Why a "Coaching Workplace" Is Key to Successfully Leading Remote Teams

Why a "Coaching Workplace" Is Key to Successfully Leading Remote Teams

In many companies, leading remote teams has become a new and ongoing reality as we move beyond pandemic-related social distancing and restrictions.

This puts a lot of pressure on those managers who’ve been “making it work” for over a year, fully expecting to return to an in-person environment.

How can they successfully lead remote teams for the long term?

To better equip managers for how workplaces function post-pandemic, companies need to adopt a human-first approach to leadership. The best way to do this, according to Aaron Levy, founder and CEO of Raise the Bar, is to create a “coaching workplace” that fosters a culture of learning.

Let’s look deeper into how Levy describes a coaching workplace as the future of management and why it’s an ideal mindset for a remote team environment.

What Does It Mean To Create a Coaching Workplace?

"A coaching workplace is another way to describe a learning culture."

Levy describes a coaching workplace as having a growth mindset that is both adaptive to change and focused on the growth and development of team members. It may sound like a cliché, but the adage that your employees are your best asset is spot on.

"Teams with great managers have 27% more revenue per employee, and they drive more profit for the business," says Levy.

When companies take on this approach, they can honestly assess the training and coaching their managers need—professionally and personally—for leading remote teams.

Why is this important?

"Teams with great managers have 27% more revenue per employee, and they drive more profit for the business," says Levy.

Great managers also save their company money in an important way: by improving retention. A 2020 McKinsey article revealed that interpersonal relationships are a key contributor to job satisfaction … and relationships with management can make or break the entire thing.

Investing in good management has always been important. But now that we’ve gone remote? It’s time to help make sure your managers have what they need to succeed.

What Skills Do Managers Need To Lead a Remote Team?

The biggest difference between managing people remotely and in a traditional office environment is fairly obvious—proximity. You can talk to a direct report over Zoom or a Google Meet to hear what they say they’re working on, but you can’t see exactly what they are working on.

This shift has thrown micromanagers into a tailspin, but it’s also highlighted the importance of focusing on people and results, not just their tasks.

For a coaching workplace to truly be effective, there needs to be a shift away from managers, and toward what Levy has dubbed “manager coaches,” who support and empower employees to be at their best, for the ultimate sake of the business.

So, how does this evolution take place?

1. Shift From Task Management to People Leadership

"Managers in a coaching workplace hold people accountable for outcomes, not hours. They empower employees with autonomy but balance it with accountability and structure."

Managing tasks and leading people are completely different skillsets.

Managers leading remote teams should focus on helping team members develop the skills and habits they need to do great work, instead of only focusing on how quickly the work is done. Anyone who’s worked in a company that empowers its employees will tell you that well-trained, self-motivated employees take on and lead more projects to completion.

That doesn’t mean managers have to forget about accountability, of course. As Levy points out, “Autonomy without accountability doesn't work. Managers have to find a balance.” It’s important for managers to learn how to hold themselves and their team accountable without resorting to blame, however. If a task doesn’t get done well, managers need to focus less on assigning blame and more on equipping their team with the knowledge and tools they need to keep the problem from happening again.

2. Know How To Set SMART Goals

"It’s tough to track an outcome without knowing exactly when it’s accomplished."

Along with accountability, teams need structure. That’s where SMART goals come in handy.

If you need a reminder of what a SMART goal is, it’s fairly simple:

Specific: What focused and tangible results do you want to achieve?

Measurable: What metrics can be used to determine current state, progress and success?

Attainable: Is the goal realistic? Can it actually be done?

Relevant: Does the goal pertain to the work to be done?

Time-bound: When does the goal need to be accomplished?

Your managers’ role is to help employees get clear about the goals that will help them develop as individuals and help the team and business succeed. When employee objectives are aligned with business goals, everybody wins.

3. Be a Source of Motivation

"A great leader is a master motivator."

To become a motivator, managers have to master the art of listening.

Too often, managers say they want to be more inspirational and motivational, but they focus on the speaking or the actions, when they should just be listening. When employees know their manager will actively listen and help them work toward personal success, they become motivated to work for and with that manager.

4. Ask Powerful Questions

"The smartest people are the ones who realize they don't have all the answers, but are willing to go out and ask the questions to get them."

Another way to motivate teams is to evaluate situations by asking powerful questions.

When managers ask thoughtful questions of their team, they demonstrate two things:

  1. They’re showing that they value their team’s input and expertise, which more often than not, encourages the team to rise to the occasion and flex their strategic thinking and problem-solving skills.
  2. They show that it’s perfectly fine to not know something – the key is to ask those questions instead of pretending or assuming. This takes a certain amount of courage on the part of managers, but it creates a greater level of trust and collaboration, which is a crucial ingredient for successful remote teams.

5. Create Safe Spaces for Communication

"Leadership isn’t just about being a good communicator, it’s about being worthy of trust."

Employees need to know they have a safe space to communicate and an empathic manager, especially in light of the workplace mental health issues that have arisen as result of the pandemic.

That goes double for giving feedback. A safe space is one in which feedback is clear, honest, constructive and actionable. You want to create an environment where employees don’t fear feedback but instead welcome it as important guidance on how to succeed. This is particularly important for remote teams, where it’s more difficult to interpret body language and tone via video call.

6. Adopt a Servant Leadership Mentality

Servant leadership was defined in 1970 by Robert K. Greenleaf, where he explained it thusly:

A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

– Robert K. Greenleaf

In essence, servant leadership in the workplace entails focusing on the growth and success of the team, which in turn enhances the growth and leadership of the organization. It’s the “a rising tide lifts all boats” principle come to life.

This principle of servant leadership is critically important when leading remote teams, because it focuses on elevating employees into a place where they can thrive and do great work.

Being a servant leader, however, doesn’t mean a lack of accountability or growth for employees. Sometimes, servant leadership requires a significant amount of courage with uncomfortable conversations, shining a light on problems and working on solving them together. “Those are the leaders that really help people get better,” says Aaron. “Because it’s not fun to be uncomfortable or to make others uncomfortable. But good leaders know that the individual’s development and success is more important than the temporary discomfort.”

Managers need to be encouraged to face their fears of confrontation and hurt feelings. When they recognize that each individual team member, the collective team, and the business grow from those respectful, constructive, but sometimes tough conversations, they will be truly stepping into servant leadership.

How Can Companies Create a Coaching Workplace Through Their Wellness Program?

As it turns out, a comprehensive wellness program is an excellent springboard from which to develop a coaching workplace—and a much more collaborative, productive and engaged remote workforce.

Leverage Coaching Services for Everybody

"If you're not healthy, if you're not taking care of yourself, you're not going to show up well, you're going to show up drained, you're going to show up tired."

This has been a year of burnout, stress and overwhelm for your employees and their managers. If your wellness program doesn’t have a coaching component to support your employees, it should.

Companies with workplace wellness programs can easily leverage education and training through the wellness platform to help train managers and support employees as you take on a coaching workplace approach to leading remote teams.

“Train managers?” Absolutely. A coach is there to help people be their best at all times. A manager coach performs the same function, but in a business context. Offering access to professional coaches can help train managers to become manager coaches by sharing best practices and strategies when it comes to supporting employees, so they can integrate them as part of their management practices.

And don’t forget about your employees. Good coaching is key to giving employees the tools to improve their interpersonal communication, take care of their well-being, and work through any negative habits or patterns. The results will only benefit your business and help your remote employees work better together.

Facilitate Habit Adoption

Your managers can shift their leadership mindset by following a habit adoption process that Levy calls the “Learn, Apply, Reflect” approach.

Learn – Spend no more than 10% of the time absorbing new information.

Apply – Spend 90% of the time actually practicing the new habit.

Reflect – Notice what worked, what didn’t work, and what would you change next time.

Think about this methodology like riding a bike. The first time you get on the bike—likely, with training wheels—you have someone helping and supporting you by holding the seat as you pedal and giving you guidance. You’re not trying to master the entire thing at once.

Then, you practice. And you practice some more. Sure, you’ll fall off, but you simply get back up and keep trying.

And that’s where the reflection comes in. If you fall, ask yourself why. What did you do or fail to do that caused you to fall and in that way? What can you do differently the next time?

Habits are formed the same way.

By using this model, you can help your managers develop into manager coaches who inspire, motivate, and coach employees to reach their goals and achieve your organization’s desired outcomes—regardless of whether they are sitting in the same office or working remotely.

Change Often Starts With a Good Conversation

If you’re ready to make the transition to a coaching workplace but aren’t sure how to approach it with your management team, WellRight can help. We work with companies to develop workplace wellness programs and offer training and webinars to facilitate the necessary organizational change for growth.

Check out our webinar hosted by Aaron Levy that addresses how to have those difficult conversations.

Difficult Conversations in a Virtual World - View Webinar

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