Do you have a colleague who is consistently producing poor quality work that impacts your ability to complete your work? Have you tried teaching them where the mistakes are and offering suggestions for how to ensure they don’t creep into the next project, only to find yourself in the same situation next time around? What if you’ve mastered your emotions by reading my previous post and want to help this colleague improve, yet their apparently carefree attitude makes them seem completely uninterested? This post will share some ways of coaching your un-coachable colleague when you’re not their boss.

Idea 1: Start small!

Don’t try to teach your colleague everything all at once. Chances are they will resent this and immediately clam up, become defensive or just completely ignore your advice.

Instead pick one thing that you think should be easy for them to learn, and will have a reasonably big impact on the quality of their work.

Now try dropping some hints on how to improve this one thing using the other ideas below.

Idea 2: Treat it like a side project experiment

Don’t invest yourself too heavily in coaching your un-coachable colleague. Instead, think of it as a management experiment for when you’ve got some troublesome employees or you need to influence a senior stakeholder to change their ways by managing up. What are some tactics you see other managers using to influence or convince their peers?

Idea 3: Make it about ideas that improve things for them, rather than criticism or pointing out mistakes

Before you speak to your colleague think about what’s in it for them. How will they benefit from making certain changes? Then when you speak with your colleague you can focus on these points. For example: If you structure the documentation of this feature as a contents page that links to a detailed child page for each area, it’ll be much easier to maintain than having it all on one page. It’ll save you time finding things and making changes when needed. It’ll also be much quicker to write because you can reuse the modular pages you created.

Idea 4: Lead them to come up with the idea themselves

Imagine you are teaching someone to play football, or you could be teaching them to play chess! If you simply annihilate them in a couple of minutes do you think they’ll feel like they want to learn anything about football anymore? On the other hand if you play hard but not too hard and you let them win, they’ll be really pleased with their progress and be eager to learn more.

Similarly if you let your colleague win by coming up with the idea themselves, they’ll feel encouraged to keep going at it. How to actually accomplish this in a work setting is trickier. Perhaps you could pose questions to try to get your colleague thinking on the right track. For example: How can you make sure that if you need to change something in your documentation, you only need to change it in one place and don’t have to go searching through pages of words to find all the places that might be affected by the change?

Idea 5: Can you understand what makes it hard for them and take away environmental frictions?

Setting up your environment to reduce friction that makes you procrastinate is a great way of making it much more likely that you follow through with things. For example if you prepare a healthy sandwich at night, you’ll be much more likely to take that with you to work and avoid unhealthy fast foods. This is because you’ve eliminated the environmental friction of having to prepare the sandwich in the morning before you go to work.

If you can figure out what these frictions are in your colleague’s environment and you can eliminate them, then your colleague will also take the path of least resistance and ultimately produce better quality work.

Think about what could be contributing to your colleague taking the quick fix route that ends up in poor quality work which slows you down when it comes time to complete your tasks. Are there any tweaks you could make to the work environment? Is there anything upstream of your colleague that you can influence such that there’s less resistance to your colleague producing high quality work?

What tactics and strategies do you use when you need to coach someone who doesn’t report to you?