How Three Research-Backed Coaching Techniques Beat Feedback for Developing Your Team

I know you’ve heard it. The never-ending emphasis on feedback. Do it right. Do it often. Have the tough conversations. Give feedback with empathy. Improve relationships, improve performance with feedback. Feedback is almost everything you’re missing.

Feedback is widely presented as a near-panacea for improving team performance through smarter interpersonal communication.

But it leaves so many people frustrated.

The Problem With Feedback

“Feedback is a gift!”

When people receive feedback, they can instinctively interpret it as a threat, triggering a defensive response (also known as fight or flight). Scientists have discovered that once this response is active, learning is inhibited. In other words, constructive feedback may prevent people from learning.

Dave Bailey

Also, feedback is inherently limited by being reactive and not proactive, leading to a narrower possible set of outcomes for improvement conversations.

Research has confirmed some simple best practices for coaching which will help improve your team’s or clients’ performance and learning more than simple feedback alone ever could.

More Effective Coaching

David Peterson is the Director of Executive Coaching & Leadership at Google. In an article published in the Evidence-Based Coaching Handbook, he explained research that provided several models for managers to improve their coaching abilities.

The models led to significant improvements in the managers’ abilities.

Peterson studied 370 managers who learned the below coaching techniques, and measured ratings of their effectiveness from their peers, directs, and managers:

Based on the boss ratings alone (arguably the most objective of the three rater perspectives), the average effect size, reflecting how much people improved on their individual coaching objectives, was 1.56 standard deviation units, approximately the equivalent of moving from the 50th to the 93rd percentile of performance.

These gains were still evident in the follow-up ratings over a year later. A control group of items showed no change at the end of coaching or at follow-up.

DAVID B. PETERSON: “People Are Complex and the World Is Messy:
A Behavior-Based Approach to Executive Coaching”

Technique #1: The Development Pipeline

This pipeline idea captures the essence of the five ‘necessary and sufficient conditions for learning’:

Echoing the famous Theory of Constraints from the famous operations book “The Goal,” this visual communicates that to improve your mentee’s development, you should focus on the “bottleneck,” the least robust stage of the pipeline.

If Motivation is in no short supply, it is a “large” pipe. If there’s no accountability compared to the rest of conditions, the greatest results will come from implementing more accountability. By opening that bottleneck, flow through the entire pipeline is enhanced, whereas working more on motivation when accountability is weak will not open up the throughput for the entire pipeline overall.

Iterate focus areas

“Coaching is a cyclical process, shifting as needed from one area to the next and back again, always addressing the source of the major constraint,” according to Peterson.

Technique #2: Map Your GAPS

Thinking in terms of Gaps, Goals and Values connects the desired changes in behavior with the person’s existing skill level and motivations.

The GAPS Grid “expands the first two conditions from the Development Pipeline to outline the types of information that people need for Insight and Motivation” (Peterson & Hicks, 1996)

In this area, the coach “teaches a man to fish” by not simply providing feedback, but coaching the person through generating and incorporating feedback for themselves.

The GAPS grid is the following 2×2, filled out from two perspectives: the person and other’s feedback. It answers the basic questions of where are you today? and how would you define success in regards to your values and goals?

Technique #3: Clear Goals, Conscious Choice, and Effective Action

Firstly, asking for clear goals and using coaching conversations to set clear goals is a prerequisite. Asking for goals should naturally lead to insights into constraints–otherwise, why isn’t the goal already accomplished?

Secondly, generate and explore options for intermediary goals to get the person to the terminal goal. Consciously evaluate priorities vs the person’s personally-defined criteria, simply asking “in light of all your criteria, which of these options do you think is going to be most effective?”

Thirdly, explore together how effective implementation can be guaranteed. Effectively implementing necessary actions could range from a simple tweak to embarking on a new multi-year degree for learning necessary skills.

“Ask them what they will do next. Insights are, sadly, fleeting so you need to clarify the next step as soon as they find clarity. The smaller and more concrete the step, the more likely it will be to happen. Once they have described it, ask them this question: ‘Would you like some extra accountability on that?’”

Dave Bailey

Bonus Technique: Overcome Coaching Challenges

  1. Forge a partnership: Build trust and understanding so people want to work with you.
  2. Inspire commitment: Build insight and motivation so people focus their energy on development goals that matter.
  3. Grow skills: Build capabilities so people can do what is required.
  4. Promote persistence: Build stamina and discipline to make sure
    learning lasts on the job.
  5. Shape the environment: Build organizational support to reward
    learning and remove barriers.

Bringing it Home

The purpose of coaching is to help other people learn how to change their own behavior in order to more effectively accomplish what matters to them and to others.

Focusing on clear goals, concrete behaviors, and connecting to internal purpose and external accountability will enable your coaching clients, mentees and direct reports to learn how to approach personal development in all arenas.

What a robust promise–and so much more than what simple reactive feedback can provide!


Read More

Stober, D. R., & Grant, A. M. (Eds.). (2006). Evidence based coaching handbook: Putting best practices to work with your clients (pdf). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

The Best Way to Develop Your Team Isn’t Feedback, Dave Bailey (Medium)

Published by Patrick

I provide coaching to entrepreneurial leaders so they can build their businesses successfully and experience unrivaled personal growth.

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