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The Power of Permission In Team Coaching

I’m all for asking for forgiveness over permission. All for it.

But, too much of any one “thing” is just that—it’s too much—and using the same strategy over and over again isn’t only limiting but ineffective when applied across different domains.

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say you’re in a team meeting and the same person keeps piping up, cutting you off in mid-sentence, interrupting others when they speak, and generally being “that person” whom everybody loves to hate.

Know who I'm talking about? Now hold on to that scenario while we consider another…

Let’s consider an alternative scenario where you’re in a meeting—talking—and you know—just KNOW—that the same pain in the ass who always interrupts you is just DYING to say something.

Except, he doesn’t.

Instead, he asks if he can contribute to the conversation.

Likely? In a limited capacity (see below). Effective? Absolutely. Here’s why.

In the first scenario the conversation is being pushed upon you whereas, in the second scenario, you’re being invited to it.

Now, remember, this tactic doesn’t apply to all conversations for the same reason I stated earlier—too much of any one thing is too much. There is a time and place for everything and asking for permission into a conversation is no different. There is, howvever, one certain situation where this tactic works well—really well, as in, it should always be employed (and I hesitate to say “always” because I don’t believe in absolutes). And that’s right before you begin to coach your team.


Why Do I Need Permission? I’m The Boss!

And no, that’s not a reference to myself.

I know what you (well, some of you out there) might be thinking: “I’m leading this team so I don’t need permission.”

If that’s your mindset, then I would encourage you to dig down into the difference between groups and teams because leadership in groups is fixed; it’s clear and does not rotate. Not so in teams. So the question for you is this: Is your team a real team, or is it a group of people occupying the same space breathing the same air?

Anyway, the issue at hand in the do-I-really-need-permission question is status. Leaders, managers, supervisors, or bosses who “lead” with their title not with their character don’t feel they need to “ask permission” because, after all, they’re the boss! So, they steamroll over everybody in their way and leave a wake of disgruntled employees who use nothing but curse words and colorful metaphors to describe their fearless leader. Not good—for you, the team, or the company.

Here’s why asking for permission before coaching your team works. When you ask for permission before entering into a coaching conversation, you actually accomplish more:

1. You build your influence.

By giving another person the opportunity to say yes or no to your interjection (see below), you actually grow your influence. Believe it or not, influence comes not from what you get in life but by what you give. Think of all those times you reached out to somebody on a cold call or a cold email and said, “Hey, my name’s Bill and I want to sell you this awesome widget.” Or something like that. What typically happens afterward? Click. You’re talking to a dial tone only because you were trying to take from them their time and mindshare without providing any value in return.

The flip side of this is to offer something of value: “Hey Bill, I noticed you’re part of a project management team. My first project management team was a complete failure and I learned some valuable takeaways from it. Here they are:

  • Example 1
  • Example 2
  • Example 3.”

Then wrap it up with, “I have a lot more and would be happy to share them if you like. Care to talk sometime?”

See the difference? The first takes, the second gives. When you ask for permission you’re also telling the other person that their opinion matters.

2. You prep the environment.

By asking for permission before lobbing a random question into the air to see if anyone bites, you do two things:

a) You prep the environment. By using clear body language while you ask to interject, you send a clear signal that you expect a response from either (a) a single person or (b) the team.

b) You guide the team’s focus. Once you ask for permission into the conversation, the team (or whomever you’re coaching) is now aware that there’ll be a slight shift away from one conversation and into another, so it gives them a head’s up to shift mental gears.

When Asking For Permission Is Not Necessary

I’m a “doer” by nature, and asking for permission isn’t naturally part of my DNA. In the SEALs it was very few and far between that we asked for permission first—in anything.

However, coaching a team is different. Remember that asking for permission in a conversation isn’t the same as already being part of the conversation. As a team coach, for example, I’m external to an already intact team or a team just forming, so for me to interject at any point without permission would be to overstep my bounds as a coach simply because that level of participation is expected in “full time” roles, not “part-time add-ons” like an external coach or consultant. The only exception, of course, is when you’ve been working with a team long enough that they’re trust and rapport.

Here are a few instances that come to mind for when you don’t need to ask permission:

  • You don’t need permission to act responsibly.
  • You don’t need permission to challenge the status quo (it may not feel “safe” to question, but you certainly don’t need permission)
  • You don’t need permission to do the right thing.
  • You don’t need permission to not answer emails in order to spend time with family.
  • You don’t need permission to do things important to you.
  • You don't need permission to stick up for yourself or somebody important to you.
  • You don’t need permission to give yourself a pat on the back.
  • You don’t need permission to change your mindset or alter your beliefs.
  • And you don’t need permission to escape blame, social judgment, or any other bullshit “performance standard” that holds you to a societal norm imposed by sheep.

You need permission to coach others because you certainly won’t be as effective without it. After all, people don’t resist change, they resist being changed. Get permission to change first, then change.

So, how do you do it? How do you pose a question to the team to spur reflection?  It's as simple as asking, “May I interject here?” when the team is arguing, in the middle of a pause or when there’s a “hiccup” in the team’s dynamics. If you’re a new coach or new to the team, stick to the task rather than going right for the jugular (ie emotion). The task is easily discernible; emotion can be but it’s also very personal in nature. Speak to the task first until you build enough rapport with the team to focus on underlying emotions.

The Takeaway: you become more influential by giving, not getting. The more you give away, the more influential you become.

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Every week I share news, articles and insights on mindset, leadership, and teams designed to help you grow as a person, as a team and as a company.


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