Could coaching your teaching teams do more harm than good? It depends on what kind of manager you are…

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 There is very little correlation between the time a manager spends coaching an employee and their performance, according to new research. In fact, it's been suggested that some very hands-on managers actually do more harm than good.

These surprising findings came from recent research conducted by a research company, Gartner, and are reported in the Harvard Business Review. Gartner surveyed 7,300 employees and managers across a number of industries, along with interviewing or surveying 325 HR executives.

It's important to note that this research was not conducted in schools so there are issues around applicability. It has also been tough to find the original research so the following is taken from a report of the findings – there would be some merit at looking at the original research as there are obvious issues around reporting.

Nevertheless, the research describes four types of coach:

Teacher Managers coach employees on the basis of their own knowledge and experience, providing advice-oriented feedback and personally directing development. Many have expertise in technical fields and spent years as individual contributors before working their way into managerial roles.

Always on Managers provide continual coaching, stay on top of employees' development and give feedback across a range of skills. Their behaviors closely align with what HR professionals typically idealise. These managers may appear to be the most dedicated of the four types to upgrading their employees' skills – they treat it as part of their daily job.

Connector Managers give targeted feedback in their areas of expertise; otherwise, they connect employees with others on the team or elsewhere in the organisation who are best suited to the tasks. They spend more time than the other three types assessing the skills, needs, and interests of their employees, and they recognise that many skills are best taught by people other than themselves.

Cheerleader Managers take a hands-off approach, delivering positive feedback and putting employees in charge of their own development. They are available and supportive, but they aren't as proactive as the other types of managers when it comes to developing employees' skills.

 The article notes further interesting findings:

  • You don't find these types of manager in one industry in particular. The categories of manager are evenly distributed within organisations and across industries
  • Coaching is about quality not quantity. Whether a manager spends 36% of 9% of their time on coaching and employees development did not seem to matter
  • "Always on Managers" appear to do more harm than good. Employees managed by these type of manager were the only category where performance decreased after coaching.

    Researchers suggest there are three reasons why Always on Managers have such a negative impact on performance:
  1. The continual stream of feedback is "overwhelming"
  2. They spend less time time considering employees' needs so they tend not to cover topics that employees actually need to develop
  3. They fail to recognise the limits of their own expertise and can give poor advice and information.

    On the other hand, the researchers suggest that Connector managers tend to have the highest-performing employees. The research suggests there are four things that Connectors do to achieve this:
  1. They ask questions rather than directing their employees
  2. The insight from the answers to these questions helps them to provide tailored feedback
  3. They recognise the limits of their own skills and experience
  4. They bring in other experts to support employees where their skills or experience may be lacking.

    The Gartner researchers then recommend the following action. Managers should:
  • Focus on quality of coaching not the quantity
  • Find out about your employees' aspirations for the future and the skills, knowledge and experience they need to achieve those
  • Have open coaching conversations, shifting the focus from one-to-one conversations to team coaching. This allows colleagues to learn from one another, particularly those with specific skills
  • Try to extend these activities across the organisation so your team learns from the entire organisation, not just their immediate colleagues.

There is plenty for a senior leader in a school could learn from this. Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • A bit of humility goes a long way. We need to learn that it's ok for leaders to admit that you are not an expert on something and point colleagues in the direction of others. This requires a culture of trust and mutual vulnerability
  • Give some thought to the types coaching in your school and reflect on whether they are doing more harm than good
  • Focus on the quality of the coaching, rather than the quantity
  • Line managers may not necessarily be the best people to coach staff, unless they have the appropriate skills
  • When appointing staff to senior roles, you may wish to ask interviewees to give examples of how they have gone about coaching others and look for evidence of 'connecting' activities
  • When developing your own career, you may wish to look to work for leaders and managers who have a connecting coaching style.


 "Coaching vs Connecting: What the Best Managers Do to Develop Their Employees Today' – Gartner, White Paper

Managers Can't Be Great Coaches All by Themselves. Harvard business review. May- June, 2018.

Kraft, M. A., Blazar, D. and Hogan, D. (2016). The Effect of Teacher Coaching on Instruction and Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Causal Evidence.

This is an edited version of a feature that was originally published on Gary Jones's blog here.

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