How to have quick corridor coaching conversations.

watch-icon August 10, 2021

How to have quick corridor coaching conversations.

As a “busy leader”, said in sarcastic quotation marks, because let’s be frank… we’re all busy. Why we’re all so “busy” is something that we need to unpack, but let’s pop that aside for later. When did “busy” become a valid excuse for dropping our responsibility of interacting with our people and helping them grow?  

I wonder if it is just another defence mechanism. When we start to think about interactions with people, particularly spending time with them to help them grow and learn, our brain may send off a warning alarm….  

Whoop whoop whoop – I don’t have an hour or two to spend with them! Whoop whoop whoop… I’m best to just avoid it altogether so I can ‘do my job’…  

I’ll just leave that oxymoron there, as how many times have I heard this said by leaders/managers. ‘I can’t manage people as a people manager because I have to do my job?’ Hmmm. Moving on… 

Let’s just agree that part of the role of a leader/manager is to interact with our people. It is to at least, create an environment whereby people can grow and learn and reach their potential. One of the ways we can do this is by using our coaching skills.  

Oh dear… did the warning alarm just go off again… When I say the word COACHING, what springs to mind?  

There are usually a few things that our brains offer up to us, maybe:  

  1. I need to book a room, and an hour or two in my diary, to discuss somebody else’s career and spend my time to help them to grow and I’ll potentially have to find money in the budget to pay for training programs as a result. OR 
  2. Coaching means, I have to ask questions instead of telling people what to do. OR 
  3. Perhaps… that’s something that sportspeople and CEO’s do.  

One, two and three are correct, AND one, two and three are looking at coaching from a very simple and old fashioned viewpoint.  

Think about the basic principle of coaching, it’s about helping somebody else to think, and to develop themselves – why can’t we do that in a more contemporary way and in less time? 

In a formal coaching relationship, my job as a coach is to create a space in which you can reflect on the situations and the behaviours that you’re engaged in, i.e.: the actions that you take and the language that you use. This enables you to come up with a better solution or a better way forward. My job as a coach is not to tell you what to do. That would be my job as an advisor.  

But coaching isn’t just for this purpose. We can use these same coaching skills and principles and apply them to people management.  We’ve all heard our HR Managers say coaching helps us be better leaders. We know this intellectually, but in my experience, we are not putting it into practice in the workplace.  

There are millions of dollars being spent teaching managers how to be ‘coaches’ and yet we aren’t having better outcomes from our ‘coaching’ conversations.  

So what’s going on? 

There are a couple of common things I’ve noticed that are holding back the outcomes.  

  1. People are just asking questions and believe that’s coaching: eg. “I didn’t tell them to rewrite the paper, I asked them if they thought rewriting the paper was a good idea. I asked, I didn’t tell.” <sigh> 
  2. People think that coaching takes too long and they don’t have time: eg. “I don’t have the time to have hour-long conversations with everybody. I’m just going to tell them what to do. And they’ll get on with it. And then I can get on with my job.”  

Unfortunately, we know that coaching is a good idea but our ‘all or nothing thinking approach’ comes into play again, i.e.: being a good coach is going to take me too much time.  

To get past the all or nothing thinking, I’d like to challenge you to put into practice what I call ‘corridor coaching’. Try it… you might like it. 

Corridor Coaching is a five-minute conversation with a coaching spin on it. Bite-sized coaching is what we’re talking about here. It is asking questions, but it’s asking meaningful questions. It’s helping somebody to think about the situation or action that they’ve just taken.  

Let’s say you bump into one of your team in the corridor (or the lunchroom or anywhere you bump into people – although I’d avoid doing this in the bathroom…awkward…) and say to them, “Hey, I noticed that you’re engaged in a project with John.” Then ask a version of one of these questions: 

  • How do you find engaging with John and his team?  
  • What helps you engage with John and his team?  
  • What skills do you use most often to engage with John and his team? 

Any of these questions will enable the person to start thinking about the project, and John and his team, from an engagement point of view, not just from a delivery point of view. This could be a five-minute conversation in the corridor. It also could be a two-hour conversation about developing new skills for engagement if you want it to be. However, in that five-minute conversation, you will gain an understanding of the capability level of that person’s project and engagement skills. 

Plus, you’ll gain an understanding of their relationship with John as they will no doubt give you an understanding of the barriers and the successes in that relationship and the project. 

From here you may decide that a further conversation is needed – “Can you please pop a time in my diary next week or the week after, so we can talk about that fully,” or you might go “Hey, sounds like you have it all under control, keep me posted.” A five-minute corridor coaching conversation is something that anyone can do. It is achievable by even the busiest of managers.  

Let’s move away from the all or nothing approach to everything we do. We don’t need to have two hour-long team meetings. We can have five-minute check-ins. We don’t have to have hour-long coaching sessions. We can have five-minute corridor coaching conversations. We don’t need three-hour project meetings. We could have a half-hour zoom call.  

Let’s try and do what’s reasonable, and what’s achievable with the very limited and scarce resource that we have, which is time. Using our time much more efficiently will get us out of that habit of doing all or nothing when it comes to our people. If you’re interested in understanding more about coaching, particularly those bite-size coaching skills. Please get in touch with us as Synergy IQ we’d love to help.

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Michelle Holland