5 Effective Coaching Questions for Managers

September 20, 2018 Sarah Mulcahy


Great managers still matter, according to Google’s internal team of researchers on Project Oxygen. In 2008, Project Oxygen was launched to determine which manager behaviors are most likely to be correlated with team outcomes at Google like employee turnover, satisfaction, and performance.

The list of behaviors was updated earlier this year. They include:

  1. Is a good coach
  2. Empowers team and does not micromanage 
  3. Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being
  4. Is productive and results-oriented
  5. Is a good communicator — listens and shares information 
  6. Supports career development and discusses performance
  7. Has a clear vision/strategy for the team
  8. Has key technical skills to help advise the team 
  9. Collaborates across Google
  10. Is a strong decision-maker

Behaviors nine and 10 – collaboration and strong decision-making – were added this year. But notice that “is a good coach” still tops the list as the most important manager behavior.

Good coaches know how to motivate, inspire, and even challenge their team. They rally the team around a common goal. They celebrate the big wins, show appreciation, and recognize important milestones along the way.

Good coaches also understand that individual feedback should be given on a spectrum from positive to constructive – with the majority of the feedback delivered in the form of recognition.

Are you a people manager or do you know people managers who could use help writing or conveying a meaningful recognition message? Our blog post on 101 Effective Words to Use in Recognition might be helpful.

What about the other coaching moments that happen in weekly one-on-ones or hallway conversations? Do you find that managers need help getting the conversation started with direct reports? A recent Brandon Hall Group study found 70% of companies are changing their performance process because more frequent feedback is needed. And yet, only 47% of organizations have a program in place to help managers be better coaches and mentors.

“Overly engineering coaching can be overkill,” says Rosette Cataldo, our VP, performance & talent strategy. “Less is more in the new world of performance.”

In the spirit of less is more, below are five guiding questions from Michael Bungay Stanier, author of “The Coaching Habit” (and adapted by James Carbary), to help get you started:

  1. “What’s on your mind?” – I love this one because it’s open-ended and invites the other person to kick off the conversation.
  2. “And what else?” – This is a good follow-up question if you need more information before jumping to solve the issue right away.
  3. “What’s the real challenge here for you?” – This question is important because it forces the other person to clarify their ask and determine their need.
  4. “What do you want?” – What a powerful question that shows the other person you care about their needs and their development.
  5. “How can I help?” – This one is a personal favorite because a manager’s top priority should be removing any barriers or challenges for their team. The answer to this question can vary greatly person to person.

Which questions do you find helpful in kicking off a coaching or performance conversation? Please share with us in the comments!

About the Author

Sarah Mulcahy

Sarah is senior content marketing manager at Workhuman. When not writing and reading about all things culture, leadership, recognition, and appreciation, she enjoys iced coffee, running, and spending time with her daughters, Mabel and Eva.

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