PM Article

Do We Need Project Managers to Be Successful Team Coaches?

Kavitha G

Kavitha is a certified project management professional in the Aerospace domain with over 11 years of experience in project management, avionics testing, customer training, product development, product support and operations. She is the Vice President of the Productivity Council in her organization and is a member of the Aeronautical Society of India.

It is a very relevant question in this age of disruption with AI, Block Chain and IoT causing visible ripples in the workspace. The answer will definitely be a game changer for project managers to remain relevant and to master a skill. When project managers develop coaching skills, they can potentially bridge the gap created by the leap in technology. They can help uplift the human resource management space through a relational engagement with the team.

What is coaching?

Coaching is a process that has encompassed all walks of human life including business, relationship, leadership and personal development. It is a human-enabling process that helps people in creating, recreating and reinventing themselves in this chaotic and disruptive world to achieve overall well-being and fulfillment. It is a journey that the coach would jointly undertake with the client to explore the underlying beliefs, values and perceptions that might be stopping the client from achieving his or her maximum potential – personally, professionally or socially.

Today everybody in the business world, from CEOs to associates and from technicians to entrepreneurs, needs a coach to express their ambitions, give voice to their ideas, explore opportunities, establish self-commitment, convert deep desires to smart goals and revel in the sense of accomplishment on goal achievement.

Perspectives and Industry speak

A Google initiative in 2010 that had planned to have a flat organization without managers, which even viewed managers as ‘unnecessary’, has failed. Termed as Project Oxygen, Google found that without the project managers the teams lacked direction and guidance on their most basic questions and needs. The tech major realized the importance of its project managers and ended up launching a study on the top attributes exhibited by its best managers. One of the startling revelations that emerged was that its best project managers were great team performance coaches. They helped by communicating strategy, helping employees prioritize projects, facilitating collaboration, supporting career development and ensuring that processes and systems aligned with company goals.

In his latest research, Jim Harter, Chief Scientist, Workplace at Gallup reveals that millennials prefer their managers to be “coaches” as opposed to “bosses”. He goes on to say that while a boss may delegate tasks and give feedback at the end of the year, a coach is ‘in the moment’ and gives feedback continuously and makes sure it is meaningful.

The inherent need for managers to be coaches is also corroborated in the latest best-selling book, ‘The Trillion Dollar Coach’. This book is authored by top executives associated with Google: Eric Schmidt (former Google CEO and Chairman), Jonathan Rosberg and Alan Eagle. In this revolutionary book, the authors celebrate the greatness of Bill Campbell. Bill was a former football coach who turned to become a CEO and a business coach. The book elaborates Bill Campbell’s concept of coaching that had a tremendous impact on the success of several projects and innovations at Silicon Valley’s top companies.

It is not surprising that Bill Campbell is hailed as Silicon Valley’s best kept secret by the Fortune magazine.

“Because the world faces many challenges, and they can only be solved by teams. Those teams need coaches.” – Trillion Dollar Coach

Bill Campbell, through his novel way of coaching leaders and project managers, had been responsible for the creation of over a Trillion Dollars in market value. He was behind the success of visionaries such as Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt. He helped to build Silicon Valley’s greatest companies including Google, Apple and Intuit.

Your title makes you a Manager; your people make you a Leader!

The above perspectives from several research studies and success stories highlight the growing need for project managers to imbibe coaching methodology in project management framework. This will help to peak the business performance in uncertain and fast-paced business environments.

How to be a good coach for your project team?

  • Invest time and energy to engage with your team members. Encourage team members to become better versions of themselves personally and professionally, by demonstrating a growth mindset.
  • Listen intently with empathy to a team member’s challenges and situations.
  • Ask questions and allow team members to self-discover.
  • Facilitate rather than fix – make the team brainstorm to come up with solutions. Believe in the team’s capability and do not give out the solutions in the first place.
  • Build trusting relationships with team members.
  • Be authentic and genuine about your concerns.
  • Care about the team members as humans and show genuine interest in their careers and development as much as your own.
  • Use individual or group coaching as a way to collaborate. Promote the member’s accountability and interdependence with team mates.

Benefits accrued when project managers become great coaches:

  • Creates a workplace environment that fosters safety, clarity, meaning, dependability and impact.
  • Helps employees in improving their performance by prioritizing tasks and maximizing their capabilities and productivity.
  • Builds confidence within the team and translates to growing trust with all stakeholders of a project with potential to positively influence the project success.
  • Contributes to building a relational leadership style that can engage teams more effectively. This creates a healthy and thriving organizational culture with ability to sustain in business even in disruptive market scenarios.
  • Creates a workplace conducive to creative problem solving and innovations. This helps organizations find new business avenues as well as enables business diversification.

Successful projects need ownership, accountability and leadership from the project manager as well as the team members. Hence, adopting a variety of situational approaches, including coaching, ensures that project managers can motivate their team, be better prepared for changing business dynamics and remain relevant by upping the ante in their human quotient in an increasingly digitized world.

In a much broader sense, embracing such novel approaches will definitely provide the roadmap for enabling the evolution of project management into an all-encompassing business framework, a system eclectic, in the age of disruption.