The point of my last post was that coaching is both necessary and complex. Thinking about complexity we were focusing on remote coaching of diverse individuals. Consider the complexity of coaching when you have individuals from different nationalities, work cultures, religions, geographies, ethnicities, economies, assumptions about working with supervisors, and so on.
Try these tips for coaching at a distance. They do not replace general good coaching practice, just help you with the special situation of diversity at a distance. (The term "coachee" refers to the individual who you are coaching.)
With this special preparation and interaction, you can take an important step to getting the performance you need from your diverse and far-flung project team.
You hear people say things like, "If you take away everything but my ability to (sell, speak to the public, etc.), I will survive." For project managers, increasingly, coaching is becoming one of those skills. It is a skill so valuable that it can make up for weaknesses in other skills. Certainly it's saved me from difficult situations over the years.
Coaching in today's projects is as necessary as it is complex.
It is necessary because you need those who report to you (solid line or dotted line) to be at top performance. This includes contingent workers who may be new to your organization or entering your project mid-stream. It is necessary because there are times where you have to intervene quickly before one problem starts a stream of other problems. It is necessary when you must stop interpersonal conflicts before they make things worse in your project.
But, perhaps more importantly, this is becoming more common: project workers are not trained enough early on, leaving you or your designees to train during your project. Much of this training will have to be completed as coaching.
But - make no mistake - coaching can be complex, made more difficult when you are not geographically co-located. You may not see the individual's facial expressions or body posture, always very important, and you may have some cultural differences that keep you from that initial full understanding that is imperative to coming to a resolution.
What to coach about related to performance does not change even if someone is far away and in different culture. Just a few examples:
These are potentially difficult topics, and if you are working with a diverse workforce, you have to prepare in a special way to be sure you get it right, despite your desire to move quickly before things get any worse.
In a couple of days, I'll post tips for coaching "diversity remotely." Until then, consider the answer to this question about remote coaching: What letter does the best coaching question begin with?
New research helps us understand how to use collaboration better - and the findings do not mesh with what is currently fashionable.
The guidance we are hearing now promotes collaboration strongly. This story by NPR, for example, explains how workers are being tagged and tracked to determine how they use and move about the workspace. The objective is to design workspaces so that workers interact more efficiently. The article mentions experimentation using different snacks to find which is better to get people to congregate more in the break room.
What you know now is probably a summary of what has been reported as successful in previous years: co-locate workers, and if they are geographically separated, use technology to help them feel they are closely connected, and so on. Co-location is a value of the SCRUM methodology as well.
But wait, all this togetherness is not always the best way! Sometimes it is better to separate workers.
We know this from a timely study where researchers had different groups solve problems in different ways. You can read about the details, but the summary for our purposes here is that collaborating close together was better for researching and gathering useful information. There was less redundant work and more got done.
On the other hand, when information was applied to coming up with solutions, togetherness brought about groupthink - too much consistency and reduced creativity. The researchers concluded that the two activities, information-gathering and solutioning, required different methods of using workers. The former was best done with close collaboration. The later was got better results with much less collaboration.
There was a comment in the last part of the NPR story where a workspace designer recommended putting in secluded areas where workers can be alone to avoid group think. It was the study mentioned here that really clarified one activity that required seclusion.
What can you do with this information to help improve performance?
Try this tactic in a small way in your project. Maybe it will catch on and you will have been a change agent to create a more innovative culture in your organization. Sometimes the project manager role can be very powerful.
What are you doing to recruit new workers? Is it what you did five or ten years ago? Have you made only incremental improvements? Do you use the same outlets to promote your open positions? Do your recruiters do the same thing they have done for years to promote your open positions?
If you - or your recruiters - are in fact doing essentially the same thing that was done years ago, think about something. When technology is involved, are you doing anything else the same way that you were doing it years ago? A new report out from Ultimate Software should be a kick in the seat of your pants. Candidates and employees have remarkable new expectations of employers and recruiting.
Once you hire the best candidate, are you able to build a relationship over time with that new employee and be safe from turnover? According to the report:
Don't lose ground to competitors for talent. Make sure the recruiting process you use to find, hire and onboard your new workers is adapting to the expectations of the candidates. Some of these expectations are associated with Millennials now, but it won't be long until candidates from all generations have similar expectations. For example:
You are checking that a critical task is done, so you call your contact for the quick update. She's out of the office. Not coming back for days. No problem, you check for someone else on her team. But none of them have been briefed on the task nor have they been assigned to work with you. "Can they help you?" you ask. Unfortunately no, they are not able to assist you.
Now you don't know if the task is completed and whether other related work can continue.
In general, it should not be hard for someone to answer your question, but no one has been assigned as an alternate or backup, so you hit a wall. With your head. Over and over.
Sure resources may be tight all over. But if someone is responsible to complete tasks for a project, then that worker should assign someone as a backup when out of the office for a day or more. The backup does not have to do a lot of work necessarily, just provide basic information to keep the ship on course. And the backup must know in advance and get a briefing of the project work in general.
What can you do if this is not routine in your project environment?
Key unique Key resources in this case are those who play a major project role that cannot be duplicated over a particular period. When key unique resources are away during this period, then adverse impacts on the schedule are likely and you need to know what they are in advance. This would best be handled in detailed planning before a phase begins.
First, you identify resources with major roles - that cannot be duplicated - during a specific period. Second, you make sure they are not in Aruba for two to three weeks during that period. If they are, make schedule adjustments for that task/activity to stop until the resource returns.
Key unique resources are not always one person. A specialized work team (design, training, etc.) can be a key unique resource. If a team is scheduled to be out for an off-site annual planning session, you experience the same problem in your project.
When the timeline is tight and resources are thin, you will wage a constant battle with time away. Make it a little easier to manage by improving your documentation and communication. You will benefit and others I your project will benefit. And they will remember you for that.