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Coaching Your Internal Communication Team to Success

There is a myth that in order for coaching to be a success it should be only handled by leaders, it requires a certification and also it expects staff to be receptive.

I beg to differ. As communication professionals we have a responsibility not just to grow ourselves but to also grow the function and the team. This investment pays immense dividends in the long run and the opportunities to coach arrive in all forms and shapes each day.

So what are those opportunities? How can you as an effective communication coach?

 A competent communication coach needs to be credible: To begin, you need to get a firm grasp of the business and the function. Understanding stakeholders’ expectations, studying trends in the industry, gauging winds of change and gaining trust are among the first few steps one can take to be acknowledged as a coach. By contributing to thought leadership and being viewed as an expert among peers in the industry adds to the overall value you bring as a coach.

Listening intently: Very often we are in the rush to deliver effectively for stakeholders that we fail to listen to the ‘needs’. In a recent episode, a stakeholder keen to improve connection with staff began working on a newsletter. The internal communicator assigned to the business in all earnest supported the editing of the draft. However when I probed on the specific ask it dawned that the stakeholder hadn’t the faintest idea about the various channels for promoting messages. His supervisor also pressurized him to get ‘something out’ to check off their program list for the quarter. After sharing the pros and cons of launching a newsletter and providing direction on ways to increase awareness the stakeholder revisited the plan.

Spend time providing context: You may have information that helps connect the dots and gives your team line of sight on where the organization is heading. Share what it means to stakeholders to see measurable results from internal communication. Storytelling is a great way to explain the larger picture. However steer away from biasing their thinking through the lens you have encountered scenarios. When a stakeholder refused to follow templates created to publish messages I supported my team member to reinforce the importance of predictability, consistency and standardization in internal communication and also share the benefits of such an approach. This helped the client appreciate the internal communication perspective and be less resistant to trying the template.

Broaden their horizons: Apart from setting clear objectives and reviewing them periodically (at least every month) it is vital to allow the team to think of problem solving. Get them out of their comfort zones. For example, when the office administration arrived at a concern of non-availability of parking slots as a flare point the internal communication staffer discussed ways for people to car pool and use feeder services to get to office.

Shifting mindsets – executor to a thought leader: In India where hierarchy plans an important role in how an organization functions getting the team to think of themselves as thought leaders takes a lot more effort. There is a belief that at the junior level one needs to only ‘execute’ what the leader assigns. I encourage the team to embed themselves in key teams, get to know power users of communication and coach them to co-create content. The expectation is that in the long run we wean off stakeholders from viewing us as a production unit that churns out communication.

It also helps them feel more in control of their assets, built internal communication capabilities and enhances their experience.

Lead by example: To be able to coach your team to success the leader needs to set exemplary examples. Be it in influencing decisions, taking the team along through change, working through difficult scenarios and bringing key people together. If you expect the team to have an open mind, you must first be willing to listen to different perspectives, even if they may sound unviable. Recently, I had the opportunity to draw a framework for a leadership forum and guide how leaders focused their energies. Although the challenges of managing varied perspectives (and egos!) got frustrating at times I picked up key behaviors of leaders that later provided my team insights to leverage.

Acknowledge your drawbacks: A coach isn’t expected to be perfect. By acknowledging your gaps you are also demonstrating commitment to learn. While editing drafts I often get confused while using the words -‘advice’ vs ‘advise’ in my sentences. After reading up the difference I shared my personal learning with the team.

Make things simple: After drawing their attention to the big picture you need to help them break it down to smaller action steps. This includes giving guidance on setting suitable objectives, talking with other team members, connecting with the local support teams, interacting with people from the industry, meeting with leaders and last but not least looking inwards on their own strengths and capabilities. Point them to literature on the web, your intranet, best practices, key websites that share insights among others.

Engaging for growth: Coaching the team involves helping them to be better individuals as well as better team players. Therefore help identify opportunities where they can lead the way (maybe conducting trainings, workshops) or become better at building assets for stakeholders. Involve them in crafting a working list of initiatives they can own and deliver – with minimal supervision. Provide inputs on process, effort, measurement among other specifics.

Coaching takes time and it isn’t a one-off exercise. If you are committed to growing the team (and it will show) there is no better way to begin right away.

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