Build Relationships with Your Team through Coaching

By Meg Chute and Alyce Johnson

One of the essential ingredients to being successful as a manager and leader is building trusting, credible relationships with a team and with others across the organization. As many experienced managers know, building trusting relationships with a team can pose many challenges, particularly in times of change. One way for managers to foster trust and credibility with their team is to approach these relationships from a coaching perspective.

As part of a study that was conducted in the late 1990s to learn about how MIT could improve the effectiveness of its managers, MIT employees identified qualities that they value in good managers. These employees concluded by explaining that these very qualities of their managers motivate them to do their job well and reach performance goals. Here’s what they said:

Good managers ....

  • Ask questions to help me think through, for myself, how to solve the problem
  • Listen to me
  • Believe in my ability and in me
  • Give me honest feedback
  • Are supportive and encourage me to develop in my job
  • Hold me to high performance standards

These qualities form the basic foundation of good coaching practice. While many of us understand the meaning of these qualities, we might not always know how to demonstrate them ourselves. What can you do so that someone else sincerely thinks you believe in their abilities? How can you listen so that another person sincerely believes you are listening to them? These questions become even more difficult to answer when we think about the nature of the relationship between a manager and the people they lead.

Because a manager is ultimately responsible for the work of their group, they may feel pressure and a heightened sense of responsibility for their group’s work. This pressure can conflict with the underlying dimensions of coaching, which ultimately require the manager to trust and be patient with others.

Listed below are specific things a manager can say and do to foster productive and healthy relationships with the people they manage and lead.

What to Say or DoExample
Listen and let the other person explainWhat do you feel you need to work on to improve? Why is this an important area for you to work on?
Ask open-ended questions aimed at underlying issues, concerns, commitmentHow does this show up for you as a concern?
How might it show up for others you interact with?
How long as this been an issue for you?
Notice the subtleties.Notice the person’s tone of voice.
Observe the non-verbals and body language.
Ask questions designed to bring out possibilities.How might you go about improving in this area?
What have you tried in the past? What happened then?
Are there some other possibilities you could consider?
How about ... ?
What if ... ?
Focus on the "we" without taking away individual ownership.Let’s see if we can figure out what is getting in the way so you can meet your deadline.
Focus on your observations, not your assumptions.These reports are incomplete. Let’s talk about what you will need to do to finish them.
Focus on the facts, not qualitative judgments.The reports were 100% accurate and completed on time each quarter.

Adapted with permission from training course materials by Brian McDonald, MOR Associates.