Soccer, at its core, is a very simple game: the players on one team try to kick the ball into a goal while the other team tries to stop them. If you’ve ever had the joyful opportunity to watch little kids play soccer, you understand how maddeningly simple yet frustrating that concept can be. When little kids play soccer, they usually just swarm around the ball, all trying to kick it at the same time. Occasionally the ball will pop out of the throng and the kids will all chase it.
Watching professionals play makes soccer seem like a different game altogether. Same number of people, same two goals and one ball, same simple objective: kick the ball into the other team’s goal. But everything else is different. The players spread out across the field, the ball is passed crisply from player to player, and players are always moving—with or without the ball.
The same comparison can be made of teams in organizations, except age is not the defining characteristic, role clarity is.
In corporate teams, just like in soccer, playing your position on the team makes all the difference. Of course, to play your position, you must know your position. In soccer, there are forwards, midfielders, backs, and goalies. Each position has a unique and critical role to play for the team to win. In organizational teams, knowing what role each member is playing is critical for the team to win.
Unfortunately, too many corporate teams operate just like kids’ soccer teams: swarming around without any clear roles. Make sure each team member has a clearly defined role, knows that role, and understands how to execute that role with excellence.
Question to ponder:
- Do all your team members know their roles, or are they swarming?
The idea of coaching in the workplace has been around for decades, and though it has enjoyed some periods of popularity and respect, overall, it struggles to gain the traction needed to become embedded in corporate cultures in a meaningful way. In a large part, the concept has suffered at the hands of the term itself. The term coaching tends to have different meanings to different people, largely based on individual experiences. These individual interpretations create an unsettled coaching culture, especially as each subsequent leader brings his or her own definition, which then undermines any previous progress and inevitably hits the reset button on that organization’s practice of coaching.
Of course, we cannot write on the topic of coaching without adding our own definition to the fray. Based on our experience, research, and mission to build systematic approaches to improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals, we offer a comprehensive definition of the term.
The main tenet of our definition is that coaching is not a process. Processes may aid the establishment of coaching within a company, but defining a process cannot produce true coaching. Coaching is instead better defined as a culture, “the way things get done around here.” A coaching culture is best evidenced by
- role clarity and transparent conversations regarding expectations
- the practiced ability of supervisors to help individuals discover what gets in each person’s way of achieving success in his or her role
- a tangible way to measure and report levels of success accomplished by individuals, teams, and organizations to produce the value expected by the organization
We will address each of these factors, in order, as we continue the coaching series. Notably absent from this list is any mention of a lack of time to coach. As you will recall from our introductory blog on this topic, a lack of time is the most explicit and common reason given for why coaching does not occur in organizations today. The essentials listed above can profoundly impact the perceived lack of time. Our discussion will include how each of these cultural norms helps to create more time.
Question to ponder:
- How does your organization currently define coaching?
“Our first-line leaders have way too much on their plates to spend time coaching.” This complaint comes from practically every company we work with.
We get this response when we suggest that a critical element in improving team performance is the first-line leader’s ability to provide meaningful direction and feedback to each team member. Success, however, in this endeavor is complicated by three factors:
- Many first-line leaders are promoted to their positions because they demonstrated a high degree of competence in their primary role. In other words, they are promoted for being a top performer not because they are necessarily ready to lead other performers.
- Most top performers have become “unconsciously competent” at what they do. So though they are proven, consistent performers, they typically are not able to easily describe the essential elements of how they have been able to achieve success.
- When there is clear ability to perform and an equally clear challenge in explaining to others how to exceed, the result is the familiar first-line leader response of, “It’s just easier to do it myself.” Doing it yourself is, of course, a time-consuming approach.
These factors combine to create a dissonance that stands in the way of strong, meaningful coaching conversations between first-line leaders and their teams. This dissonance manifests itself through the fundamental problem statement that, “Our first-line leaders have way too much on their plates to spend time coaching.”
When this problem statement is juxtaposed against another common concern, we frequently hear, “Our teams are not performing the way we need them to, and we think we have a major gap in our first-line leader talent pipeline.” This mindset creates one of the most pressing conundrums in business today. Left unsolved, this issue undermines daily operational performance, execution of new or evolving strategies, and the fundamental talent pipeline critical to growth and expansion.
We will present viable options to this challenge in our outcomes-based coaching series.
Question to ponder:
- How are you or your company currently equipping your front-line leaders to successfully address their responsibility for the overall performance and growth of their teams?