Sometimes, a person’s boss just isn’t the right person to do the coaching. Consider this story, as told to me by my client Pete:
Pete was part of a new product ideation team tasked with creating a proposal for the company president. On the day of Big Presentation to the president Liz, the team gathered in the conference room. Representatives from Sales, Marketing, Engineering and Manufacturing were all present and raring to go with the presentation. President Liz was due in t-minus five minutes.
There was only one thing missing: the Power Point slide deck containing their whole spiel. Where the heck was it? All eyes turned towards the Marketing guy, who sputtered, “I handed it off to Cory [the intern] this morning for a few revisions.” And where the heck was Cory? After a few frantic texts and calls to Cory’s cell phone, they had a bead on Cory; he was stuck in copy room, trying to fix the copy machine, which had eaten the presentation hand outs.
Cory finally rushed into the conference room ten minutes later. Unfortunately, that was five minutes after Liz showed up. As the team waited tensely for both Liz and Cory to arrive, Cory’s boss Steve muttered, “I am SO gonna have a talk with that kid.”
Pete overheard Steve’s comment. As a self-described “grizzled veteran of management”, Pete figured that Steve might need a few minutes to cool off before he had his “talk” with Cory. So, after the meeting, Pete took Steve aside and asked if he could have a crack at the “developmental opportunity” that Cory had been presented. Steve was fine with that, so Pete sat down with Cory.
What follows is a paraphrased version of their conversation:
Pete: So, Cory, your first presentation in front of Liz didn’t work out so well today, did it?
Cory: No, it didn’t. I just wanted that presentation to be perfect for when Liz saw it. I mean, she’s the company president and all.
Pete: Yes, I know you wanted it to be perfect. We all did. But it also needed to be on time. So, what did you learn from this?
Cory: Well, I definitely needed to start working on copying the hand outs earlier.
Pete: Yes. And what else?
Cory: Well, I guess at some point, I have to stop tweaking the presentation. Because the meeting time sort of crept up on me.
Here’s what I love about how this real-life workplace drama played out:
- Pete stepped up to a leadership opportunity, even though it wasn’t his direct employee
- Steve was mature enough to accept Pete’s offer of help
- The coaching conversation wasn’t punitive; it was meant to help Cory grow as a workplace professional
In high-performing work environments, this type of tag-team coaching will sometimes show up. Leaders in these situations are attuned to the context of a situation: who is the best person to lead right now? Of course, in order for this to work, there must be abundant trust among peer leaders.
Epilogue: After he calmed down, Steve did have The Talk with Cory. Cory assured Steve that he had learned a valuable lesson—which is the whole point of an internship, right? And Liz actually loved the Product Ideation team’s presentation.
Discussion: when have you seen examples of tag-team coaching? During what situations would it be better for somebody else besides one’s direct supervisor to offer constructive coaching?