5 Steps to Coaching Your Employees to Success (Based on the Co-Active Coaching Model)

March 14, 2019 • 5 minute read • by Saeed


“While the big events of our lives create the impetus for change, it is the moment-by- moment choices that mold and shape us.” 

― Karen Kimsey-House, Co-Active Leadership: Five Ways to Lead

If you have room in your head for only one nugget of leadership wisdom, make it this one: the most powerfully motivating condition people experience at work is: making progress at meaningful work. And coaching can help your team members experience progress at meaningful work.

To do so, regular communication around development — having coaching conversations — is essential to understand what drives each person.

Unfortunately, many supervisors think they don’t have the time to have these conversations, and many lack the skill. Yet 70% of employee learning and development happens on the job, not through formal training programs. This is an opportunity missed.

Coaching is a powerful experience that creates a resonant connection with another person and helps them achieve something they care about while helping them become more of who they want to be. If there’s anything an effective, resonant coaching conversation produces, it’s positive energy.

Start today to be a more effective manager by engaging in regular coaching conversations with your team members. As you resolve to support their ongoing learning and development, here are five key tips to get you started.

1.      Design Your Alliance

First, design and sustain your alliance. While your role as a coach is not to provide answers, supporting your team members’ developmental goals and strategies is essential. But to do so, you need to establish an environment of mutuality and trust. As a coach, you must know how to work with your team member to empower them. This is a process of ‘co-creation’ where the employee also helps create the kind of coach she needs. Here, you can ask questions like:

  • What are you looking for in me as your coach?
  • If this coaching was to be effective, what would it look like?
  • What is the best way for me to challenge you?
  • How do you want me to respond when you have not completed something you wanted me to complete?

The designed alliance is the co-created space within which the coaching takes place. This space is dynamic and evolving so periodically you can check in on your designed alliance to see how it’s working for you. Just like ground rules you may need to add, modify, or delete some of your agreements depending on how the relationship has evolved.

2.      Listen with curiosity: 

Have you ever had the luxurious and deeply validating experience of communicating with someone who is completely focused on you and actively listening to what you have to say with an open mind and an open heart? What does that feel like? That’s coaching. And listening in coaching may be the most important skill set.

You can open a coaching conversation with a question such as “How would you like to grow this month?” Listen with your full attention, and create a high-quality connection that invites your team member to open up and to think creatively and then follow your curiosity.

3.      Ask, don’t tell.

As a manager, you are used to problem solving. This is fine when you’re clarifying action steps for a project you’re leading or when people come to you asking for advice. But in a coaching conversation, it’s essential to restrain your impulse to provide the answers. Your path is not your employee’s path. Open-ended questions, not answers, are the tools of coaching. You succeed as a coach by helping your team members articulate their goals and challenges and find their own answers. This is how people clarify their priorities and devise strategies that resonate with what they care about most and that they will be committed to putting into action.

There are two main types of questions, OPEN and CLOSED. Closed questions are less useful in coaching because they only promote a “yes” or “no” response. Open questions promote discovery and stimulate thinking. They are therefore ideal for coaching.

Open questions are ones that start with what, where, when, how, and who. Aim to avoid the ‘why’ question which can be seen as aggressive and stimulate a defensive response. There are three specific types of open questions you may find helpful when coaching. They are:

  1. Clarifying questions: “What else can you tell me about that?”
  2. Creative questions. “What if the possibilities were limitless?”
  3. Process questions. “How would you approach that from a different perspective?”

The best way to get someone to self generate ideas and solutions is by asking them, which is why powerful questions are so critical. And powerful questions are the key to helping individuals unlock their own potential.

4.      Forward the Action

Oftentimes in a coaching conversation, the person you’re coaching will get caught up in their own stories.  While it can provide temporary relief to vent, it doesn’t generate solutions. Take a moment to acknowledge your employee’s frustrations, but then encourage her to think about how to move past them. You might ask, “What is it you really want?” or “Which of the activities you mentioned offer the greatest potential for reaching your goal?” Then, when the employee is settled on an action, ask them what action, if taken, would make the biggest difference in helping them advance towards their goal.

5.      Build accountability.

Last, but not least, it is imperative that the employee follow through on commitments. Accountability increases the positive impact of coaching conversations and solidifies their rightful place as keys to organizational effectiveness. If your employee plans to network with other potential business partners, for example, give these plans more weight by asking her to identify specific individuals with dates and times and to deliver this information to you by a certain deadline.

A Final Word

If you want to build stronger bonds between you and your team members, support them in taking ownership over their own learning, and help them develop the skills they need to perform at their peak, try establishing regular coaching conversations.

Coaching accelerates progress by providing greater focus and awareness of choice. It concentrates on where you are today and what you are willing to do to get where you want to be tomorrow. Coaching provides a transformative space for your employee to experience easier and accelerated growth to move them towards their goals. It provides insights and clarity, pattern recognition and interruption, conscious commitment, real time feedback, and accountability.

Join the movement and coach your heart out.

Good luck.

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Three Simple Steps To Transform Your Team Retreats

October 24, 2018 • 7 minute read • by Saeed


If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”

~Patrick Lencioni

There are many good reasons to conduct a team retreat: to create trust, clarify roles and responsibilities; establish goals and vision, orient new members; reconnect and re-energize team members; and/or address critical issues or opportunities, to name a few. However, bringing the entire team together in person can be a challenge. Greater still is the challenge of engaging them effectively — and to do so, you need to create a focused, meaningful, and enjoyable experience for everyone. Here are some ideas for team retreats that really hit the mark.

Step 1: Pay Attention to Design and Planning

First, identify the purpose and specific outcomes you want from the retreat.

  •  Is it time for strategic or tactical planning?
  • Are you trying to solve an important team or organizational issue?
  • Do you need to re-energize the team?

Second, schedule a planning meeting with your team leaders – you know who they are – to determine the retreat purpose and outcomes; learn what’s most pressing for your team; better understand team dynamics; and assess team engagement, strengths, weaknesses, etc. In addition, discuss timing, duration, location, number of attendees, etc. You don’t need to finalize all the details yet, just enough to develop a draft agenda.

After meeting with your leaders, it’s a good idea to have brief “input” conversations with some or all team members to understand their views, gather topic ideas and get participants excited about the retreat. Input conversations can last anywhere from 20-40 minutes. Some sample input questions include:

  • What do you think is working well with the team?
  • What would you like to see the team do more of, do better or do differently?
  • What do you think the team should stop doing?
  • What are three things the team should focus on over the next 12 months?
  • What is your vision for this team over the next three years?
  • What would help you feel more engaged and useful as a team member?
  • What would help the team work even more effectively together?

Using the information from your team leaders and input conversations, craft an action-focused agenda that incorporates the retreat’s purpose and desired outcomes.

Some things to consider:

  • Avoid status or progress reporting. Instead, have participants review status reports ahead of time and focus sessions on generating ideas, solving problems, making decisions, etc.
  • Structure adequate time for building relationships. Schedule time to eat together, walk together and learn about one another. It’s ideal if you can hold a retreat over two days that includes a social dinner.
  • Build some flexibility into your agenda to accommodate hot topics or deeper dives into important issues.
  • Create discrete sessions with time blocks of one to three hours to help participants digest information, offer natural break points and provide variety. Have each session build upon one another in a logical order based on your goals.
  • As you create the agenda, decide what output you want from each session and plan for how to capture key issues, ideas, resources, outcomes and action steps from each session. This will make documenting the retreat much easier.
  • Schedule ample time (at least 45 minutes) at the end to discuss action items, accountability, takeaways, appreciations and other closing activities.
  • Decide on any supporting materials, resources and preparatory work. Make sure participants have the agenda, materials and instructions at least one week before the retreat. Communicate with team members throughout the planning process to answer questions, remind them about pre-work, help them with logistics, etc.

Step 2: Get Expert Facilitation

While it’s not uncommon for a team member to facilitate a retreat, having outside facilitation helps every participant fully engage in the retreat. Also, an outside facilitator also helps reduce bias or undue influence and may notice and address team issues or dynamics not obvious to participants. Some other good practices for facilitation:

  • Start with a warm-up that gets everyone talking. An easy exercise is to pose a couple of questions that participants discuss with one or two people next to them. It’s good to include one personal and one organizational question.
  • Announce the retreat objectives and outcomes, preview the agenda, cover any logistics and discuss how participants can get the most from their time together.
  • Set expectations up front for how you will facilitate the retreat, such as balancing participation, managing interruptions, encouraging constructive comments, etc.
  • Capture highlights from each session using flipcharts, a note taker, recording device, etc. Some facilitators find it useful to use separate flipcharts for ideas, resources, action steps, “parking lot” or other categories as needed.
  • Check in periodically about participants’ comfort level, questions, concerns, etc. The more transparent you are as a facilitator, the more the participants can relax and trust the process.
  • After a long or complex session, briefly summarize highlights and outcomes. If there is time, ask participants to share their own takeaways from the session.
  • If the discussion veers off the agenda, refer back to the retreat objectives and outcomes. Ask if this conversation supports their overall retreat goals, if the topic supersedes other agenda items or if it can be covered elsewhere.
  • Have plenty of food, beverages, time for breaks and table toys to help quell the “fidgets.” Periodically check people’s energy and take a short break if needed.

 Step Three: Don’t Neglect Outcomes and Next Steps

For a retreat to be worthwhile, participants must know their ideas and decisions will actually go somewhere after the event. It’s equally important for team members to understand their own responsibilities to take actions after the retreat. Here are some ideas for documenting the retreat and creating accountable action steps:

  • After each session, capture key points and outline next steps, responsible parties and time frames. Use action verbs to clarify what needs to be done (write, call, review, schedule, plan, etc.).
  • The final session should be used to summarize all next steps. Discuss how participants will hold themselves and others accountable for taking action. In addition, invite participants to share takeaways, appreciations, personal commitments and other comments.
  • Consider pairing people to accomplish tasks. This helps boost accountability and build team member relationships between meetings.
  • Move away from a “minutes” mindset. Try to organize retreat notes logically rather than strictly chronologically. Participants won’t necessarily remember who said what when so it’s useful to group related ideas and actions together.
  • Suggest ways to incorporate progress checks from the retreat into subsequent staff meetings. For example, if you do a strategic plan, organize future team meeting agendas to parallel strategic goal areas from the plan.

Final Word

Team retreats can be powerful events that help clarify organizational vision, address complex issues and energize a team. With collaborative planning, a steady focus on the desired outcomes, skillful facilitation, and the willingness to hold people accountable, you can transform your team retreat from a necessary evil to the event of the year!

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

Why would you follow me?

The most compelling reason I can think of is this: I believe what I write and I write what I believe. I see myself as an alchemist of ideas writing at the intersection of personal, professional, and organizational development to help readers be the most effective human being they can be in order to create lasting impact in the world. If we dig together, we’ll find the gold.

©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.