Executive Coaching Client Success Story

Coaching with a Purpose

What comes to mind when you think of coaching? Oftentimes coaching in the business world is an ongoing relationship where over time, transformation slowly takes place. It can also be administering guidance and perspective to clients in a time of need. Recently, Leadership Strategies' Tierah C. led a one-on-one coaching session with a Director of Strategic Communications in the Information Technology services field. Tierah's client was charged with delivering their organization's strategic plan; however the client realized halfway through the session that things were not progressing as smoothly as they should have been. Dysfunction between the team members was evident and despite this director's highly skilled strategic planning experience, she'd hit a wall with the group. The team was unable to work together well enough to move the strategic planning process forward to implementation. They seemed to be bogged down in one area, and before continuing with the process, she called Leadership Strategies to receive professional coaching on how to move the team forward.

What's the difference between Coaching and Facilitating?

Coaching is more consultative in nature. Facilitation draws out information in a group setting, processes that information and the group uses the information to make decisions. Coaching on the other hand, allows greater focus on the actual need at hand. You draw out the information and can take one need and one individual at time, going deeper in any particular area. This allows you to get closer to root causes, deeply understand people's individual needs and get further into an action plan. There's no need to draw out the entire groups perspective. Coaching also requires individuals to choose to act upon the information that is drawn out. The questions are the same but only one person has to be pleased with the potential candidate solution-the person being coached. If it works for them (that one person, vs. meeting the overall needs of a group of individuals) your coaching is successful.

How is personal coaching delivered?

Executive coaching is not always a face to face experience. Rather, coaching is oftentimes delivered through telephone conversations that are designed to help people work through a specific change individuals need to make. They can be facilitated mentoring conversations given on an as needed basis. In this instance, the client and I arranged a time to discuss what was going on within the team framework and I offered guidance on how to apply 'team repair'.

How exactly is team repair achieved?

In this case, we accomplished it by examining which issues caused the team breakdown within the strategic planning process. The intent is to uncover the root cause of the issue. The client was clearly delivering solid strategic planning processes. Given that this was a group dynamics issue, we began exploring human dynamic issues in greater depth. We understand as facilitators, coaches and consultants that people are gifted in different areas and where it's easy for some people to be a visionary thinker, (i.e., see the big picture) it's oftentimes difficult for these same folks to switch gears and be critical thinkers-and vice versa.

What's the difference between visioning vs. detail-oriented people?

Most people possess hard-wired traits that manifest in variations depending on the environment and other aspects of the individual. Within any team you will find people on opposite ends one of those "trait spectrums": visioning people (i.e., think big picture stuff) and implementation focused (i.e., detail-oriented) are a good example of polarized traits that are common in members of teams. It's not that we can't work in an area that is not a natural fit for our dominant communication style-our natural bents gravitate toward one skill set vs. the other. People who do exceedingly well in visioning because it's their natural approach are not typically conducive to solving problems using critical skills. Likewise, it's very difficult for a critical thinking person when they are asked to shift gears from being detail oriented to vision thinking, to do so! You have to ask yourself, what group of people do you have in the room and what is their natural focus bent to implementing solutions to problems in their environment? A successful team has to have both visioning and detail-oriented mindsets. That's why team work is important. Asking two differently wired mindsets to switch gears and look at a problem/solution in the opposite way they are naturally comfortable doing, oftentimes leads to breakdown which is what was occurring in this case. It's a common bottleneck so we weren't surprised at this juncture of the strategic planning process to find the process was simply not working.

What happened?

The leadership team was very vision oriented, while other team members, the ones responsible for implementing the decision, were detail-oriented. What made it difficult was the team (visioning and implementing members) could not agree on how to measure success and what should be measured. It is very common to have this disagreement, especially in an IT world where the measurement can never be tight enough. When it comes time for action planning, those who are comfortable working from a visioning perspective find themselves immediately unsettled if a different skill set (i.e., detail-oriented thinking) is needed. When two mindsets come at a problem with different sets of lenses, you are more than likely apt to have problems shifting from visionary thinking to developing detailed implementation processes.

When the question was asked, How do we make this plan happen?, the collision of visionary vs. implementer approaches brought them to a standstill. Visionary team members think in broader thoughts. Yet when it comes time to implement the work, detail-oriented executors need specific plans in place to move the project forward. If you can't appreciate the differences in the two mindsets, you can't have a very solid strategic plan.

How does this unbalancing affect a team?

If group is unbalanced, too many work in vision and too few work in implementation. It is very typical to have a management team operating in visionary mode, while the group performing the work operates in a more detail oriented frame of mind. When this difference isn't addressed up front, it becomes an us vs. them issue.

In this case, the leadership team was thrilled with this great visionary plan they developed but when leadership tried to be involved in orchestrating the process to deliver its implementation schedule, the detailed-focused team members cried foul. They needed concrete numbers they could realistically achieve. The session came to an impasse, there existed two completely different sets of views and they found themselves standing on opposite sides of the table.

What did you coach her to do?

I offered instructions on how to administer an exercise the next time her team met, and what the desired outcomes could be. Up until now, she inadvertently had seated the group in us vs. them teams. At the next event the groupings blended. There was more of a cross team effort established. They'd be tasked to work in teams with people outside their normal operations so they'd begin seeing them as teammates rather than us verses them.

She began the meeting with a Needs/Offers team building exercise. This is the initial mediation step toward getting the team members communicating with one another in an effective way. Teams were formed with both executives and members of the implementation team on the same side.

What's the purpose of doing this?

The desired outcome is people will walk away with a greater understanding of: " The needs of each team member " How those needs are common among both sets of teams and " Achieving clarity around expectations as to what can and cannot be done by each team member. We also had the teams work in smaller groups rather than one large one.

Did this coaching achieve any progress?

Yes! In any coaching engagement there is always a planned follow-up session to determine the effectiveness of the coaching and assess if any further coaching is needed. I advised her regarding the nature of detail-oriented team members. Oftentimes project planners aren't comfortable making statements without prior preparation. They work best when they can review material in advance of a meeting. The standard is to forward documents two weeks before meetings and schedule a briefing prior to the event. This makes a tremendous difference in the comfort level of the participants. This standard procedure hadn't been implemented prior to our coaching engagement.

You've told us what successful coaching looks like. What, if any, barriers are there to successfully coaching someone?

First and foremost, you have to build trust with the person you're coaching. Coaches utilize many of the same tools in coaching as facilitators: we offer our own transparency; we are honest about our own limitations so we don't present ourselves as all-knowing, all-seeing beings. We're simply here to join them in their efforts to find a solution.

The questions we ask make the focus be on them and we present ourselves no more than who we are: we're not their savior but their partner. The goal is to drive towards intellectual honesty, so coaches ask many probing questions. Do they see themselves as they really are? Do they really want to change? If they do, they're already halfway toward achieving their goal.

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