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Coaching Tips for Project Managers and Their Teams

Coaching and Project Managers

One of the hardest shifts in mind-set needed when moving from an operational to a project management role, is the letting go of the project tasks yourself.

After all, you will have spent a number of years working in project teams and you performed tasks to a high standard, which helped you get that coveted project manager role.

Deep down, you suspect that other people probably can’t do those tasks quite as well as you can, and for that reason, you are reluctant to let go.

In many jobs, as you get promoted to leadership roles, it is possible to keep doing tasks yourself until you learn the hard way that this isn’t the best use of your time, but of course as a project manager, you have to let go – you are responsible for the organisational side of the work and other people perform the tasks. You probably don’t have the expertise to do them yourself anyway.

But herein lies the problem: you want the tasks performed to the standard you would do them yourself, but you are relinquishing control.

This is something that we address in our Coaching & Mentoring for Improved Performance course, in which we examine the following delegation rule:

When you delegate a task, the quality of the work will be directly equivalent to the skill and commitment level of the person performing the task, unless you intervene as a coach.

So what is the message here? As a project manager, you need to coach your project team to ensure work is performed to the highest standard, in the shortest time possible. Unfortunately though, many project managers don’t know how to coach effectively.

How to Delegate

When delegating a task, you can behave in one of three ways: you can abdicate, direct or coach.

Abdicating is easy. Unfortunately, it is also completely ineffective as a leadership style and dangerous in terms of the expected results.

If we abdicate as we delegate tasks in our projects, we set a task, then disappear (figuratively or literally), returning on Deadline Day to expect everything to be completed perfectly. Of course, this is very often not the case, as per our delegation rule above.

All too often, the task is completed to a poor standard, if at all. And of course, it is the project manager who is accountable. Samuel Johnson defined abdication as:

The act of abdicating; resignation; quitting an office by one’s own proper act before the usual or stated expiration.

And this is how many people delegate. Then they are surprised when the work is not completed as they had hoped.

To direct is to behave at the opposite end of the scale – it is delegating without relinquishing any control at all.

Whilst this might bring in better results than abdication, directing (or micro-managing) is hard work and a waste of resources. It takes the time of the person performing the work, but in the action of directing, it absorbs a great deal of time from the project manager as well.

Whilst directing may result in the task being completed to a high standard, for the time it takes, the project manager may as well have performed it himself. It is also completely ineffective as a development tool and fails miserably to empower the team member or help them grow.

Another way

So we’ve seen that operating at either end of the delegation spectrum is far from ideal. The sweet spot is in this centre ground between the two. A dictionary definition of “to delegate” would read something like this:

To send and authorise another person to act as one’s representative

And that is what effective delegating should be. It is giving a task to a subordinate, yet appreciating that they act as your representative, and therefore helping them to perform in a way that represents you (and them) in a very good way.

It is not dropping a task on them and running, and it is also not micro-managing towards task completion. It is empowering with authority, yet remembering that the coachee is your representative and that you are ultimately responsible for the successful completion of the task.

We call this coaching. When a project manager coaches effectively, she (and according to coaching guru Sir John Whitmore, women adapt to this much better than men) supports the team member appropriately to achieve greatness for the team member and first-class results for the project manager.

Project Managers CoachingWhat is coaching?

Remember our delegation rule from earlier:

When you delegate a task, the quality of the work will be directly equivalent to the skill and commitment level of the person performing the task unless you intervene as a coach.

This means that we can delegate a task to (almost) anyone, and if we support them effectively as their coach, they will complete the task to our standard.

Choose a team member who is highly-skilled and very committed to the task and that intervention might be minimal (yet still vital); choose someone who is less experienced and it might require more effort from you as a coach, but the task can still be completed to the same standard.

And that extra effort isn’t without a long-term benefit, because by investing in someone now, you are helping them grow for the future. Further down the line, that person will become your highly-skilled, very committed and thus highly-valued team member who can embrace your most challenging assignments with enthusiasm and confidence.

Coaching and MentoringHow to coach

At TwentyEighty Strategy Execution, we define coaching as:

An interpersonal process built on mutual trust, understanding and expectation that guides and influences the development of individuals and teams to realise potential.

In our Coaching & Mentoring for Improved Performance course, we work through a four-step process to simultaneously achieve the results we need in our delegated task and drive the growth of the coachee.

1. Determine Current Performance

Before we can delegate a task to a coachee, we need to understand what their current performance level is likely to be on that task.

How do we do that? Through a combination of discussion and observation. We discuss with the coachee to understand their skill, confidence and commitment levels and we observe them doing similar tasks in other areas.

Through expert use of questioning structures, we can accurately understand how they are likely to perform on the delegated task and therefore what interventions will be necessary as a coach.

2. Define & Assign Work

Once we understand the support needed, we consider the most effective way to communicate the task to our coachee. We make sure we are communicating what is required of the task and why the task is important in order that the coachee will be best-prepared to approach the task without feeling patronised or micro-managed.

3. Guiding Progress

Here is where we dive into “proper coaching” as we guide the coachee to progress both in the task we have delegated and in their own skill set.

Using appropriate questioning techniques, we help the coachee to find their own solutions to achieve satisfactory results. It’s a bit like being a psychiatrist in an American film: you ask lots of questions and don’t give any answers.

Instead, you help the coachee to self-analyse and consider various potential outcomes of their actions, reaching an agreement on the best way forward. This continues through a series of coaching sessions until the task is complete.

4. Evaluating results

When the task is finished to the coachee’s satisfaction (which, if we’ve coached well, will also be to our satisfaction), we evaluate the results: firstly of the finished task, then of the coachee’s performance and finally of our performance as a coach.

If the finished task isn’t of the right quality, or the coachee hasn’t grown during the process, then the responsibility rests with the coach. We need to self-coach as we consider how we behaved, what worked and what didn’t, to improve our own performance next time.

This effective and well-proven approach can be hugely effective in facilitating the successful completion of tasks and projects, yet the majority of project managers (and managers in general) have never been trained in the required skills.

With our coaching course, we can equip project managers and any leader with these essential skills to maximise the performance of their teams.

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About Neil Shorney

Neil Shorney
As an instructor for ESI, I teach business skills to professionals from across the UK, Europe and Middle East. A course taught by me is not so much a traditional training event, but more like facilitated learning, where participants are led through a mixture of lively discussions, case studies, thought-provoking questions and PowerPoint slides to reach the event's learning objectives. I teach a wide range of courses for ESI, including topics such as High-Impact Communications, Coaching & Mentoring For Improved Performance, Critical Thinking & Problem Solving and Establishing A Business Mindset.

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