Would you invite YOUR manager to your 1-1 coaching session?

Case study: Coach Helen Letchfield, Coachee Annette*

Annette said she was starting to feel nervous as we drew to the end of the first hour of her coaching session – her manager was due to join us for the next 30 minutes.  Annette had returned from maternity leave 2 months ago, and we’d had a productive coaching session, where she reviewed progress against her reintegration goals and identified where she wanted to work next. 

She had been working long hours, some days until 10-11pm, with some weekend work. As the team had been so busy, she hadn’t had any 1-1 time with her manager – when she had scheduled in a meeting her manager had postponed it.  Annette said she was feeling nervous because she couldn’t actually remember the last time that she’d had a meeting with her manager to discuss objectives and progress – in fact she had received no feedback at all on how she was doing, and to make matters worse, her manager didn’t even seem to notice the extra hours and the weekend work.  

Understandably so, Annette was feeling undervalued, demotivated and pretty exhausted.  One of her key realisations during our coaching sessions was that the biggest barrier to her moving forward was the lack of support and leadership from her manager.  She decided she wanted to use our 3-way time together to explain how tough things were and to ask for support.

From the moment the manager came into the room, despite the pleasantries, I could sense a level of discomfort and nervousness coming from both parties:  one-to-one meetings about progress, objectives and ‘feelings’ were clearly not conversations the manager was comfortable with. 

Annette started by outlining her view of the progress she had made so far and the things that were going well.  She then articulated the challenges of the long hours, recognising also that the whole team was particularly stretched at this point in time. 

Annette’s manager listened intently and responded with suggestions around how the workload might be more manageable; even offering to take up some of the load herself.  She explained how things would get much better in about a month’s time.  I observed Annette’s body language as she was listening and she appeared defensive and uncomfortable. 

However, things changed towards the end of the session, when Annette’s manager said:  ‘you know how much the senior leadership team values you and all the extra hours you have put in.’  Looking at the relief this comment triggered in Annette, it was clear that she absolutely hadn’t heard any messages of how much she had been valued – and yet this is what she needed to hear the most.

The remainder of the session focused on how useful it had been to actually have an open discussion and review of what’s working and what isn’t.  They agreed to sit down again in 2 weeks and repeat the process. 

You may have heard about it: 3-way coaching or tripartite coaching, as it’s commonly referred to, means that your manager, or perhaps your mentor or HR Sponsor, can join your coaching session.

The most common arrangement is for your manager to join the end of your first coaching session, where you will share the objectives you have begun to set with your coach.  Your manager will have the opportunity to add their thoughts around additional objectives.  They will also get to hear from you directly where you feel you need to focus, and crucially, what support you feel you need from them and others to reach your goals.  The coach and coachee then continue to meet for the agreed number of sessions, and at the end of the final session, the manager is invited back in, where progress is reviewed from both sides, and an action plan is then put in place.

Advantages of 3-way coaching:

Ensures review meetings do actually get to happen!  Especially useful if your manager or team culture is not supportive of performance and feedback-style discussions

  • Builds the relationship between manager and employee when encouraged to be open, supportive and action-focused
  • Manager gets to hear how team member is feeling and what they need to be even better at their job
  • Team member gets to speak freely about an issue which they will have already discussed with their coach. This means they’ve had time to prepare their thoughts logically and therefore communicate objectively Practical actions are identified, and manager knows how to support

Tips for success:

  • It’s really important that the meeting is correctly positioned with the manager well before it takes place – if the manager feels in any way that they have been ‘summoned by HR’ and if they are not clear of the purpose of the meeting, they can arrive feeling guarded
  • Not everyone feels the need to involve their manager – many already have frequent, supportive and productive developmental discussions as a matter of course. Assess if this would add value to you or not
  • Sometimes managers proactively ask to be involved in 3-way goal setting and reviewing. This could be because they have specific ideas for development or because there is a performance shortfall.  Whatever the reason, if the manager is the instigator of the meeting, as a team member, you need to know why before the meeting happens
  • Your coach should make their role as a facilitator (not a mediator) clear and explain the confidentiality of these conversations. It’s really important for you as a team member to know that your coach and your manager will not communicate separately outside of these sessions
  • As a coachee, it’s highly likely that you will have a different, ‘personal’ set of objectives that you will be working on simultaneously with your coach in confidence. The 2 sets of objectives will probably be linked to some extent and most people find improvement in one area then leads to improvement in another

Would you like to find out more about the benefits of coaching and of including your manager?  Contact us info@pandpcoaching.co.uk

*case study is fictional, drawn upon common experiences of 3-way coaching interventions over a period of time

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