Flexing to the demands of your team / Coaching for growth

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

"adapt to growth" - Max Lansberg

Take time to look at how and what your team are learning. Adjust your style to support and amplify the right things.

The Coaching Spectrum

There's a spectrum of choices of how to engage in coaching conversations

The coaching spectrum guides my choice of how to interact with someone learning. It gives a perspective on the choices to make when approaching learning with a team but also puts new demands on me to be able to adjust my style to the situation. It helps me plan how I will interact, rather than reviewing why something isn't working.

The spectrum offers of series of choices: from the formal directive manner to aiding understanding. Consider the spectrum being from a Sergeant major style orders to a more Zen approach to renewal and learning.

Being directive is solving people’s problems for them. It allows people to gain context and basic learning; for example, training and shadowing. Helping understanding might involve sharing the articulation of the goals and planning or guiding them towards selecting their own 'good enough' solution.

Mentoring exists in the middle. As a mentor, you are both bringing your understanding and some conversational skills to bear on the situation by offering advice and asking probing questions. But your skin isn't in the game, in the end, it’s for the mentee to decide.

Selecting a style

I work to choose my style to suit the situation and the person: should I tell them what to do, or let them discover for themselves. I consider what can be gained when I make my choice: time available, context, and learning potential

In a situation that needs tight risk management or control, or working with a group of beginners, a 'Push' coach-lead style can help focus on initial learning, progression, giving structure. Whereas a skilled team will feel stifled, frustrated and need the freedom to advance and become autonomous learners.

The Pull end of the spectrum is where coaches get the most value, but you sacrifice direction and control. Peter Hill, a coaching expert who popularised the model, has this to say:

"There is no doubt that the most effective end of the spectrum to work at is the non-directive as you are working with the client’s own map and reality... However, having said that it is probably the most difficult end to work at"

Flexing to the demands of your team

Working across the spectrum requires different skills. The more instructive/directive side needs knowledge of the job or domain to guide and get trust. In the less directive 'Pull' space, you'll be asking questions of the person, so using rich reflection skills and awareness to avoid slipping into instructional ways. There is value in being able to pick the interaction style that is right for a team and its members.

Being aware of your default styles and stretching your skills can help you be able to pick the right one.

I instinctively work towards the 'Pull' space, and I see a lot of value in producing not just a result, but also the ability to reproduce it. This can be my downfall as sometimes people don't have context for wide decision-making, and need a safety net and structure to aid their learning. Other times people would like me to state an opinion and get the job done. I have to assess and adjust and have come to understand that sometimes people do welcome being instructed in what they need to do, whilst they safely gain the experience and perspective that I have.

Navigating the Coaching Spectrum

I’ve found the Coaching Spectrum powerful when thinking about how I might navigate along with it as part of a learning plan.

Whilst at a client I had a requirement to work with a team and a Tech Lead for 8 weeks. My aim was to leave them a legacy of thinking and practices. I wanted to inspire them to work in new ways, not to make them reliant on a coach.

Knowing that I needed to be interacting differently at the end of my time there I built up a plan of interactions that challenged me to transition from 'Push' to Pull - transferring the leadership of the team and aiming for the team to own their own problem solving rather than just doing.

Can you get your team from zero to hero?

It’s often easier to direct than to wait and to question, missing the small failures that spark learning. The coaching spectrum highlights that there are critical times to be firm and direct, but for a learning team, you also need to build towards giving room to fail.

Next, I want to look at how I like to structure the building blocks of learning, and the value of pulling it into context by learning by doing.

This was the fifth part of a series on Leading and Guiding Groups.

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