This month, Colne Networking Group member, Jacqui Frost offers her expertise on preparing for the return to a ‘normal’ working life following the pandemic.

Invest in your team as we move out of a pandemic

Getting your team and indeed yourself, back into the swing of things after lockdown and working with the ever present COVID 19, does bring with it a different set of concerns for some leaders. People’s experience of COVID 19 is a lengthy continuum of personal experience and therefore their anxieties and concerns will manifest themselves in all manner of ways. At one end of the continuum you may well have a member of your team who may not have been touched in anyway by the pandemic. They may have had no direct experience of coronavirus other than what they have seen and heard in the media. Therefore, their view of lockdown, social distancing and all other measures put in place could be seen as over cautious and over the top. At the other end of the continuum you may have a member of your team who has had direct and tragic experience of COVID-19 and doesn’t think the measures that have been put in place are enough – and then there is your own personal experience!

“Blasé” is a word some of the leaders I am working with use to describe the attitude of some of their colleagues. I am currently working with a leader who said her goodbyes to her mother via Facetime- this is the stuff of nightmares. The “Lockdown” experience, working from home and home schooling will also be variable for you and your team. Start where they are, not where you think they are and not where you are.

So where do you start with your team? Structured coaching conversations can give team leaders, managers and leaders a framework to tackle anxieties around the “return to work”. A recent article by Benjamin Laker “How to coach your team through the coronavirus” drew my attention to a new book published by Andy Buck, (Leadership Matters) The Basic Coaching Method. I have been fortunate enough to hear Andy speak at a number of leadership events. He provides simple and concise strategies to address a number of leaderships issues. After having bought and read the book (lockdown has given me the time to catch up on my reading!) I have incorporated the BASIC method in to my coaching toolkit as it provides a purposeful and powerful framework for a coaching conversation.

Coaching is not mentoring nor is it about giving your colleague advice, your opinion or indeed the answer- as tempting as it may be! A good coaching conversation enables the coachee to come to their own solution and reflect on the problem with your crafted questions guiding them through to this end point. It can release a leader from feeling like they have to solve everyone’s problems and issues. The impact on the coachee can be significant as they are in being truly listened to and seen. In my experience team members who feel listened to and valued will often respond to difficult messages in a more measured manner. The key to a high-quality coaching session is the ability to listen very carefully, ask well thought out questions and playback what you have heard.

In my experience as a leadership coach- when people have a real opportunity to reflect on their own situation and feelings, decide what they want to achieve and subsequently plan their action, commitment is generally higher. If you own your action plan there is a greater chance of your completing it, or finding solutions to overcome the barriers that may stand in your way.

When I am preparing for a session with a client, I always refer to this table and Andy’s book to ensure that the coaching conversation is structured and solution focussed thus getting the most out of our time together. I have embellished his questions with my thoughts and a few further questions in blue, this keeps me on track as we move through the conversation.

The BASIC Coaching Method – Andy Buck  

Background What’s happening? What’s on your mind?  This helpful the coachee organise their thoughts, and explore the positives alongside the issue or problem
Aims What do you want to achieve? How will you feel if you do it? Helping a client see themselves in the future sows the seed of what is possible. What will people notice about you when are have achieved this? Who will notice first? What will the benefits be to you, the team? On a scale of 1-10 how important is this to you? Scaling something enables you as a coach to get an idea of how motivated they will be to achieve it.
Strategy This is part of the bigger picture!  What approach might work? What other ways/methods could work? Here you build on previous success, can you think of a time/ an event when …. OR can you imagine what it will feel like when you have achieved this. Do you know of someone who has achieved this?  Use the resources that are already in the coachee
Implementation What will you do? What are your next steps? Ownership of an action plan/ next steps is vital for buy- in from your coachee, get them to write it there and then.
Commitment Will you really do this? What could stop you? This is about pre-empting stumbling blocks and barriers – considering the things that might stop your coachee achieving their goal, and planning what action they will take to ensure they are not derailed. If you do not have this or achieve this, what will happen, what will not happen?

You may well be reading this and be thinking I haven’t got the time or the energy to undertake such structured and planned coaching conversations with my staff or my team.  I would say to you consider the alternatives- if your team or  staff are anxious about returning to work and it is not explored and solutions found, there will undoubtedly be an increase in absence, poor team work and collaboration, low morale, staff retention issues, staff recruitment- all of these will be more costly on both your time, energy and finances in the long run.  Invest in your team!

You will find Andy’s website useful as there are a range of free resources, online course and qualification if you get the coaching bug