How to coach & mentor your direct reports effectively and efficiently?

I feel like I’m not doing enough to coach my team members (10 of them) since I’m often occupied with other tasks that it’s hard to slot time. Any ideas on how to coach & mentor your direct reports effectively and efficiently?


Not to be glib here, but in complete seriousness: I think the answer lies in ‘not having 10 reports.

I’ve heard a joke somewhere that ‘having 10 direct reports is hard but having 11 is easy, because it’s impossible.


I have seen some interesting tools to help manage this process (from a friend who also has a lot of reports), but haven’t evaluated them or done a search yet.


Yeah I’ve met a lot of group PM’s who were tools (okay NOW I’m being glib :joy: ).


+1 to @Carlos. There’s a good line in Kim Scott’s book about good 1:1 time being a natural limiter on how many reports you should have. She settles on 5 based on wanting to spend 50 mins a week with everyone, you might have a different calculation, but I think the point is a useful one. ‘Time doesn’t scale, but it’s also vital to relationships. 1:1’s should be a natural bottleneck that determines how many direct reports a boss can have. I like to meet with each person who works directly for me for fifty minutes a week. But I can’t bear more than about five hours of 1:1 time in my calendar. Listening is hard work, and I don’t have an endless capacity for it every day. So I like to limit myself to five direct reports.’


I can think of no better use of time than coaching your team of 10. In my field )Sales management) when a salesperson moves to a leadership role their job becomes “creating 10-15 highly motivated, quota beating salespeople” everything else is in service or secondary to that. You’ll need to clear out your calendar and IC responsibilities, perhaps by delegating some to your team?


Not like I’m an expert but I think sales is an outlier in terms of manager <> IC ratios and I’m assuming Timothy is managing a mix of PMs/designers given the nature of the group, and I’ve never met a product person who thought they were doing a good job directing 10 PMs. That’s a minimum of 5 hours of (too short) 1-1’s a week + prep and action items for each? + 10 different workstreams to monitor and engage with?


Check out Petra Wille’s book Strong Product People. It has some great tips on how to coach and grow your team. We did an event with her late last year that you might find interesting to check out. That you are aware of this gap is a great sign of your leadership already, but also agree that 10+ reports isn’t manageable long-term and maybe there are opportunities for you to develop others into leaders.


I strongly agree with @Carlos that 10 directs is too many to be able to successfully allocate time to each, and I have felt that pain myself.

@CarolynMiles, what are other details of the team you can tell us about? e.g., are they all product folks, some product some design, etc.? Is there any natural grouping or partnering of junior and senior team members?


100% sales definitely an outlier here. However, being able to handle large numbers of direct reports is an important skill at startups. Have seen leaders who do this well take over entire departments when needed.


10 is a lot. Do they vary in experience and expertise? Can you coach the senior team members and have them coach the more junior folks?
If so, just be cautious about who you pair and why. Some seniors might not be ready to coach and others might not want to. Maybe experiment with a single pairing and see how it goes.


While I agree that less reports is best, I have been a couple of times in situations in which I found myself with 10+ direct reports and not a lot I could do to reduce that number in the short term - e.g. I am often called in to clean up some mess, in organizations where bad things happened and with the understanding it will take 6-9 months to go back to stability.
What I’ve done is to explain very transparently what the situation is to those individuals. I then try to understand their individual needs - some people want coaching (they know where they are going but they can’t get there themselves), some need mentoring/advice, some just want validation that they are doing the right things, etc. I then try to find ways to satisfy those needs, and that doesn’t necessarily mean I am doing all the work - I can find internal or external people to support, establish routines that don’t make me a bottleneck, etc. I am still responsible for ensuring something is happening, and to track how things are going, which helps me build trust with those people, but I don’t try to be hands-on with everyone.
There is a book by Gartner, “The Connector Manager” that builds on this concept, and provides some resources. Worth check it out if you feel stuck with your 10 reports.

1 Like

Hey there–Apologies for not clarifying a few things earlier. My 10 reports are not in product, but sales. Long story short is I’m building a company and we needed to hire a lots of sales people to keep up with demand, and I do believe we made a few errors in hiring way too fast. I did most of the sales myself earlier on but now have become occupied with other matters like fundraising, product, etc. Looking back, I should’ve managed the transition better by hiring an experienced Sales Manager, instead of hiring junior sales people and installing myself as their manager.

This topic was automatically closed 180 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.