge. Frederic also has an interesting insight into how coaching can directly impact a company’s overall performance. The rise of organizational coaching—emerging as a result of agile transformation—in addition to coaching at an individual, team, or group level will see coaches focus their efforts far more on the interdependencies between teams. The aim is to ensure that all parts of the business are performing at similar levels, by taking a holistic coaching approach that looks at how best to strengthen relationships and partnerships to benefit the entire organizational ecosystem.

How to begin your coaching journey

For now, what are the key things that anyone who wants to start coaching should do?

Andy Dobson: Simply having a live session is a great start. You need to understand the value of coaching first. Get that, and the rest will follow. Discover examples of how coaching has had an impact in the past. I’d just say pick someone to coach and do it. Don’t worry that you're not ready. Just get the basic principles and have a go!

Andy is right. Understanding the value that coaching brings in terms of the personal, the individual, and the business benefits is crucial. And it is true that sometimes just a set of training sessions is enough to begin coaching.

We’re living in a time when people are increasingly ready to be coached. Driven in part by the fresh challenges of a hybrid world, and by younger colleagues asking for regular coaching and feedback. But it’s also down to the higher profile and kudos we give to coaches generally. Coaching has developed from something that was once seen as a remedial interaction, to an opportunity. Perhaps it’s the increasingly high media profile of successful sports coaches like Gareth Southgate, but whatever the drivers, coaching is having a moment at just the right time.

We need to seize this opportunity. As coaching becomes more mainstream and awareness grows, we also need to ensure that as organizations, we’re building in the time to do it properly. Come and speak to us to find out more.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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