Coaching and mentoring framework - Engagement and Performance Catalyst for remote high performing teams
While working remotely with a team of 50 geographically distributed workforce, we realized its important to introduce a coaching and mentoring support network/framework for delivery customer success team. The operational framework was designed in late 2016 and introduced in early 2017.
While working on projects and programs we realized the dilemmas an employee faces could be arising from individual behavioral patterns, group dynamics of the person's team or skewed towards culture, systems and sometimes even strategy.
Detailing below on experiences and how the model operates.
How do coaching and mentoring differ?
Providing guidance or solutions to employees with their set of problems demand relevant background. specialized skills and sometimes even experience depending on where the challenge is seeded. This forced us to look into differences between coaching and mentoring and eventually have two dynamical streams and setups as a part of global operational ecosystem. Based on organizations scale and specializations, one could architect more than two dynamical streams to manage the symptoms and feed into program backlogs of other operational units.
Coaching is the method of training a person with the aim to develop specific skills and behaviors whereas a mentor deals with an employee's personal life or career, has no specific agenda, and has focus only on the individual.
"A coach deals with a person's tasks and responsibilities, has a specific agenda and a development approach, and has a focus on person's performance" - Management 3.0
Why is this support system important?
While working in project teams and reporting to project managers (who lead their project ratings and hence performance appraisals), sometimes it becomes difficult to talk freely (could be limited by manager's management style and/or team norms) of concerns by team members. Per our experience, employees sometimes need opportunities to talk more freely with people outside the project ecosystem to allow for another set of eyes and ears and sometimes even with peers (outside projects) to learn from their experiences in similar situations.
Not only this, with the level of spread across the project portfolio and delivery pressures, its likely that project managers/reporting managers might not be able to give the right kind of emotional investment to help the employee in dilemma. The level of support requires time, commitment, active listening and focused attention.
Though agile frameworks for project and portfolio management allow for self-organized and self-directed dynamics via timely retrospectives, from my experience, this is generally true and most effective with high performing teams. In reality, not all project teams in a companies delivery portfolio can be highly performing (per definition). This further adds the need to have a support system to deal with challenges during forming, norming and storming stages with the project teams : should the problem be seeded into team dynamics.
Experiencing the framework in execution, I also realized that an effective mentoring and coaching framework in the company, well fed and updated with company wide developments, strategies, visions and mission statements also helps to organically remove any unnecessary bifurcations and people accidentally landing into a non aligned attractors (goals). It suddenly becomes a shared responsibility and also a highly efficient tool to align everyone to a common goal.
Lastly coaches and mentors can help you see outside of the balloon surrounding your daily experience; exposing a totally different perspective and viewpoint to the challenge, opening up possibilities, and hence self awareness (for the person in crisis).
Does being a remote company add to the need for such a system?
We witnessed communication gaps also forming part of the challenges and concerns (generally misunderstandings) arising from either written communication or even over calls. This is generally a challenge with remote working. Further there is a lower personal connect between team members working remotely. This further pushes such remote systems for dedicated efforts in evangelizing and engineering existing engagement programs. Ensuring maximum participation in programs is another challenge in itself.
Co-owned mentoring and coaching framework in turn implictly fills this engagement gap as a unique program. Further being a mentor helps build empathetic relationships between collagues and opens up new perspectives ensuring a meaningfully connected remote ecosystem.
Role of mentors
Supported by 7 Geese and Office Vibe as operational tools, with a ratio of 1:3-5, mentor - mentee pods belong to similar functional domain to relate better to the concerns, challenges and provide guidance for growth on the career ladder. We tried cross functional alliances as well but had to revet back to the former based on request from majority. Mentors generally are subject matter experts and have higher experience than the mentees. At least one monthly connect via one-one video calls between mentors and mentees is recommended.
Mentoring as a program to us has
been a channel to capture employee pulse on various issues (policies, tools, processes,...)
a functional support and technical growth guidance medium
helped remove project impediments by proving technical support
guided on certifications and how these could help on the career ladder with relevant learnings and bridging skill gaps
a change agent sub-system to proactively deal with change management issues and have a people buy-in or capture employee pulse on new introductions
been one of the programs to support the transparency as a shared value, co-ownership of organizational performance and even efficient organizational alignment
supported other programs such as OKR (Objective and Key Results) to be more meaningful and more result oriented
enhanced role clarity for employees in confusion and removing related dissatisfactions
motivator for employees by providing them a medium to be heard and giving them a platform to co-architect the system of which they are a part
Mentorship, Coaching and future focused performance assessment
With Key Performance Indices (KPI) supported with furture focused ratings to have a planned and effective alliance between employee and the company, mentoring also feeds into perfecting the alliance/tour of duty. We observed that mentors and life coach are generally aware of : Which of the mentees is at a risk of low performance for timely interventions/support?
Stability of mentor - mentee alliance is an extremely important component to allow for any emergence, something we learnt from expereince, so it is generally not recommended to change mentors until a quarter or may be more to allow for authentic assessments and meaningful employee bondings.
Role of Life coach
The mentoring program is led by life coach (engagement lead and a psychologist by background). Following majorly form the work portfolio of the life coach
Perform skip level meetings with all engineers and leadership
constant personal connect with mentors in the ecosystem
empowering mentors with new tools and techniques for effective mentoring
Delegating and channelizing issues outside the domain to other operational which feed in their program backlogs
Coach mentors who are challenged to empower mentees
Coaching mentors on how to lead with emotional intelligence
Provide solutions and exercises to folks with personal problems (Too insecure, Skewed Extrovert/Introvert, Too ambitious , Lack of discipline, Demanding too much perfection, and so on)
Ensuring an overarching visibility of the operational sub-systems, connections and strategic alignment to delegate and support elimination of root causes.
Self-Organized, Self-Directed Emergence
With mentoring and coaching network weaved into delivery system, collaborative innovation can also be witnessed as:
mentees with a mentor working on collaboraive programs for skills and capabity enhancement
Mentees with different mentors forming quality circles to collectively solve a technical issue, or to provide value to the ecosystem
Cross - functional knowledge sharing across mentor pods
Challenges common across mentor pods signal needs for improvement programs and hence funneling in relevant backlogs of functional units.
Until now we find this model completely scalable with introduction of new mentor-mentee pods (limited only by time and bandwidth). Hence any efficiency or productivity achieved at a small scale can be matched to equivalent results at all scales.
Engagement being an important focus for Human Resources unit in any organization, an effectively implemented coaching and mentoring framework can help with having multiple cultural custodians in a company, and also help identify potential "emotionally intelligent" leaders in a company. This further helps de-centralize a single unit accountability to ensure a healthy culture.