The more I work with managers, the more I feel they could really do great things with the use of some coaching tools. And I am not the only one who thinks that. Companies keep sending leaders on extensive courses, so they can implement GROW, OSCAR or GOLD coaching models in their daily work. I could not be happier. I know coaching approach works wonders.

However, it is not fully taken advantage of at work. Mostly, because it takes time to have GROW session done in an office and there are some issues with the concept of discretion. One of my clients told me, “Inga, I just simply don’t have time to do a 45-minute coaching session often than once a year. And if I do it once a year, I may as well not do it at all.”

Because of such a feedback and being inspired by Robert Hargrove’s Masterful Coaching I created the concept of hallway coaching – the set of simple questions and remarks that help leaders shift people’s thinking models. The main principle of hallway coaching is to get the best possible results in the shortest possible time.

There are four basic framework we teach leaders to use while coaching:

  • Getting out of the maze
  • Thinking partner
  • Veiled Advice
  • Remodeling thinking models

These talks enable leaders to develop in their employees new skills, help them seek fresh solution and go beyond typical actions and what is crucial, they are great tools to reframe excuses.

Getting out of the maze

The most common complaint I get from my clients, who lead teams, is the fact that their people do not try harder and that they tend to use the same actions/solutions on and on even if these are the least optimal ones. As sometimes people really do not know what to do and what way to choose, they might feel lost or stuck in the labyrinth. Maybe all the known options look unappealing at the time. It is possible that they lack some courage and do not investigate any original and courageous choices. Eventually they come a leader for a piece of advice. Of course, it would be easy to tell them what to do, however, it would be the least educational technique to choose from.  What I love about coaching tools for managers is that they eradicate giving pieces of advice and giving instruction. They use some self-discovery approach and that’s why they are truly beneficial for team members.

Getting out of the maze is a set of questions that help people get out of the rut of their thinking and help them move forward to a solution. The main idea behind hallway coaching is based on the premises that a good question is a leader’s best friend since it gives the best possible results in the shortest possible time.   A good question asked in the right moment can trigger innovative thinking so employees can declare new possibilities, fresh actions and original solutions to old problems.

A leader could ask some of these questions:

  • What is possible?
  • What can you do more of?
  • What can you do less of?
  • How can you approach this issue differently?
  • What would X do in this situation?
  • What should happen so you could do Y…?
  • What would make new action worthwhile?
  • Let’s imagine you are not going to change anything in your way of dealing with this issue, what would be the worst case scenario then?
  • What may you lose dealing with it old way?
  • What benefits may you/a team/a company get form a new way of action?

So as you can see the purpose of these questions is to stretch thinking and to play with different ideas in the safe environment so an employee gets Ariadne’s thread to get out of the maze and feels no longer stuck.

Thinking partner

We all love obvious or elegant solutions, don’t we. How common are they in modern fast-pacing and changing business environment? Not as common as you would like to, probably. Some issues might not have simple answers. Yet. They do not have them yet. As a leader you must have seen thousand situations like that while managing your team.

And in moments like this your employee may need a thinking partner more than a boss, a teacher and mentor.

A thinking partner role is to:

  • Be a helpful conversationalist
  • Assist in finding excellent solutions
  • Review the initial idea
  • Get on a higher level and see the big picture
  • Normalize uncertainty
  • Allow discovery
  • Support unpredictable timelines and results
  • Challenge the idea
  • Act as a devil’s advocate to check the feasibility of a proposal

How to use hallway coaching to be a thinking partner?

Invite a person you talk to challenge anything in a proposal. Act as if it was correct only in 80%, but you want to change the remaining 20% from top to bottom. Be picky. You can, because you do it with the issue and the proposal best interest in heart.

Ask many questions such as:

  • What are you premises here?
  • What should have happened for 100% so your solution could work?
  • What can go wrong?
  • Find three reasons that it will not work at all?
  • What are you going to do about those reasons?
  • What are you going to lose when you implement this plan? How are you going to tackle this loss?
  • If you take this path, what will make your opponents happy?
  • Who outside of obvious stakeholders will gain something after implementing your solution? Are you OK with that?

As a thinking partner you may want to take into consideration some of the limiting thinking dysfunctions (so called thinking biases) such as:

Catastrophizing: an irrational belief that something is far worse than it actually is.

  • What severe repercussions of your solution can you name?
  • What other risky or undesirable consequences can it bring?
  • What are you going to do about it?

Idealistic optimism that everything will be fine.

  • Find three risky things in your solution?
  • Let’s imagine there is a backlog or delay in your plan. What steps are you going to take then?
  • What could your biggest critic say about this plan and why? What is true here?

Drawing some preliminary and premature conclusions based on too generalized findings.

  • What concrete evidence do you have that this plan is going to work and is the best possible?
  • When do you expect first results of your solution?
  • How much time is the implementation phase going to take? How do you know it is a sufficient amount of time?


A thinking partner coaching model is going to work only if you have the best interest of a person and his plan in mind. The questions above asked in the harsh manner, or publicly with the intention to humiliate somebody, are not likely to bring anything valuable, but shame and discouragement.

I do recommend to let your employee at the beginning that you are going to play a devil’s advocate for a bit, so you both can fully revise a proposal.

Veiled Advice

Since my book, where I describe hallway coaching, was published in Poland, I have got lot of feedback on this one technique: Veiled Advice. One of the duties of a good manager is to be a mentor for her/his team members. Yet, when you give piece of advice all the time it may inactivate your people’s innovation.

My clients told me that after using this tool their teams’ independence skyrocketed.

Say said:

I finally stopped serving up ideas on a plate.

For such a long time I believed that my team lacked great ideas. It turned out that when I changed my compulsive advice-giving into storytelling, innovations appeared one by one.

Now I have a tool to develop less experienced employees, who used to do to a letter what I told. They missed the point. I wanted them to improve my ways. With veiled advice it works this way.

So what is it about?

With limited time you have at work, it is natural to provide your people with quick answers.. Besides, you probably have the feeling that it strengthens your authority. One of the leaders I worked with sat in open space with his team and was almost unable to complete any task. Why? He was so involved in helping and giving advice. When asked why he did it, he said that it is the manager’s duty to help the team. Yeah, that’s right. Yet, it’s good to redefine such service to the team. You want to do your work as well, don’t you.

Thus, instead of jumping out immediately with an answer, take advantage of storytelling.

Storytelling is a technique that uses the fictional story, an anecdote from personal life or a historical fact to boost somebody’s creativity and elevate their emotions. With the help of a hidden message (a metaphor) you can offer a new perspective.

Don’t think that it is very complex and difficult. As a hallway coaching tool storytelling boils down to two simple techniques. When an employee asks for advice, or you can see that he/she is in a deadlock situation, say

  • Your situation reminds me of the moment when I/person X…. What I did then was…. What’s in it for you?
  • I once did something similar / Once Something similar happened to one of my colleagues. What from what I said is useful for you? How is it useful?

This way, you show the possibility and yet you leave a listener to make an independent decision about what to do with this perspective.

Remodeling Thinking Patterns

Whenever I think about change, there is a clear vision of full house remodeling, with walls being moved, windows made bigger, with colors repainted. It takes a great care and effort to finish this endeavor. Yet, many people to it, because they want to live in a comfortable and pleasant surroundings. It is quite similar to remodeling thinking patterns. One of the role of a successful leader is to be a sort of a construction worker, who helps people think and perceive any situation in a way that serves them well.

If you have never met at work a person, who complains, sees everything in gloomy colors, or has limiting believes, you can stop reading now. This is not a text for you.

While using remodeling thinking patterns coaching, a leader asks questions that can assist in reframing thinking that makes finding solutions impossible. For example, your employee has a very strong conviction that he can’t do anything with an issue he’s currently experiencing with a project. This is a very destructive concept: I cannot do anything about it. Mainly, because it is hardly ever true, somehow, it stops a person from looking for ideas.

A leader’s role is to ruffle some feathers here by asking:

  • What could you change in the way you look at this situation?
  • How might you change your reasoning here?
  • What filter do you use while looking at this problem? How can you transform it?
  • What preconceived ideas do you have here?
  • What do you assume now?
  • What else is true here?
  • What don’t you see?
  • What are you avoiding?
  • What can you learn from this person/this situation?
  • How can you transform this issue into win-win?
  • What is possible for you here if you think this way?
  • What are you likely to do, when you keep on repeating “I can’t”?

It is very important to remember that while asking these questions you may want to pay closer attention to your tone and body language. For example, you could incorporate a Friend or a Wizard Voice described by Marilyn Atkinson below.

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