One of the easiest ways to use coaching to drive better project delivery is to allow each project manager to work with a dedicated coach. Someone who is professionally trained and who can help the individual project manager to better lead their projects. The professional coach would typically talk through the projects with the project manager and understand where they most need assistance. A coach can help the PM develop better relationships with stakeholders, communicate more effectively and improve the way they lead the team. Many issues on a project relate to soft skills and being able to mediate, negotiate and have crucial conversations. In these situations coaching comes in handy because it helps people reflect and approach a situation differently. Coaching is less suited to train people in hard skills. It would be better to send them on a workshop or a training course if they need to learn about planning and estimation.
2. Teach your project managers to coach
Another option – which has further reaching benefits – is to teach each project manager how to coach their own teams in a way that’s empowering and motivating. Many project managers use a task-oriented and directive approach with their team. They are good at solving problems, providing answers and telling others what to do. Whereas this directive approach can work well with junior staff, it has a disengaging effect on senior team members who are highly skilled. What they need is a sounding board more than a boss, who tells them what to do. They need a manager who listens to them and helps them reflect on how to move forward. When project managers learn to use coaching as a leadership style, not only do they empower people to think for themselves, they also shift responsibility onto the team. They do that by asking insightful questions that encourage the team to come forward and fill in the blanks.
3. Have PMs support each other with peer-to-peer coaching
A third option – which builds on the previous one – is to pair up the project managers so that they can coach each other across projects. This is an extremely powerful and sustainable option that not only helps the individual PM to better manage their projects. It also builds long-lasting friendships and a support network. Being a project manager can be lonely – not least for PMs who are working on client site. With peer-to-peer coaching each person is given a safe space to share and discuss the most difficult situations on their project. They benefit from the insights of another experienced project manager and of course they get to practice their own coaching skills. A natural way to create the pairing would be at the back of a classroom workshop where the PMs have had a chance to interact each other. Forcing people to work in pairs where there is little rapport won’t work.
When we integrate coaching into the way we run projects, we can expect the project managers to gain better leadership and emotional intelligence skills. Relationships will improve and individual team members will feel more empowered and responsible for the outcome of the project. A good way to get started is to enrol the project managers in a workshop where they get to practice their coaching skills and pair up with other PMs who they can start to peer coach. And lastly, remember to give people access to a professional coach who they can work with in confidence.
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