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Andy Cohen-Wray

1404 Performance


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Coaching: how to nurture high performing teams and individuals

Coaching requires the right conditions as well as the right mindset to take effect.

We’re all familiar with the idea of coaching in sports – a coach is there to bring out the best in you, driving your personal performance and that of the team. In business, coaching can have a similar effect, but it requires clarity of vision and careful planning to get it right.

In sport it is taken for granted the impact a good coach has on the success of an individual or team, because they enhance skills through structured training plans and set clear and focused goals. The same applies to the executive world.

In this article, I’d like to outline a few strategies for effective coaching and how to create the right conditions to ensure employees and leadership teams alike can benefit from it. Before I begin, however, I’d like to share with you our story, which I hope will help to illustrate how, by engaging the right mindset, you can overcome any challenge and achieve high performance.

Turning setbacks into learning experiences

My business partner (Paralympic gold medalist Danny Crates) and I both overcame acute trauma and adversity to be the (hopefully) compassionate coaches we are today. We recognise that a healthy team is a high performance team. We know first hand that mental health and wellbeing should be at the forefront of everything you deliver.

Danny lost his right arm in a horrific road crash in 1994. For many people this would be an event with devastating consequences, but Danny overcome the trauma, taking up athletics to motivate himself. He went on to set the world record in 800 metres at the British AAA Championships, before picking up a gold medal over the same 800m distance at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games – and many other gold medals since. He is living proof that you can overcome adversity and achieve great success. 

My story is different – but equally features the theme of setbacks. I suffered a mental breakdown through police career pressures. I then experienced dissociative amnesia for two years and was unable to retain memories for longer than 24-48 hours – just like the film 50 First Dates. This was compounded by my brother’s suicide in 2012. I suffered a stroke a year later (aged just 36) and then I lost my mother in 2015.

Via personal exploration and scientific research, I’ve been able to use my findings to become a mind/mental performance coach across both the corporate and sporting arenas.

Working together, Danny and I have been able to use our personal journeys to inspire and motivate businesses – and the people in them – to make changes for the better.

Nurturing individuals

Before you can begin to coach individuals and teams to achieve better performance, you need to look at the environment they’re currently operating in. By helping teams really understand what causes stress and anxiety within the workplace, you can nurture both the employer and employees to help create a stigma-free and non-toxic culture that measurably improves performance and productivity, as well as reducing absenteeism.

Then, everyone needs to understand their place in the system. Start by looking at the goals of the company, to gain a real understanding of the roles that teams and individuals within play in delivering the vision. Without this clarity and planning it’s just soundbites, so be sure to facilitate buy-in and understanding from employees to help bring it to life and give it real value.

Taking the team along

To do this, you need to equip the team and individuals with the performance tools they need to deliver and lead. Moving a business forward means taking the team along, otherwise it can result in failure or burnout, because it’s not about simply working harder, but rather it’s about working smarter and more efficiently as a group.

In sport it is taken for granted the impact a good coach has on the success of an individual or team, because they enhance skills through structured training plans and set clear and focused goals. The same applies to the executive world – so consider using examples of elite teams to unlock the potential of all people within a business. It gives people a greater understanding of individual behaviours, collective attitudes and communication skills, thus enabling teams to work with greater clarity.

Danny’s journey is a great example because the Paralympic GB team is considered one of the top three high performance teams in the world and their approach is all about learning from mistakes and setbacks, moving on and taking the positives, so that you can be 1% better each and every day. Over a four-year training programme, he and his coach approached taking a massive four seconds off his personal best time to win in Athens by breaking it down into a second a year and just a quarter of a second every quarter, which suddenly makes the impossible seem attainable and real.

Psychological safety

High performing teams have one overriding thing in common – psychological safety and the belief you won’t be punished for making a mistake. This allows team members to take risks – some of which may pay off – plus it increases creativity and encourages honest and open conversations.

In an environment where psychological safety is lacking, exerting positive behaviour becomes difficult. This is because any potential threatening act, like a competitive colleague or negative feedback, ignites your ‘fight, flight and freeze’ response. Trust me when I say if you can get a handle on this quickly your team will fly, because you need to be prepared to do something different to get different and better results.

When we talk about ‘high performance’ what we mean is ‘human performance’. Take time to understand yourself first and then facilitate how people tick and operate on a sensory level – you need to have empathy with colleagues. For leaders it’s not just about telling it as they see it, but rather about understanding how it is for the rest of the team – which approach wakes them up or causes them to switch off?

Some people will need you to present information, some will prefer it via email, others will require a one-to-one approach and there are those who crave spreadsheets and data – and that means you will need to cover all bases in any leadership development initiative to get the best out of everyone.

Language drives behaviour and attitude

On top of these different communication styles, our language drives behaviours and attitudes. Begin by talking to your internal self positively, as this influences your external communications and conduct, which in turn can help to influence attitudes and behaviours within the team.

This all has a massive impact on workplace culture too. Without a positive environment many employees will struggle to find real value in their work, plus it has a knock on effect to customer service and the bottom line.

Observational language works well when it comes to empowering and motivating a team. I was recently drawn to a particular phrase in my five-year-old’s school report. The section was called ‘facing challenges’ and it said:

“Occasionally he can become discouraged when faced with a challenge, but he is now working on developing his confidence and resilience. He often refers to the power of 'yet' and labels his errors as good mistakes”.

I loved the mindset that this language displays. There are lots of things we ‘can’t do’, but in school children are being taught that they ‘can’t do them YET’. This is powerful growth tool that all adults and businesses should adopt – it’s not that we can’t do something, it’s just that we haven’t learned to YET.

With knowledge, understanding, coaching and some practice they will eventually be able to do whatever task or challenge they are faced with. If you give employees the right learning and development support on a consistent basis, they too will thrive. 

Interested in this topic? Read Coaching for performance: are you a judge or a facilitator?

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Andy Cohen-Wray


Read more from Andy Cohen-Wray

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