How to Coach Co-Workers: 7 Steps to Success in Coaching

By Lou Solomon

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This article discusses how to coach a teammate whose behavior has become problematic and boost team performance. It emphasizes the importance of practicing well-being and being empathetic toward colleagues. The author provides seven steps for coaching co-workers, including checking motives, addressing behaviors, owning one’s part, suggesting a partnership, listening, and acknowledging and appreciating positive behavior.

Ultimately, coaching and feedback can create a culture of connection, better collaboration, and sustainable change in the workplace.


How to Coach a Co-Worker

Have you ever had a co-worker who is a high-performer but criticizes and belittles others? The loner teammate who doesn’t like to share the credit? Or the passive-aggressive teammate who undermines your efforts by not engaging?

If so, join the club. I don’t know anyone who has not experienced a teammate who gets in the way of team performance at some point. Too many clients have asked me how to coach a co-worker.

Task forces often fail. A culture of coaching teammates can boost performance. Coaching a teammate takes courage and the best intentions, but it costs nothing.

With so much to gain, why don’t we have peer coaching and feedback conversations more often? Because it’s uncomfortable, and the fear of hurting people’s feelings and dealing with potential drama and retribution holds us back.

This fear can keep us from showing up fully and offering healthy coaching instead of heated discussions.

the word "coaching" in big bold letters, each letter is a different color


Coaching in a Matrixed Task Force

Carol, an innovative healthcare IT specialist, was tapped to lead a vital task force. The end game of the assignment was to recommend an online technology solution for patients with questions about Covid.

Carol was an individual contributor, so this was an excellent opportunity for Carol to gain credibility through her ability to lead a matrixed team.

Early on, she noticed William, one of her peers and fellow task force members, showed signs of resentment. He was not selected to lead the team and was dragging his feet and passive-aggressively missing agreed-upon deadlines.

To make matters worse, he began signing onto virtual meetings late and not replying to Carol’s emails requesting status updates.

The situation was holding the team back and kept Carol up at night. When Carol came to me, she was frustrated, tired, and irritated.

cartoon of two co-workers sitting on a couch with speech bubbles above their head, representative of coaching a coworker


7 Steps to Coaching Co-Workers

1.) PRACTICE WELL-BEING

Ultimately, well-being is necessary for successful relationships with teammates, not to mention coaching teammates. We are more likely to feel like the victim of someone else’s bad behavior if we are fatigued.

It can be transformational to have a good night’s sleep. Rest helps us see the complete picture – that the teammate is probably not the enemy.

Well-being practices (rest, nutrition, and exercise) are essential for staying empathetic and positive in our relationships with teammates. When rested, we remain open and collaborative.

If your teammate triggers you by being critical, disrespectful, or passive-aggressive – stop, pause, and breathe. Avoid the spiral into defensiveness and irritation. Reacting can waste the opportunity to be a helpful coach and empower the team.

What if our teammate had long been rewarded for his tenure in the organization and for working independently? He probably felt threatened by Carol, who came onto the scene and was chosen over him to lead the project.

It may have felt like the game’s rules had changed for him. Innovation now trumped experience. Once Carol realized that she could see William with greater understanding.


2.) CHECK MOTIVES AND REQUEST A MEETING

You will worsen the situation if you aim to shame your teammate, make them wrong, or feel superior somehow. But if your intentions are good and you see an opportunity for growth, move forward.

My advice to Carol was that once she was rested and sure of her motives, to request a meeting with William in a friendly tone of voice to let him know she was coming from a place of support.


3.) COACH TO ADDRESS BEHAVIORS, NOT THE PERSONALITY

When coaching a teammate, focus on the behavior rather than personality flaws.

Carol began the meeting with William by saying, “Your experience and knowledge are invaluable to this task force, and I need your help to ensure our success. I recognize that we’re all working very hard and worn thin, which can increase the level of emotions for the team.”

You can acknowledge the emotions, which offers the teammate a relief valve for the stress. But be direct, and provide constructive feedback intended to help team performance.

Carol may have felt that William was acting entitled and selfish; telling him that would have been counterproductive.

Instead, she listed the top three behaviors holding the team back. She said, “When you miss deadlines, arrive late to meetings, and don’t reply to my emails, we do not perform at our best.”

a cartoon of two heads and two speech bubbles, in one bubble the idea is scrambled up and in the next bubble the idea is smoothed out. used to show the process of coaching someone through their idea


4.) OWN YOUR PART

Own your part of the conflict before coaching a teammate. It can set an excellent example of handling situations professionally and maturely. It also shows respect for the other person is essential for a thriving team environment.

Taking responsibility and ownership of one’s part in a conflict helps build trust and foster a collaborative environment. By owning your part in the competition, you demonstrate that you are open, honest, and willing to work together to find a solution.

Coaching will create a more robust team dynamic and help to make a more productive and successful team.

Carol admitted that because she and William were peers, she came to the task force with preconceived notions about him; his mindset was that experience should be more important than leading change. Combining that preconception and her admitted dislike of conflict resulted in her delaying the conversation with him, which allowed for more missed deadlines.


5.) SUGGEST A PARTNERSHIP

Expressing a desire to partner with a teammate in the success of a project can go a long way in creating a positive working environment.

Carol said, “I’d like to partner with you to strengthen our communication and help the team succeed. Is there anything you need from me to be successful?”

By expressing the desire to partner in the project’s success rather than pointing fingers, Carol showed her commitment to winning the day—even if it meant a little more work for her.

What do you know? William asked her to meet one-on-one weekly to ensure he met expectations –a simple solution gave Carol peace of mind.

a hand holding a post-it noted with a pause symbol written on it in. the hand is holding the post-it in front of a cartoon depiction on a brain, used to show the idea of pausing and listening while coaching


6.) COACHING REQUIRES YOU TO LISTEN

Listening provides a space in which both people feel respected. Ideally, a coaching conversation sparks learning on both sides — you must understand the situation together to make positive change.

Be brave enough to allow moments of silence to come into the conversation. Follow up later so that afterthoughts don’t create imagined distance.


7.) ACKNOWLEDGE AND APPRECIATE

You can build a thriving work environment by focusing on the positives. Acknowledge and appreciate the “right” behavior, and you will help to foster a positive team dynamic and help to reduce any tension that may arise due to the team member’s behavior.

Without feedback and coaching, teammates can carry resentments, and communication breaks down. But when we get it right, feedback and coaching can create better collaboration, a culture of connection, and sustainable change.


A Conclusion on Coaching

In conclusion, coaching difficult teammates can be uncomfortable, but it is essential for boosting team performance and creating a culture of connection in the workplace.

By practicing well-being, checking motives, addressing behaviors, owning one’s part, suggesting a partnership, listening, and acknowledging positive behavior, team members can coach their colleagues effectively and foster a collaborative environment.

The article’s case study demonstrates how these coaching techniques can be applied to resolve conflicts and improve team dynamics. Coaching and feedback can create sustainable change, enhance collaboration, and improve outcomes for teams and organizations.

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