Using a Simple, Positive Approach to Coaching
Imagine that one of your team members, Evie, has a hard time meeting her deadlines. It affects her work and her reputation, and she needs a quick, actionable solution to the problem.
So, you schedule a coaching session with her, and you decide to focus almost exclusively on the solution. You ask her to explain how she would feel if she could meet all of her deadlines, and her face lights up as she talks about the sense of pride she would experience.
Together, you come up with a practical approach that will help her do this. You identify what needs to happen, and you outline how Evie will change her behavior to meet her goal. The session lasts less than an hour, and, within three weeks, Evie is delivering her work on time.
You've just used "solution-focused coaching," an approach that encourages you to explore solutions, not problems. In this article, we'll look at how you can use it with your team members.
What Is Solution-Focused Coaching?
According to "The Complete Handbook of Coaching," a solution-focused coaching approach "places primary emphasis on assisting the client to define a desired future state, and to construct a pathway in both thinking and action that assists the client in achieving that state."
In short, it asks coachees to think about what they want to achieve, and it then helps them plan how they'll get there.
It arose out of "brief therapy," a counseling approach that was first developed in the 1950s by Steve Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg, and which is commonly used today.
Therapists realized that the more often clients talked about their problems and the causes behind them, the more entrenched these issues could become. To prevent this, therapists began to shift their focus away from the problem, and towards finding and implementing a solution.
Advantages and Challenges
One of the biggest advantages of solution-focused coaching is that it takes a positive approach to change. This coaching style assumes that the people you're coaching are psychologically healthy, and that they're capable of solving their problems. This belief can empower people, and it can encourage them to become self-confident, self-reliant, and positive about their ability to control their life.
Supporters of solution-focused coaching argue that other coaching approaches can make clients or learners feel negative or powerless to overcome their problems. By contrast, solution-focused coaching demands an immediate shift from "why" to "how to."
Anyone can use solution-focused coaching, and it's applicable in a wide variety of coaching situations. However, this approach is most useful with new coaches, because you don't have to be an expert to use it and deep analysis is often unnecessary. Here, the coach assumes the role of a curious guide walking alongside the coachee, not a "wise sage" who gives out advice.
Solution-focused coaching can be less effective when your people experience problems because of others' behavior. This puts the solution – and the problem's resolution – out of their hands. It's also less effective with people who want to explore deeper issues or identify the root causes of behavior.
Solution-focused coaching is similar to the GROW model – they're both useful approaches that focus on solutions. A key difference is that GROW model explicitly explores problems (the "current reality"), and it doesn't have formal steps for reviewing the coachee's progress and then adjusting his or her approach.
Using the Solution-Focused Coaching Approach
Follow the steps below to use the solution-focused coaching approach with your team members.
Step 1: Identify a Goal or Solution
Your first step is to identify a goal with your coachee.
To do this, use an approach called "the miracle question" to help him or her verbalize the outcome they want.
Ask your coachee the following question: "Imagine that you went to bed tonight, and when you woke up the problem had somehow magically disappeared and the solution was present, but you didn't know how the solution had arrived. What is the first thing that you'd notice, telling you the solution was present?" You can also ask, "Who else would notice this miracle had happened? What would clue those people in?"
Imagine your coachee, Brian, says, "I don't think my people like me, and they don't communicate with me at all."
Your goal with solution-focused coaching is not to identify the root cause of why the team doesn't like Brian. Instead, focus on how Brian can build a better relationship with his people. So, the answer to Brian's "Miracle Question" would be, "My team members like and trust me, and we communicate effectively." This becomes the goal of the coaching session.
Step 2: Create an Action Plan
After identifying the goal, work with your coachee to develop an action plan.
Ask them to describe exactly what the solution looks like. Then, help them identify the issues they will need to work on to make this solution a reality.
Consider these questions:
- What resources or skills does this person have?
- How can they best use their strengths to do what is needed?
- What weaknesses do they need to overcome?
- Do they need any additional training?
- What do they need to start doing?
- What do they need to stop doing?
Bring your answers together in an Action Plan.
You ask Brian to describe what he would experience if he had a great relationship with his team. He says, "My team members would smile when I walk in the door. Everyone would feel comfortable coming to me with problems, and we wouldn't argue so much in meetings."
According to Brian's own definition, his problem would be successfully resolved if the following were true:
- His team members liked him.
- They felt comfortable talking to him about their problems.
- He had good conflict resolution skills, so that he could stop arguments in meetings.
You and Brian now have a clear idea of what the solution looks like, and you can come up with a list of actions to make it a reality. Here are some of Brian's suggested actions:
- Schedule an away day, so that he can bond with his team.
- Build trust with the team by sharing more personal information regularly.
- Strengthen conflict resolution skills, so that Brian can defuse tensions during meetings.
Step 3: Take Action and Monitor Progress
It's now time for your coachee to act on the suggestions that you generated in step 2. Before you end the coaching session, agree how you'll both monitor progress. What metrics will you use to measure success or failure for each action?
Brian comes up with a list of metrics that he'll use to measure the success of his action plan. He decides to do the following:
- Ask his team members to give him feedback on the away day. He will use their suggestions to make the next event more successful.
- Keep a daily journal to think about how he dealt with people-related situations, and to track how often his team members come to him with problems.
- Learn how to deal with conflict, and practice with role play.
You and Brian agree to meet in two weeks to discuss what's working and what he needs to do differently.
Step 4: Change What Isn't Working
If the action steps that you identified aren't working effectively, you need to consider what's working and what isn't, and adjust your action plan so that you can move forward.
In your next meeting with Brian, he tells you that the team away day was a huge success. His team had fun, and they now feel more comfortable talking to him about their work.
Since he completed a training session on conflict resolution, he has learned the skills needed to defuse arguments during team meetings. Because of this, conflicts are healthy and productive, and they no longer damage team morale.
Brian's daily journal revealed that, despite having a better relationship, his team still isn't comfortable coming to his office to talk about problems. He decides to try management by walking around to stay in touch with team members at their desks.
Solution-focused coaching originated from family therapy in the 1950s. In it, the focus isn't on analyzing the "why" of a problem. Instead, you work towards finding and implementing a solution.
Follow these four steps to use solution-focused coaching with a team member or coachee:
1. Identify a goal or solution.
2. Create an action plan to reach the goal.
3. Take action and monitor progress.
4. Change what isn't working.
Solution-focused coaching is often effective because it's positive and action-oriented. However, do not use it with people who want to explore issues more deeply.