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The Coach Approach in Creating Resilient Teams

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In today’s constantly changing business environment, the need for organizational resilience has never been greater. Successful companies are those who can confidently face challenges, solve problems, navigate change, and recover quickly from setbacks and adversity. To do this, organizations rely on a resilient workforce and managers play a key role in fostering resilience within their teams.

Resilient employees are confident, adaptable and flexible. They demonstrate energy and stamina in meeting challenging goals, experience challenges and setbacks with perspective and a learning mind-set, and can draw on all areas of life to maintain a healthily balanced perspective and emotional well-being. Resilient organizations simultaneously sustain competitive advantage over time through their capacity to deliver excellent performance against current goals and effectively innovate and adapt to rapid, turbulent changes in markets and technologies.

Achieving both personal and organizational resilience, however, is easier said than done.

The Stress/Resilience Connection

There is a powerful connection between stress, overwhelm and low resilience. According to the 2010 General Social Survey, one in four Canadian workers describe their day-to-day lives as highly stressful and 60% of these individuals identified work as their main source of stress. The most impactful relationship in the lives of most workers is the one with their manager, so it makes sense that this relationship contributes to or mitigates their stress on a daily basis.

According to Alexandra Bisson Desrochers at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress in Montreal, “Since protective factors can modify our ability to overcome difficult life events, we should try to improve the ones we have control over, like altruism or a good sense of humour. Everyone has his/her toolbox and it is up to you to pick the right tools during adversity.” By doing something that is within our control, we can increase our ability to be more resilient. If we are stressed at work and home and work stress goes down, it gives us the space to grow our resilience. This is where the manager’s influence has huge ramifications for the team and organizational success.

The Coach Approach

By coming face-to-face with employees more often and being involved in their growth, development and job satisfaction on a continuous basis, managers can connect in powerful ways that really matter to their employees. When team members feel known, cared about and supported by their managers, stress goes down and satisfaction goes up. Here are some strategies for managers to reduce stress and build resilience by moving from a “managing” to a “coaching” approach.

1. Build individual and team trust. When trust is present, employees feel comfortable to admit mistakes, ask for help, take risks, be gracious with one another, focus on objectives, offer and receive constructive criticism, share ideas and work collaboratively. A manager who builds trust creates an environment that naturally reduces stress and gives employees a place to be at their best every day. This involves creating an open space for trust to be fostered and not tolerating toxic, negative behavior that undermines trust on the team. This kind of trust-building does not happen without a coaching approach. Being “on the ground” with the team, seeing what they are seeing, sensing what they are not saying, and noticing what is happening day to day allows the manager to reinforce good behavior and step in quickly to manage the bad.

2. Increase awareness. Managers who are aware of what their teams experience are ahead of the curve in creating space for resilience. In a coaching role, the manager meets one-on-one with his/her team regularly to ensure team performance is being discussed and issues are addressed. The following areas can have the biggest impact:

a) Clarity around goals and roles. Employees who understand what is expected of them experience less stress and anxiety than when expectations are blurry or inconsistent. Clarity around job roles and company expectations results in confident, adaptable workers.

b) Workload. Managers who understand their team’s workloads are ensure the team isn’t being over-taxed and burned out, and their workforce is happy and productive. Regular one-on-one conversations are essential in mitigating the negative impact of over-worked employees.

c) Stress level. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety indicates that “Workplace stress is the harmful physical and emotional responses that can happen when there is a conflict between job demands on the employee and the amount of control an employee has over meeting these demands.” Further, “Much stress related absence is caused by the behaviour of line managers towards their staff and their refusal or inability to identify when employees are suffering from stress.” If at least one-quarter of the workforce is experiencing stress that is limiting their productivity and effectiveness, it goes without saying that managers who take action towards reducing stress will also reduce absenteeism, poor focus, negativity, illness, and low productivity, making space for the growth of resilience.

3. Offer flexibility. One constant dynamic identified in the research on employee resilience is flexibility in the workplace. Supporting the Desrochers quote earlier, it appears that being able to control some elements of their jobs provides employees with the much-needed space to grow resilience. Letting the team manage their own schedules, flexible start and finish times, the freedom to duck out for an appointment can have an incredible impact on engagement and job satisfaction.

Kathleen Christensen, who launched the Sloan Foundation’s National Workplace Flexibility Initiative, sponsored major research on the business outcomes of workplace flexibility. In one study of multiple large US corporations, she found that flexible work arrangements had positive outcomes on financial performance, as well as operational and business outcomes. The research shows that employees who had even a small degree of flexibility in when and where work got done had significantly greater job satisfaction, a stronger commitment to the job, and higher levels of engagement with the company, as well as significantly lower levels of stress.

The level of flexibility managers can provide will vary based on industry and business needs. A manager in touch with his/her team will find creative ways to provide employees with flexibility, freedom and control at some level of their jobs.

4. Be real and lead by example. As managers become more coaching-oriented, employees’ expectations of them rise. Team members long for authenticity in their leadership. “They want to see actions that are aligned with words, and that what is being asked of them is being lived out by the one doing the asking. Coaching managers are not afraid to be real” to admit their own mistakes and share their experiences of dealing with setbacks and disappointments. This inspires their teams to do the same. Team members then see their managers as allies, feel less alone in their struggles and are more open about their experiences. When it’s safe not to be perfect, resilience grows.

Rich Fernandez, Harvard Business Review, June 2017 says, “Building resilience skills in the contemporary work context doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s important to understand and manage some of the factors that cause us to feel so overwhelmed and stressed at work.” The manager’s active involvement with his/her employees in a coaching role is a critical element in reducing overwhelm and stress, and giving breathing room to allow resilience to grow. Trust, awareness, flexibility and authenticity are the touchstones by which resilience can be achieved.

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