Coaching Your Work Team: Management Tips

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Making of a Manager" by Julie Zhuo. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How you can keep your work team’s performance high? What is the most effective way to coach your team?

In The Making of a Manager, Julie Zhuo emphasizes the importance of building trust with your team by coaching them. To do this in the best way possible, you need to demonstrate that you care and give or request feedback.

Let’s look at Zhuo’s advice for coaching your team to victory.

Developing and Coaching Your Team

You must continually coach your team to keep performance high. For coaching to be effective, Zhuo says, you must earn your team members’ trust and create a safe, supportive environment for them.

Why is trust so important? As Zhuo explains, when employees don’t feel safe, they’ll hesitate—or avoid—coming to you with problems, fearing negative repercussions. If employees struggle without your help and knowledge, they may eventually become so frustrated that they leave. Also, small problems often develop into bigger problems in the future if they’re not addressed. Conversely, if employees do feel safe coming to you with problems, you can help them find solutions and prevent problems from escalating.

So, how do you build a foundation of trust with your team? Zhuo makes three key recommendations: demonstrate that you care, have weekly one-on-one meetings, and give and request feedback. Let’s explore each in detail.

Demonstrate That You Care

First, demonstrate that you care about your team by relating to them on a personal level. Show them that you see them as individuals, not just faceless workers, and empathize with their struggles. Also, Zhuo says to communicate your support whether employees are performing well or struggling to meet your expectations. If they know you support them even when they’re not performing their best, they’re more likely to be honest with you. 

(Shortform note: In The Dichotomy of Leadership, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin echo Zhuo’s advice to genuinely empathize with your subordinates and support them even if they’re struggling, but they also acknowledge a potential pitfall of this approach—if someone on your team is dragging down the others with poor performance, continuing to support them unconditionally will hurt the other team members you care about by making their jobs harder. At times, effectively supporting your team means firing one of them, which may feel like a denial of support to that worker. However, Willink and Babin argue that firing someone can be a form of personal support, as they’d likely be happier in a position they’re better equipped for.)

Give and Request Feedback Often

Great managers give feedback to direct reports often. As positive feedback is often more motivating than negative, Zhuo recommends aiming to deliver at least 50% positive feedback. 

(Shortform note: In Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work, Paul Marciano agrees with Zhuo that you should deliver specific feedback often. However, he argues that 80% of feedback should be positive, while only 20% should be about improving performance. Also, he recommends giving positive feedback in areas where employees have the most interest or pride—if you don’t know what areas are important to them, ask.)

Whenever you give feedback, Zhuo says to follow these two rules:

1. Clarify that you intend to help them succeed. This helps your reports feel supported and fosters trust.

(Shortform note: In The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane suggests that you can’t just tell your team members that your intention is for them to succeed, as Zhuo recommends—you have to truly feel it. People are good at detecting insincerity via body language, and if they think your words contradict your feelings, they’ll doubt your goodwill.)

2. Be as detailed as you can and give examples that validate your feedback. This helps your reports connect your assessment to specific actions they’ve taken and understand what you’re looking for in the future. 

(Shortform note: Objective evidence is important when giving feedback because we all have self-serving biases, according to Annie Duke in Thinking in Bets. We tend to avoid blaming ourselves for our mistakes and see negative outcomes as beyond our control. When you present employees with specific examples of past missteps, they’re more likely to overcome their self-serving biases and take your feedback seriously.)

Two Types of Feedback

Zhuo identifies two main types of feedback. First, micro-level feedback (what Zhuo calls “task-specific feedback”) relates to a specific task someone completed such as leading a meeting or conducting a financial analysis. Give this feedback as soon as possible, either via email or in person. 

For example: “The team-building exercise you led in yesterday’s meeting was fantastic. You gave clear directions and got everyone engaged. Many people said the exercise helped them connect with their colleagues at a new level, and I have no doubt collaboration on projects will be even better going forward.”

Second, macro-level feedback (what Zhuo calls “behavioral feedback”) relates to patterns in someone’s behavior and performance that emerge over time. Give this feedback less frequently, but don’t wait for official performance reviews, so that people can make adjustments sooner than later. Zhuo says it’s better to deliver macro-level feedback in person so your report can ask questions and contribute their views. 

Here’s an example of macro-level feedback: “When other people are talking, you consistently interrupt them. For example, when LaTisha was sharing her financial report, you cut her off before she could finish her projections for the next quarter. This disregarded the value of her contributions and made you appear disinterested.” 

After you share feedback, make sure you clarify what behavior adjustments you’re expecting going forward. For example, you might say, “When you deliver your financial report next Tuesday, I’d like you to focus on speaking more slowly and projecting your voice.” Zhuo says you can also ask your report what adjustments they think are needed, which helps empower them to think creatively and take ownership of their development. For example, you could say, “What do you plan to focus on to improve your next presentation?” 

Additionally, Zhuo emphasizes that great managers don’t just give feedback, they request feedback from their peers and direct reports. Getting feedback, Zhuo says, is the best way to constantly improve your skills as a manager, ensuring you’re doing everything you can to help your team succeed. Be sure to request both micro- and macro-level feedback, and ask people to be specific. For example, you might say: “I’m working on highlighting strengths and opportunities in our team rather than weaknesses. How did I do with that in today’s meeting? How can I improve?” No matter what people say—even if you disagree—thank them for sharing their thoughts so they’ll be more likely to give you feedback in the future.

Coaching Your Work Team: Management Tips

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  • How to build a team and motivate them to work together
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  • Tips on how to interview and hire the right employees

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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