Approach to Coaching

Michael Fraidenburg
Facilitator ~ Mediator ~ Trainer

Good coaching can significantly raise individual and team performance.  Our coaching focus is helping people get unstuck or work through a tricky situation.  That’s what we do—problem-solving coaching.

There are two kinds of coaching I avoid:

1. Coaching as Micromanagement.

Here the coach wants to do the work but can’t bring him/herself to take it on. This coaching is usually about telling people what they did wrong and then telling them what to do about it. Why not this approach?

People hate it. Most people do not like being bossed around and constantly told what to do. That is a quick route to defensiveness. People then become resistant to recommendations, even if the recommendations make sense.

The coach is often wrong. No matter how smart and experienced you are, you can’t know everything that is going on. The temptation is to coach ‘go-to’ solutions that may have worked in the past but might not be the right fit for the situation.

Creating a cycle of dependency. Good coaching is about enabling initiative. Micromanaging is setting up a habit of coming to you too early in the problem-solving process.

Micromanagement isn’t the way to go.

2. Coaching as Twenty Questions.

A popular coaching approach focuses only on asking questions. The thinking is, “it has to be their idea.” With this approach, the coach becomes only a facilitator. Why not this approach?

People hate it. Have you ever had anyone ask you twenty questions and just leave it there? It’s not satisfying. Feeling quizzed with no clear pathway to a solution makes people defensive.

You come off as an avoider. People don’t like being steered to an answer if you have a solution in mind for them to consider—it’s annoying. They prefer hearing options first, then exploring questions for evaluating the full set of options to find the best choice.

They really could use your perspective. People come to you with problems because they aren’t sure what to do; if they had the answer, they would not call you. They are looking for a fresh way of looking at the problem. 

Twenty Questions isn’t the way to go.

The coaching I do—Coaching as Collaborative Problem Solving

The best coaching is collaboratively working together to solve problems. It requires achieving the right balance between micromanagement and twenty questions – just the right blend of give-and-take.
It also takes a different mindset about the role of the coach. The coach isn’t there to dictate the outcome (micromanagement) or just to implement a process and then monitor results (only ask questions). The collaborative coach works to put you and the coach, as a team, on one side of the table and then put the problem on the other side of the table. The collaborative coach is a partner, a team member who supports resolving the problem as a shared challenge.

How do we implement our Coaching as Collaborative Problem Solving?

Our coaching proceeds using these steps:

  • Collaborate to decide, “What will success look like?” We create a forward-thinking focus to get clear about the goal.  If it’s long-term, what would the first milestone be?  After that conversation, we summarize our shared understanding of the goal as succinctly as possible.  It’s hard to plan for success if ‘success’ is not defined.
  • Collaborate to decide, “What’s getting in the way?” When someone is feeling stuck, the obstacles are often top of mind, but the causes are not.  We coach to tease out the causes.  It is hard to resolve a problem if you cannot name it.
  • Collaborate to decide, “What helps you get closer?” Next, we talk over what supports are available for making progress.  Our role is to support creative thinking, not to be a nay-sayer who only identifies obstacles.  So together we explore a range of factors like, personal strengths, adding capacity by involving others, trying new techniques, looking for supports in the work environment, and learning about solutions that helped in similar situations.
  • Collaborate to decide, “What changes could have the biggest impact?” We brainstorm and evaluate solution options that would be effective and feasible.  Then, we help you decide which 1-3 are the strongest.  But there is one more step.  We close off the process with a planning discussion about how to effectively implement the chosen option(s).

Coaching as Collaborative Problem Solving can have a big ripple effect.  Clearing an obstacle frees you up to pursue the next opportunity.  Collaborative coaching takes some science, some art, excellent communication, experience, and a lot of practice.  But most importantly, it needs a partnership.