How to Coach Your Team: Tips for IT Managers

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There are many keys to effective leadership, but how you coach your team has a dramatic impact on its success. 

Coaching efforts won’t be successful, however, unless IT managers are strategic in their approach.

Managers have two basic coaching opportunities: big-picture (strategic) coaching and day-to-day, tactical coaching. Big-picture coaching might include professional development, improving communication skills or collaboration techniques, and understanding creative problem-solving concepts. This type of coaching is typically more formal and long-term.

Tactical coaching refers to short-term, on-the-spot feedback, and it can occur throughout the business day. For example, you could coach a help desk associate who becomes frustrated during a phone call by immediately discussing what happened at the conclusion of the call. These coaching opportunities can be brief, direct and require little planning or formality. The key here is to tackle areas that are critical to success only. You don’t want to create an environment in which team members feel like they can’t make a mistake without having another coaching session.

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Create a Plan

When you coach your team, keep these three things in mind:

  1. Make it positive. Let your team members know that coaching is a key element of professional development. It’s designed to help them identify areas for improvement and grow in their careers.
  2. Create a roadmap. Work with each employee to create a plan for your work together. Include a timeline, key milestones and the desired outcome of the coaching effort.
  3. Show your commitment. Demonstrate that you are committed to the coaching process over the long term. Arrange regular meetings to discuss progress or challenges.

Bring in Reinforcements

While your heart may be in the right place, a manager’s voice can lose its impact over time. In a circumstance like this, bring in someone with a new perspective to supplement your coaching effort. You might ask highly respected peers of the employee to serve as mentors and a sounding board. IT pros may be more likely to see a peer as an unbiased voice, and may have less fear of being judged or reprimanded. Bringing in a peer can also make sense when dealing with someone with highly technical skills who may not feel you “get them” since you don’t fully understand their subject matter expertise.

Keep in mind that coaching only works when you have an open-minded recipient. If your employees push back, there might be something bigger at work that is causing anxiety — or even rebellion. This is a good opportunity to schedule some quality time in a private setting to let team members share their perspective and voice their concerns.

Look in the Mirror

Finally, remember that everyone needs a coach. If you sense your coaching is being dismissed, examine your approach and ask a well-respected peer to assess your effectiveness. Issues to consider include:

  • Is your coaching constructive?
  • Do you have coaching priorities, or have you created an environment where you are constantly coaching?
  • Are you providing an example to your team by being receptive to coaching in your own professional development, or do you come across as having “it all figured out”?

I hope this post has helped you consider how you coach your team in your department and organization. I welcome your comments as you evaluate what’s worked in your organization, and what hasn’t.

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Note: This post has been updated. It originally appeared on 4/10/15.