Do you know this situation? You have delegated a task to a manager or employee. This person knocks on your door after a few days because they are stuck somewhere and asks you for advice.
You are familiar with the topic, maybe you have even solved a similar problem before. As a former expert, you mentally jump straight into finding a solution or ask detailed questions to explore the problem while the other person is still talking. But because you don't have the time right now, say you'll take care of it and get back to the person.
Let's take a quick look at this situation in terms of monkey management. what just happened The problem (i.e. the “monkey”) of the person suddenly no longer lies with them, but sits on their shoulders, grinning broadly. Congratulations on your new job.
In individual cases, this may not be critical. But let's spin the scenario a little further: Let's say you have a management team of five people and each of these people comes to you with a problem once a week. Suddenly you have 20 strange "monkeys" sitting on your shoulders every month, driving you mentally crazy, distracting you from your actual tasks and increasingly crushing you with their weight. Your evenings are getting longer, the hours of the week more and more.
Coaching Example: Monkey Management and Unwanted Patterns
This is exactly what happened to a coaching client of mine recently. Let's call him Jan. Jan is the founder of a successful startup that has raised millions in funding and has grown to 25 employees in a short time. As a natural scientist with a doctorate, Jan has extremely high expertise in his field and loves to solve complex challenges. Jan came to me because he was frustrated and stressed about having to do the work of his young leaders again.
It has often happened that managers and employees came to him with problems and difficult tasks and sought advice. Due to his high level of expertise and his solution-oriented thinking, Jan was immediately drawn into the details and usually had a good solution ready quickly. All of his managers and employees appreciated this and word got around.
Jan's executives now came to him more and more often when things got tricky. His employees were also happy to present difficult tasks and topics to him from time to time - with or without prior registration. And Jan often took on a particularly tricky part - and he already had the whole task on his desk.
Since there is now no shortage of challenging tasks in fast-growing organizations, Jan quickly became a valued expert and sparring partner for his managers - and suddenly he was working more and more often for his management team instead of the other way around.
In the course of our coaching session, two key questions emerged to which we sought answers together:
What Jan's team did was certainly not done with malicious intent. His employees simply knew that Jan had an extremely high level of expertise in his field. They had also learned that he had an answer or a good impulse for most questions. This had several negative consequences:
This is how Jan got rid of strange monkeys and unwanted patterns.
During the session I presented Jan with the seven coaching questions – a coaching tool from Michael Bungay Stanier's bestseller “The Coaching Habit”. We then adapted these questions together in such a way that they would help him with his two challenges “Monkey Management” and “Avoiding Unwanted Patterns”.
Jan's seven coaching questions
First of all, I advised Jan to buy himself a few seconds for future calls for help from his team with a rescue question or a comment like:
"Oh, that's an exciting question!" This should help him not immediately fall into his unwanted problem solver pattern.
The following seven – slightly modified – coaching questions should help Jan to not let a strange “monkey” sit on his shoulder again.
Question No. 1: What exactly is on your mind here? Jan thus plays the problem back to his employees and helps them to articulate it more precisely.
Question #2: And what else? Jan asks this question three times in a row - in a slightly different form - and helps his employees to get to the root cause of the problem.
Question No. 3: What exactly is the specific challenge for you here? With this question, Jan focuses the attention of his employees on exactly the point where they are stuck.
Question #4: So what exactly do you want to achieve? Jan helps his employees to fast-forward and to develop a concrete vision for their solution.
Question #5: If your problem were solved, what exactly would be different? How should the result look? What is the value of the solution? What might the solution look like? Here I consciously exchanged the original coaching question "How can I help" so that Jan does not fall back into his unwanted "problem solver" pattern.
Question 6: Who else can solve this problem besides me and you? Who can point out a solution? Who of those affected or outside (suppliers, partners, acquaintances, former colleagues...) can still help? I replaced this question so that Jan could show his employees an alternative. Again, I swapped out the original question to get Jan out of his "helper syndrome".
Question 7: What do you pull out for yourself? What do you take away from the conversation? With this question, Jan is supposed to help his employees to reflect. The aim is for his employees to recognize how they will tackle problems in the future and find solutions independently.
Mastery through repetition
These coaching questions initially sounded very strange to Jan. So that he could make them his own and find individual formulations, I recommended that he look for a buddy in the organization. That was a colleague or a friend he could try out these questions on. As with so many things in life, practice and repetition makes perfect.
At the same time, this buddy from the organization should always watch with him when he slips into his original pattern and remind him what he wanted to do instead. Each time it will be easier for Jan to find his own formulations for these questions. And if he falls into an unwanted pattern again, his coaching buddy will point it out to him.
Do you sometimes struggle with the strange monkey on your shoulders or do you find yourself too quick to find a solution in conversations? Simply develop your own version of these seven coaching questions. Find a buddy in your organization with whom you can try out and practice these questions. Over time you will find your own formulations that sound less and less practiced.
This buddy will also point out to you if you go straight into finding a solution instead of listening to your counterpart and helping him to find the answers himself. I wish you every success and enjoy trying it out!
If you would like to learn more about coaching habits and unwanted patterns, I recommend these two books:
“ Multipliers – How the best leaders make everyone smarter ” – Liz Wiseman
" The Coaching Habit - Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever " - Michael Bungay Stanier
With best wishes,
If you're interested in reading more of Olaf articles please visit the website link above. (Please note that Olaf's site is in German but Google translate does an excellent job of instantly translating it to English.)
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