Teams - Remote and Virtual

by Claire Snowdon and Mark Bouch

Telephone coaching skills

The elements of successful coaching (whether remote or face to face) are

  • A structured approach to setting and working towards coaching objectives (we recommend using a simple coaching model, such as GROW (Goals, Reality, Options, Will – for more, see The GROW coaching process, in the Coaching topic).
  • An open mind
  • Effective listening skills
  • Asking good questions
  • Suggestions and direction offered with care and only after exploring other options
  • Identifying positive and specific actions
  • Effective follow-through.

Some coaching professionals believe that telephone coaching can be very effective when used to supplement traditional approaches: ‘Telephone coaching can work because there is something very powerful about the voice entering the mind of the coachee more directly’, according to Erik De Haan, Director of the Ashridge Centre for Coaching, quoted from Personnel Today.

Telephone coaching is a necessary skill for the remote team leader to acquire. As a team leader grows confident at telephone coaching, the telephone becomes a viable alternative to face-to-face meetings about performance and development.

Telephone coaching has many advantages over face-to-face coaching sessions:

  • The flexibility of being able to take phone calls at home, or around the work and travel schedule
  • The relative ease of scheduling, compared to matching up diaries, meeting locations and travel arrangements
  • Telephone coaching sessions tend to be shorter (up to one hour), because it is difficult to concentrate for longer than that on the telephone.

Coaching in any environment requires discipline. It is particularly important for effective telephone coaching.

  • Ensure that work is done prior to each session to capture successes and challenges since the previous session. A simple template questionnaire will help to focus the agenda.
  • Coaches and coaching subjects should discuss and agree the goals for the session before it starts and agree a fixed time for the session.
  • Ensure that both parties are in a location (a physical space) conducive to effective coaching

Tips for effective coaching in the virtual environment

  • Whilst not absolutely essential, it helps if both parties have established rapport prior to telephone coaching. This may take several face-to-face coaching sessions.
  • The coach and coaching subject need to concentrate carefully and confirm the conversation regularly. Effective ‘remote’ coaches tend to check and verbalise feelings and emotions behind the content more in a telephone conversation than they would face to face:
  • Check how people feel about particular issues by paraphrasing what they are saying
  • Clarify your own perceptions about issues
  • Be aware that the telephone removes the opportunity to register non-verbal signals; you need to regularly ask prompt questions like ‘how do you feel about that?’ to elicit the same evidence
  • Be prepared to take a break for reflection during the telephone coaching conversation, just as you would in a face-to-face coaching session.
  • Combine telephone coaching with regular face-to-face meetings.
An example

Telephone coaching is used as the basis of a field-based sales manager development programme in a consumer goods company. The programme was devised by Mandy Smart, the UK sales manager responsible for coaching eight sales managers on a single programme.

She focuses on the personal and professional tensions of their field-based role. Each manager is responsible for a group of brands in their region and managing up to six field-based staff.

At the start of the programme, Mandy gets the sales managers together for a full day’s face-to-face session to identify and build on personal, team and sales goals and to develop ideas about how they will increase their business by ten per cent over the programme’s three-month period.

As homework, the sales managers have one week to compile a ten-step plan for achieving their goals. The managers’ plans are then used as a basis for each 45-minute phone coaching session, typically held once a fortnight to discuss their progress against the goal, review options and decide what they have to do to move forward.

Mandy knows that telephone coaching is very effective in remote teams: ‘we have very focused and effective calls that get straight to the point of how we are going to turn things around.’ Managers are well–prepared for the calls, which makes direct language very easy.