How to get team members to take action

This month’s management tip in SD Magazine’ newsletter in by Tim Bacon, an XP (Extreme Programming) coach and a software developer at Thoughtworks. I have been following Tim’s blog for a few weeks now. I like the tips that Tim provides in this newsletter.

Rather than simply reacting to the problems that team members bring to you, a good manager first decides what “stance” he or she wants to take and then forms an appropriate response, says Bacon. In general, the stance and response are designed to “coach” the employee toward finding a solution to the problem. Here are some examples:

Reflecting: “So if I understand correctly, what you’re saying is …”

Prompting: “Have you considered [doing] / [thinking about] …”

Positing: “What if [this were true] / [that were to happen] …”

Suggesting: “If it were up to me, I would …”

Connecting: “Have you talked to [her]? She …”

Digging: “Is that really the problem?” / “How do you know?”

Challenging: “So what are you going to do about …” / “Is doing nothing an appropriate response to …”

Aiming: “What are you really trying to achieve?” / “How will you know when you’re done?”

Steering: “How would you get there from here?” / “Can you break that down into smaller steps?”

Focusing: “If you could only do one thing …” / “What’s the first action you can take?” / “What is most important right now?”

Summarizing: “So, the problem is … the alternatives are …”

Chairing: “Shall we take a vote?” / “Give [him] a chance to speak …”

Smoothing: “Why don’t we take a quick break …”

Marshalling: “I hear what you’re saying, but we’ll have to come back to that later; right now we need to … ”

Taking an interest: “What’s new with … That sounds interesting … How does it work? How did you come up with …”

Encouraging: “Well done …” / “Thank you …” / “… which is a big step forward” / “… which really helps”

Obviously, these stances pay off only if the coach actually listens to the responses.


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