Five key coaching questions to ask your team

Rosie Nice demonstrates some easy ways to start, manage and conclude a successful coaching session

Have you ever wished you could wave a magic wand and transform your team’s performance?

Research by Gallup found an enormous 70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager so, as a leader, your impact on the motivation, wellbeing and productivity of your team is pivotal. Reflective coaching has the power to be your very own magic wand, enabling you to super-charge your team’s motivation and accelerate their success.

The generation now entering the workforce is increasingly focused on self-development and wellbeing. A coaching approach shows you care and demonstrates your commitment to their learning and growth. It increases self-awareness, as individuals gain greater understanding of their own strengths, development areas and personal values. An environment where people feel empowered and valued also increases engagement and motivation, while reducing absenteeism and attrition. If you use a coaching approach as a manager, it empowers individuals to establish clear personal and professional goals for themselves, develop robust plans, and take action to achieve these goals, gaining enhanced job satisfaction by achieving success through their own efforts. This is good for business too: data provided by BetterUP shows companies with a strong coaching culture have significantly higher year-on-year revenue growth (45% higher) and higher five-year average revenue growth (14% higher) than companies with a low coaching culture.

Our aim is for our teams to gain the confidence and ability to think effectively for themselves

Here are five questions which guide you through a coaching process and will enable you to benefit from coaching’s transformational powers

As you ask these questions, remember the central importance of listening and giving your full attention, by making eye contact, nodding, removing distractions, and asking follow-up questions. Coaching requires you to ask more than you tell, and to listen more than you speak which, in reality, is harder than it sounds: stopping giving instructions can sometimes be the hardest part of learning to coach. Our aim is for our teams to gain the confidence and ability to think effectively for themselves, taking responsibility for their own performance, their own development and their own results.

1. What’s happening at the moment?

This question opens your coaching conversation by holding up a metaphorical mirror and inviting your team member to reflect on what they see. This self-reflection increases self-awareness and builds trust and rapport, as you listen and encourage them to speak openly.

Spending time on this self-reflection is key, as embodied in the concept of the Einstein hour. Reputedly, Einstein declared “if I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution.” If you spend enough time helping individuals analyse their current situation and really understanding what is happening, and why, then a way forward will naturally emerge from the discussion.

To use a travel analogy, if you are embarking on a journey, you need to be clear about your starting point before you can plan your route.

Follow on questions:

  • How are you? How has this week been?
  • How would you assess your current performance?
  • What’s going well?
  • What are you pleased with, and proud of?
  • What’s not going so well? What are your current challenges?

2. What would you really like to achieve?

This question explores what your team member would like to see when they look in the mirror. What does success look like for them, personally and professionally? This requires reflective thought to answer fully, and is as relevant when considering the day or week ahead, as when considering life-time aspirations. Even when planning a meeting, asking a team member to clarify their ideal outcome is a hugely valuable part of success planning.

Follow on questions:

  • If you could wave a magic wand, what would you really like to achieve?
  • What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
  • What is really important to you?

3. How can you turn that into a clear, specific, measurable goal?

This question helps turn their aspirations into specific, tangible goals, with timescales and milestones to mark progress. The well-known SMART pneumonic can be used to help check their goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timebound.

Follow on questions:

  • What specifically do you want / need to achieve?
  • What are your success measures?
  • When will you achieve that by?
  • What are the key milestones along the way?
  • How will you know when you’ve achieved this goal?

4. What could you do to achieve your goals?

This question helps explore a range of ideas for ways to achieve these goals, and encourages them generate a list of options before selecting the ideas which will work best for them.

Follow on questions:

  • What are your options?
  • What have you done previously to achieve a similar goal?
  • Who else could offer help and advice?

5. What will you do?

This last question completes the coaching process by incorporating their ideas into a clear action plan with some specific commitments. Ensure the first step very specific, and encourage them to start with some ‘quick wins,’ which generate the greatest reward for the least effort.

Follow on questions:

  • What’s your plan?
  • What’s the first step you will take?
  • How will you overcome obstacles you may encounter?

Coupled with high-quality listening, these five questions will help you guide your team through the reflective coaching process, helping assess their current situation, identify their ideal outcomes, set specific goals, explore potential ideas and create a plan of action, empowering them to take responsibility for their own development and dramatically increasing their chances of success.

Rosie Nice is author of The MAGIC Happens in the Silence, a guide to the art of reflective coaching and founder of MAGIC Coaching.

Rosie Nice

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