Coaching Case Study By Thecla Teo
(Career Coach, SINGAPORE)
We had our first coaching meet up over lunch and I briefly explained to my client (Doreen) that I am here for her and I will be her soundboard, her accountability partner, her cheerleader, however I am not going to be a counselor, a mentor nor a therapist during our sessions. I assured her that this is safe space for her to share and whatever is discussed, her privacy will be protected, she will lead the conversations and I will be her facilitator. Establishing trust in our coaching session together.
To understand Doreen’s coaching needs, I started with asking powerful questions to understand her needs, goals and expectations for coaching:
- “What would Doreen like to focus on today?”
- “And how is this ‘situation’ affecting you?”
- “What are your goals for our coaching?”
- “What makes Doreen happy?
- “What is Doreen’s current state of happiness- using a range of 1 à10?”
Who are the main players and define the case scenario in this study:
Doreen is in middle management and holds a senior manager role in operations, with 3 direct reports and a total team of 10. She operates in a matrix reporting structure with her line manager based in the UK. Her team supports more than 200 global customer facing professionals within the organization and is constantly involve in different projects concurrently.
Two of her direct reports manages teams of 3-5 members and she has been grooming one of them, Stephen, to undertake some of her responsibilities as part of development and succession planning. Doreen also has new responsibilities and challenges to deal with in the organization: changes in senior management and organization priorities; and figuring how to fit her team dynamics to all the organizational changes.
Through power listening, I noted Doreen’s sense of responsibility and accountability and she shared that her DiSC profile has shifted from:
- IS< people with this combination areconfident, warm and friendly, and incorporates a sympathetic ear for others and a readiness to help with others' problems where possible>3 years ago when she was not leading teams
- DI<This style of person will seek to maintain a position of dominance, both in terms of personal authority and control, but also in a social sense >Today
She sets a high bar for her team and ensures they adhere strictly to her department’s KPIs for their service level outcomes i.e. timeliness, operational efficiency and quality of output.
Many of the projects have varied timelines and highly dependent on different stakeholders in the organization. She is clear of the organization performance metrics and is a key driver of her team’s deliverables and performance.
While the organization measures on performance output and outcome, she made a remark that there’s a lack of support on the development of soft skills for middle management in dealing with team motivation and performance coaching for new team leaders.
Seeing her team succeed and appreciated in the organization gives her a deep sense of pride and accomplishment.
What is the core problem or challenge you applied your coaching skills to help?
In the past half year, her successor (Stephen) has been missing deadlines, taking frequent medical leave and time-offs. Doreen has raised this observation during her catch-ups with Stephen and has highlighted that this has affected the team’s overall performance, Stephen acknowledges but shows no interest in explaining nor listening to advice from Doreen.
My client raised this question to me: “How do we help people who refuses to be helped?”
What should I do to motivate him and manage his disengagement? As a team lead and my successor, this is not reflecting well with the rest of the team and undermining the trust I have on him?
I have been grooming Stephen for a few years and it’s only this year he has lost his motivation and interest and I’m clueless what to do with this situation.
I asked my client: What is the most important thing she wanted to achieve at the end of today’s coaching session?
I hope to find ways to discover the root cause for his loss of interest and ways to motivate him again to lead the team and projects, otherwise I am in a fix of what to do with the leadership plans.
I continued asking: What will this understanding bring to Doreen?
We took a while to derive on the list as there were some pent-up frustration from months of counselling and mentoring Stephen, with very little improvement. I could sense the disappointment in her tone and some helplessness after listening intently.
I helped reframed her perspective and reconfirmed back the goals she had in mind:
“I would like to be able to decide on outcomes with Stephen and establish a joint decision with him:
- To continue to Lead the team and be my successor
- Intention to be a single contributor
- Leave the organization
As the coach, I wanted to learn more about her communication approach with Stephenand began asking open ended questions while applying a series of W.A.I.T. (why am I talkingstrategy offering 10 sec pauses for client to reflect and think again), staying focused on power listening and observation of body language, tonality of response and language cues when she explained them.
Examples of some of these questions:
- What can you tell me about Stephen’s interest or motivations in this leadership role?
- What have you observed a year ago versus this year?
- What were some of the behavior patterns that was observe in Stephen that led to your current views?
- When Stephen was confronted, what was your immediate response to him when he showed no sign of remorse?
- For a clearer understanding of this situation, would you be able to elaborate a typical communication scenario you have with Stephen during your regular check-ins… and what else do you do/say when you hear his response?
Doreen was candid and shared that Stephen was aware of his development path and he wanted this leadership role. The only thing that has change is he has started a new course on his own during the past year and it was meant to be a personal development for himself. When his work and attitude started to slide, Doreen had shown concern on his development and provided him with regular direct feedback while mentoring him towards what’s right (from her experience and views) for the team and the organization. She supported Stephen’s team in times of his absentee/missed deadlines,continue to include Stephen in new project development and encouraging him during his stretched commitment with his additional course. Stephen was non-committal on improvements and in a recent check-in, Doreen confronted Stephen again, wanting to establish reasons for his change of attitude, he unintentionally acknowledged that he has also been job seeking externally. Doreen was disappointed with his response and reminded him sternly that he was an employee of this organization and she would only support him in his job search if it was an internal role.
We set on a path to map out ways to find out Stephen’s true intentions and needs today and discuss of ways to approach coaching Stephen in an upcoming performance review.
What specific coaching skills or approach did you use in this case?
- Create Trust
- Powerful questioning
- Active and Focused Listening: Applying W.A.I.T
- DiSC profiling and Self-Awareness
- Effective Feedback
- Outlining Observations and Reframing Perspective
- Visualization and role playing
Explain your process in detail
After establishing Doreen’s situation, her needs and goals for coaching, we discussed the follow-up action and established some short and long-term goals/practices which Doreen could adopt and practice with Stephen:
Short Term: On a Root-Cause Discovery Quests
We worked on reframing the communication approach with Stephen where Doreen could refrain from her usual Questioning Approach Style to a Listening and Question only for Clarification approach.
As Doreen’s coach, I tried to help her manage her communication style through ‘reflecting back’ her approach which was ‘dominant in style’ and we visualized a different approach, where she would offer lesser prescribed solutions and seeking clarity and inputs from Stephen, and allowing Stephen space to reflect and commit on what works for him and the projects he is involve in. We role-played and mapped out the process for an impending review with Stephen- steps involved:
- Practice asking opened-ended questions with Stephen (20%) questioning for clarity and (80%) intent listening and allow him to share his views. We bounced and refined questions in preparation for the immediate review sessions:
Adopting “Powerful questioning Skills” methods:
- What does success mean to you for this project?
- How are you monitoring the project timelines for your team/project?
- What can I do to help you achieve success?
- What are some of the challenges you face in this project or in leading the team?
- What are your views of leading the team today compared to the time we spoke about your development plans more than a year ago?
- And what else would Stephen suggest we do to make this even more successful?
- Avoid providing solutions/answers for Stephen immediately and try not to use “BUT” and instead use “And” when Doreen counter proposes a thought/idea
- We also discuss of ways to document the motivational behavior through active journaling of highlights/lowlights – by asking Stephen if he would collect – highlights and lowlights for a week (at work) and to share them with Doreen as part of getting to know Stephen’s motivations and as inclusion into their weekly check-in agenda
- Decide on next steps with Stephen and who would be Stephen’s successor for the team and for Doreen to realign her leadership roles
- Supporting Doreen in her leadership development within the organization
What were the results of your process? Was your coaching/program effective? Why? Why not?
Yes it was.
Happy to share that in our second coaching session, we have unraveled the reasons behind Stephen’s changes and it has to do with a shift in his priorities and he would prefer to be a single contributor but continue to involve in project leads where he can fully immerse in his strengths in project management and he was not comfortable handling the administration and development needs in team leadership. His new course has also added stress to his full plate of responsibilities and the organizational changes caused disruption and uncertainties in work which made him unsettled. He has decided that leading a team was not something he enjoyed today but was fine with project leadership. Doreen is clearer of his intentions and is active reviewing the rest of her 9 team members for potential development and upgrade. She seemed more at peace and relax in our recent coaching and I am looking forward to seeing more development.
If you could approach this problem again, what would you do differently?
As this was a “Coaching the Client to Coach” scenario, we spent time on understanding the story behind the client’s situation and once we established that we moved forward to “The Client’s Needs; Change in perspectives; and Visualizing the Approach together”. I would normally focus on the client’s needs first but this was not the typical scenario which makes it exciting for coaching as I learn to share some best practices in coaching with her when she coach/mentored her team lead and it gave me great pleasure when she succeeded in this approach.
What are the top 3 things you learnt from this experience?
- Building trust with client was important and the client must be willing to share her true intentions, her emotions and be willing to act on follow-ups
- Active listening <80%>and Powerful questioning <20%>
- Visualization with the client’s goals in mind and not just around the story