Coaching Case Study By Fadwa Badalla
(Executive Coach, DENMARK)
1. The Clients Situation & Challenge
Michael is the leader of a small team in a professional services company where he has been working for over 10 years. In March 2020 the company switched to working from home, following general guidelines to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. This created a series of challenges for Michael and his team:
- Follow-up difficult: Michael was used to delegating tasks in the physical office and typically walked around to follow up on progress several times a day. This was suddenly not possible with everybody working from home, causing key deadlines not to be met.
- Low motivation/energy: Michael experienced a sudden drop of excitement and drive in the team, with several team members showing signs of fatigue from being isolated at home.
- Ineffective communication: The number of misunderstandings between what was intended and what was done increased significantly. Michael and the team did not speak so often together, informal interactions disappeared and the casual help amongst the team members was gone.
Michael sought our coaching as a way to help him manage his team better. In our first session, we explored what was really going on and what Michael wanted to achieve to get a better result in managing his team.
After asking clarifying questions about what he might see as the root cause of his troubles, he identified ineffective communication as the key theme underpinning the other problems. It turned out that Michael was overwhelmed with the new unusual situation and he needed time to think through how to manage his own stress and devise a set of principles, tools, and techniques for working more effectively together in the team.
2. The Coaching Approach
In our first session, Michael was expressing his overwhelmed feeling and shared his worries about the lack of structure and his concerns about what the next phase would look like. He felt he needed to focus on how to manage his own working technique and to mentally prepare to get used to the new way of working. He wanted to do that, to perform the same or better with the team regardless of the circumstances of the pandemic.
We then moved on to cover some critical questions to get the desired result even more precise:
- What do you want as the outcome?
- What do you need to address, to be better prepared for the unusual situation?
- What is most important to you about this?
- What does think is the real challenge?
- What will help bring you closer to your goal?
Through our sessions, we explored more the underlying root causes of ineffective communication and collaboration. We found out that Michael had an imbalanced schedule between his clients and the team. The real challenge was that Michael was stuck in a vicious circle. He was spending too much inefficient time with his team, which caused him to spend less quality time with his clients to agree on priorities. Consequently, the work volume for the team increased and the team collaboration became even more ineffective. After recovering from these issues it became clear to Michael that he needed to shift his focus. He began by exploring the possible structure that would enable his team to better deliver. It contained four cornerstones:
A better definition of sub-deliverables and a clearer process to follow up within the team. Michael realized that he had to do that since “management by walking around” was no longer possible. The team needed clear deliverables and the time and peace to work independently.
To keep the team spirit up, more time was needed to listen to the team members’ needs too in an informal manner by checking on them, e.g., “do they need any help?”, “what works best for them”?
He suggested providing better work equipment and offer a better working space where they would feel safe and productive.
Also, he asked for his clients to write down their expectations more clearly in writing and sharing these with the team on an ongoing basis.
We then moved into clarifying what he specifically was going to do next.
3. The Outcome
With the coaching process and follow up on Michael’s four cornerstones he gradually started seeing tangible results. Michael committed to scheduling a daily meeting to follow up on the work and organizing a balanced calendar to keep him on track with the structure he created. As well as a weekly informal meeting to check on them on how it is going. With the commitment he made it became clear that the results were showing. He had turned an unusual situation into a new usual way of working. He and his team showed gratefully and the attitude in the team changed to be more positive and constructive.
In the last follow up I had with Michael, they decided to continue this way and extend it for even longer since it is working very well.