How can I coach my team when I’m so overloaded?

| 7 July 2023

You learned on your coach training that you need to ‘create a safe space’, to allow time for silence and reflection and to ‘listen to really hear rather than listen to respond’.  You know these things are powerful and empowering and yet…… your brain is so full that you simply don’t have the headspace or time to do this right now. (Notice that thought….).

And yes, you know that more coaching conversations would save you time in the long run and you hear the voice of that coach trainer or supervisor in your head encouraging you to ‘connect with what’s really going on’ and to ‘revisit those self-limiting beliefs that might be getting in the way.’ But trying to get your head around hybrid and flexible working, budget cuts and recruitment challenges is just about all you’ve got time for right now.

You want to be available to support your team whenever they need you (that’s what a good leader does, right?!) but booking out time for coaching conversations is way down that ‘to do’ list. And yes, you know you’re rushing to fix things for them and the deeper conversations are not always being had as much as you would like –  but that’s the current reality of life as you know it.

If you’re nodding your head, you’re not alone. This is such familiar territory for many leaders.

My golden rule in my leadership coaching work is that we take one step at a time.

Doing one small thing differently and then building on it can lead to huge change over a period of time – in our way of thinking, our focus, our way of being and our actions.

If this scenario is familiar to you then here are a couple of things to help you.

First step – look at some of the assumptions you might be making (I can see two at least, here).

Firstly – that you need to support your team ‘whenever they need you’ (leading, I suspect, to a lack of boundaries and overwhelm for you and a feeling that you’re reacting to the immediate rather than focusing on the more important things).

Secondly – that coaching conversations always take up a lot of time.

Let’s tackle the first one and look at some ways to set boundaries and protect your time.  There are many ways to do this but I’m going to share three that have worked very well for my busy leader clients recently.

1.     A short check-in at the beginning of each day to ask ‘what are you working on and what support do you need from me today to make progress?’ You can do this 1-1 or with your whole team.  The conversation has no other purpose or focus than this. It’s NOT the same as going round the room asking what everyone is working on.  Absolutely NOT that. (Please don’t do that.  It’s creeping death).

2.     ‘Office hours’ – an hour a couple of times a week for general Q and A and troubleshooting.   One client used to have ‘coffee time’ once a week on a Friday in the office. She’s now doing a virtual version of the same thing.

3.     ‘My quiet time’ – designated time each day/week when you are focusing and don’t want to be interrupted.

4.     If email interruptions are your constant distraction (you have turned off those notifications, haven’t you?!) then an out of office type message saying something like ‘I am ‘unavailable this morning to focus on completing project X’ works well too.
The great thing with these is that you can start one of them today.

That’s your first step.

Now let’s look at the second myth – that coaching conversations need to take a lot of time.

Of course, in the ideal world you would have developmental coaching conversations with your team regularly – and if you start to set some of the boundaries I mentioned above you’ll be carving out more time to do just that – that’s the beauty of the ‘one step at a time’ approach.

Let’s focus on those ‘have you got a minute?’ phone calls or conversations with a team member that end up taking half an hour or longer out of your day.  (Another hit to your boundaries!).

How about turning those into a coaching conversation in a way that honours your time, focuses on the immediate need and helps your team member take action (you can arrange a longer follow-up conversation at another time if necessary).

I call this the ‘laser coaching’ approach and here’s how to make this work:

Team Member: Have you got a minute?

Then – (assuming you have – and starting with the end in mind:)

You: I’ve got 10 minutes right now – Tell me briefly what you’re looking for and what you need at the end of that time.

Now, I know that some people struggle to be brief so you may have to help them out a little. Tell me in a couple of lines’, ‘give me the headline/overview’, ‘BLUF’ (bottom line up front) – or something similar.  Or you might want to bring back to life that GROW model you learned in your first coach training (no need to get sniffy or to think you’re too good or experienced for this model – it’s been around for a long time because for laser conversations like this it works!)


You: ‘Given everything you’ve said, what is the first decision/choice/step you need to make?’ or ‘What do you need to hear from me to help you move forward in the time we’ve got left?’

The more you do this and the more your team members get used to you doing this the more agile and quick your problem solving will become.  And there will be fewer monkeys landing on your shoulder.

P.S. Want more of my top tips? Follow me on LinkedIn or join my Effortless Leader Facebook group.