In recent years there has been a plethora of literature, models, tools, techniques and more recently training programs in “team coaching” by eminent academics, coaches and professionals. Four years ago Peters & Carr (2013) counted more than 130 published team coaching models.
It all makes for important and interesting learning, however much of the content, tools and techniques do seem to be a revitalization of vast amounts of past research, theories, models and tools from the disciplines of Humanist Psychology, Organisation and Human Resource Development, Leadership, Change Management, Performance Management and Group/Team systems theories and dynamics and Process Consulting to name a handful.
The interest in and employment of “team coaching” has increased in the last decade as organisations seek solutions in a faster paced and more uncertain world. However team coaching is evolving. As Hawkins (2014) suggests, team coaching is 30 years behind individual coaching in terms of common definitions, research and established training programs or accreditations.
My impetus for personal reflection on team coaching comes from my recent work with Coaches in Supervision who have increasingly shared their experiences, issues and challenges in their work with leaders and teams.
As a result of our Supervision I have reflected on my own career, past learnings and experience with groups and teams, at the time more commonly called “process consulting” or “change or performance management”. I explored the treasure trove of my work in organisations, reflecting on successes, mistakes and learnings and considered them in the context of the “team coach”. I have drawn some conclusions and identified suggestions as food for thought for aspiring “team coaches”.
There are many definitions of “team coaching”. However I still find it challenging to neatly differentiate between team coaching, process consulting or facilitation of team performance development. As David Clutterbuck (2007), says “Coaching generally is multifaceted, multidimensional and highly variable according to purpose and context. The provider of team coaching services may be better off seeking to understand the client’s needs and recommending an intervention accordingly, than spending too much time attempting to argue conceptual distinctions between different ways of working”.
In the same way how do we define a “team coach”? Whilst this is an area of ongoing research, some knowledge, skills and personal attributes of a team coach have been documented (Clutterbuck, 2018, Lawrence & Whyte, 2017, Jacox, 2016, Hawkins, 2014, Carter & Hawkins, P. 2013.)
I am in furious agreement with this literature, however, when considering work with organisations and teams there are some essential requirememts that I wish to highlight for the aspiring “team coach’ to consider
WHO ARE YOU AS A TEAM COACH?
Self- knowledge as a Coach is essential and even more important when working with teams. How do you personally operate in a group setting? What energises you or challenges you? How do you facilitate dialogue, ask powerful questions and not fall into the trap of advising? What are your talents and qualities to bring to this work? One essential quality is to be able to manage your own emotions, engage with others about theirs, particularly negative emotions, and to be able to challenge in a supportive manner.
This is particularly relevant to managing conflict in teams. Holding the space for the team and its members in its most vulnerable moments requires you to have confidence, courage and compassion first for yourself.
TENTACLES OF TRUST
An absolute essential is for you to have an unwavering belief in the capacity of individual team members and the team to create positive steps and move forward. Trust in the system is the key theme. Trust in your own process and in the team with you facilitating connectedness and trust within the team. This trust can spread like tentacles reaching and extending to clients, stakeholders and others in the wider system.
TEAM COACHABILITY OR NOT?
If we have coached individuals we may have all had experiences of a person who was simply not coachable at a certain time or at all? It is the same with a team. Your first misstep could be in deciding to take a team coaching assignment that is not right for you. The reasons for this are many and could be related to the organisation, leader, team age, stage, dynamic, functionality/dysfunctionality or it could be about your level of experience, expertise and readiness to manage the complexities of the assignment. Whilst we might want to be brave, take risks and expose ourselves to new challenges it may be better to walk away, dodge that bullet and keep your reputation intact.
Do your research well and trust your gut.
WORK WITH A PARTNER TO TEAM COACH
Work in pairs with another team coach wherever possible. When reflecting on my most enjoyable and successful contracts with organisations and teams I was often working with a fellow Consultant. Together we worked as a team, identifying our complementary strengths, planning and contracting with leaders, teams and other stakeholders who were or could impact or influence the team. Working and dialoguing with teams is a complex, often fast moving and rigorous space – it takes a lot of energy. In pairs you can share the load of leading, observing what’s working, potential hotspots, identifying nuances of relationship dynamics and importantly sharing and reflecting together post the days work and preparing for the next day. In addition we were able to work with our own Supervisors to review our work.
Clear contracting with all parties about the purpose and objectives of the team coaching is an essential competence of the team coach. This also means that there is “no set and forget” with contracting. My experiences illustrated that it is essential for a team coach to contract effectively and recontract with the sponsor and all others in the system at different stages. This may be when there is new information such as changing structures, functions and objectives, issues arising around roles and responsibilities, stakeholder relationships, changing team membership and therefore dynamics in team relationships. The aim of contracting being to maintain clear expectations, on the same page status, team practices and dynamics, stakeholder working relationships and professionalism in the team coaching process.
Keeping confidences when in private one to one conversations whether with leaders, team members or others in the system eg the unhappy stakeholder, takes strong awareness of dynamics, good judgment and interpersonal skill. People will sometimes view you as the independent and objective arbitrator, especially when contracting externally to the organisation and feel safe in sharing confidences with you and seeking advice about them and their situation.
It’s vital to get to know and understand the team as part of a broader system of clients, stakeholders and others, not just inward facing in working with the team The more you can encourage the team to broaden their view of team in an organisational context, the more effective they can be in delivering expected outcomes.
Finally, how do you stay fit for purpose as a team coach?
As working with a team requires more from a Coach than working with an individual I recommend that a team coach participate in one-to-one or group coaching supervision with an experienced Coach supervisor. A Coach Supervisor is an essential touchpoint and support for the team coach to be restoring themselves, learning from successes and mistakes and above all fit for purpose.
Executive Coach and Coach Supervisor
Carter, A. & Hawkins, P. (2013). Team Coaching. In J. Passmore, D.B. Peterson, & T. Freire
(Eds.), The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Coaching and Mentoring (pp.
175-194). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Clutterbuck, D. (2007). Coaching the team at work. London: Good News Press.
Clutterbuck, D. (2018). What makes a great team coach? LinkediN
Hawkins, P. (2014). Leadership team coaching in Practice. London, Philadelphia: Kogan
Jacox, W. (2016). What are the key qualities and skills of effective team coaches? Antioch University.
Peters, J. & Carr, C. (2013). Team effectiveness and team coaching literature review.
Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 6(2), 116-136.