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Coaching Your Work Team

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Watching my town's baseball team lose another close game I realized how poorly they are coached. The players may not be the best in the league, but they need their coaches to keep them improving. It reminded me of a situation in my career where I had to do a little more coaching than usual. I didn't get the team turned around overnight, but we did get there. These same tips will work for you.

Identify The Problem

You can't fix any problem until you know what it is. If you have a team that is not performing to the best of their ability, or not meeting the goals that have been set for them, you need to figure out what's wrong so you can help them fix it. Are the customers unhappy with the products you build or are they frustrated by a complicated customer support phone tree? Do they find the product hard to learn, but valuable once they master it? Are you producing great products, but ones that are outdated by the time you finally get them to market? Or are you losing customers because you're pushing faulty products out the door too quickly?

Once you have identified the problem, you can start figuring out solutions and trying them to see which ones work.

Work On Two Things First

Many times you are told to pick one thing to work on first and complete that before going on to the next problem. As much as we like to multi-task in our daily work, we try to focus our attention when it comes to solving problems.

I prefer to tackle two things first in situations like this. I'll focus most of my attention and effort on the biggest, most difficult problem, but I reserve some of my focus for the easy wins. These "low hanging fruit", as they are often called, let you create momentum toward success. When the team sees some things starting to turn around and go well, even if they are small things, they start to believe that the big problems can be solved too.

People Are Individuals

Remember that all the people on your team are individuals. They have different skills and experience. They have different personalities. And they will all react differently toward you and whatever coaching you offer. You want to be fair as you deal with all your employees, but being the same won't work. Even if two people have the same problem, you may need to come up with a different coaching solution for each of them.

Make The Solution Fit The Problem

When you have identified the problem and developed a solution, stop and ask yourself if that solution is appropriate for the problem. If one employee is missing vital communications because he always comes in late, the solution of making everyone start their day 30 minutes earlier may solve the problem, but it is not appropriate. It doesn't fit the problem. Instead, work with the individual to improve his promptness. However, if your telephone sales representatives are deviating from their scripts because they find it cumbersome, making everyone change to a new script is an appropriate solution. It fits the problem you are trying to solve.

Stay Positive

It doesn't matter how big the problem the problem is. It doesn't matter how discouraged your employees are or how dysfunctional the team is. You have to stay positive to lead them forward. If you lapse into negativism yourself, it will spread among the team and you substantially reduce your chances of turning things around.

Reward progress

In addition to being positive, you want to reward successes as they happen. This helps motivate the team and keeps them working on the problem. But don't make the rewards so big that they lose sight of the goal. You want small rewards for the small successes and you want to save the big rewards for when you reach the goal.

Bottom Line

When one of your employees makes a mistake you, as the manager, need to help him learn from it so it doesn't happen again. Be positive, attack the behavior rather than the individual, and tailor your solution to the individual and the nature of the mistake. You want to lead the team forward by improving performance, not destroy their motivation and morale by nit-picking.

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