Coaching Wednesdays: Coaching on the spot

Many of our clients encourage their team leaders, managers and heads of department to develop a coaching style of management.  Typically this focuses on the need to hold back from directing staff members.  Let’s face it, it’s so much easier and quicker to simply tell someone what to do.  Or another approach often used by managers is to wrap their telling up in a leading question, as in “have you thought about doing xxx” which is just another way to tell someone what to do!

Coaching-on-the-spot is usually an informal conversation between manager and staff member, rather than the formal, contracted coaching conversations that team members might have with an internal or external coach.

When managers use coaching-on-the-spot conversations, they become active participants in the learning that is required to improve performance.  This happens in real time, in other words the manager identifies the opportunity to initiate a coaching conversation there and then, or “on the spot”. Coaching-on-the-spot conversations are ideal in the following contexts:

  •  You want to empower your team member to take greater personal responsibility for their learning, meeting their objectives, or taking action.  

Example: You are having an informal chat about current work projects.  Your team member has identified a problem but has not thought of a solution, instead they have waited for you to direct them.  This is the ideal time to use the “Know-how” technique from the OSKAR model. Encourage your colleague to think of a time when they have encountered a similar problem.

Coaching-on-the-spot questions to ask:

  1. What has worked for you in a similar situation in the past?
  2. What did you learn from that situation that is useful now?
  3. What do you need to know or learn, to manage this situation effectively?
  4. Where can you access that information?


  • You observe a team member carrying out a task or having a conversation, and you identify some changes that are required for improved performance.

Example:  You have just observed your staff member listen to an angry customer and become defensive in their response.

Coaching-on-the-spot approach:

  1.  Acknowledge that the situation you have just observed is challenging.
  2.  Provide very clear and objective feedback on what you observed.  Don’t blame or criticise, simply provide the facts.
  3. Ask your coachee to talk the situation through from 3 perspectives:  theirs, the customer’s and the business perspective (i.e. any unintended consequences).
  4. Discuss together a better approach to be used in similar situations in the future.
  5. Agree specific actions.


  • You observe your team member managing a difficult situation very well.  

Example:  You have just observed your team member handle a customer complaint with empathy and professionalism, resulting in the customer thanking them for resolving the issue.

Coaching-on-the-spot approach – provide positive feedback to reinforce behaviour, knowledge and skills.

  1.  Describe the knowledge, skills and behaviours that your team member demonstrated.
  2. Explain the positive impact on the customer and the business
  3. Thank your team member


Final thoughts

Initiating these coaching-on-the-spot conversations takes confidence, good questioning and listening skills and the ability to think on your feet. Done well, these coaching-on-the-spot conversations will provide a significant improvement to performance. That’s because most learning at work is done on the job.  So hone your skills and seize those opportunities for coaching-on-the-spot conversations.


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