Team coaching has proven to be one the most effective tools in clearing the roadblocks in the process of development of an integrated high-performing team.

When we refer to team coaching it is important to understand that our client is the team itself not the individual. The point here is that every member of the team receives equal treatment. This includes the team leader, the management member, the owner of the organization or any person that may be involved in the coaching process.

Once the team members are aware of the importance of equal treatment, the team is more open to changes and moves to the next level more easily.

A good team coach knows his team as the parents know their children. He/she knows when the child is tired, bored, sick or hungry and detects the development phase it is going through – whether this is the terrible teenager phase or a more mature level.

 

Team or Work Group?


There are lots of definitions of a team in the organizational context. People usually assume that they know the difference but in order to avoid any misinterpretations here are the key features of a team:

A team is an independent group of individuals who are mutually committed to achieve a common objective. The ideal number of team members is eight. If there are more there is a challenge of so called “social loafing”.

On the other hand, the performance of a work group is the sum of each group member’s individual contribution but it still does not need to be a team. What constitutes a time is more than a sum of its parts. The members of the team join their efforts with the view to reaching the objective of the team. The objective so accomplished and the results achieved are the team’s collective responsibility.

A team coach shadows his/her team for a couple of months. In the moment when a team coach is engaged changes within the organization are already under way and the difficulties with certain behaviours are by now present. The role of the team coach is to engage in a constructive dialogue, create safe environment and build up trust between the team members so they can talk to each other without holding anything back.

 

When is the right time for a team coach?


The following almost anecdotal short story indicates when the time is ripe for hiring a team coach:

“It was necessary to carry out an important task and Everybody thought that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it but Nobody wanted to. Somebody went ballistic because it was the job for Everybody. Yet, Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody understood that Somebody did not want to do it. Finally, Everybody blamed Somebody because Nobody did what Anybody could have done.”

The best time to introduce team coaching into the organization is the time when one or more events of the listed below occur:

 Merger & Acquisition

 Dysfunctional team

 Creation of a new team or inclusion of new team members

 Poor relationship between team members

 Appointment of a new team leader

 Teams that do not achieve the defined objectives

 Lack of safety and trust

 Disrespected team leader

 Policy issues within the organization.

Taking into account that team coaching deals with the team as an entity and not with a particular individual it is consequently more difficult to pin down the right moment to introduce a coach. In my experience, besides the time parameter there is another important challenge that must be faced at this stage and that is the relationship between the team, the sponsor and the coach (team-sponsor-coach triangle).

In the case of individual coaching there is as a rule one client. Still, it is equally important to introduce team coaching, where the team as a whole represents a client but consisting of many parts. Although the coaching process starts with individual interviews, it is crucial that every individual in the team receives equal treatment. This approach ensures the development of the team as a whole, facilitates participation, provides for communication structure, directs the team to its objective, defines values and identifies the key areas of development. The team coach is in charge of the balance between the tasks, behaviours and learning within the team. This can be compared with cooking a great meal. If only one ingredient is missing, the result is usually disappointing. The biggest peril for the coach is not to attach enough importance to learning, in other words, to what the individuals have learned about themselves, the team and the way they operate with respect to their tasks and behaviour.

 

Team coaching v. team building


Team building has been present in organizations for a longer time that team coaching and because of that the understanding of the differences between the two concepts can be misleading. A lot of trainers and business advisors that recently appeared due to the popularity of coaching also contributed to the misinterpretations. Last but not least, very often even certified coaches lack experience and find it difficult to adopt a non-suggestive style of work, which is a prerequisite for coaching. This often leads to a situation where a team coach assumes the role of the team leader.

The chart below indicates the main differences between the concepts of team coaching and team building:

 

Type of work Team coaching Team building
Duration Couple of months Shorter intervention
Working environment Formal Non-formal
Team size 10 persons max. Bigger groups possible
Focus Objective oriented Strengthening relationships
Held accountable Team members Trainer
Provider Usually external Internal
Process Varies accordingly Predefined content
Form Team Also work group
Assessment Deeper analysis Focused on performance
Results Not easily measured in short-term More easily measured

 

Working techniques


A team coach is often regarded as a so called “devil’s advocate” because he/she raises important questions and bounces them back. The questions like: “What are we exactly avoiding here?” or “Do I have your permission to name what has not been said?” are often heard the coaching table.

Putting good questions in the right moment is equally important as in the individual coaching and is one of the strongest tools of the team coach. In fact, a bigger part of tools and techniques is used in individual coaching. The latter affect both the processes and the result. Here we give you some technique examples:

 “The elephant in the room”: the members of the team tacitly agree at the conscious or even at the unconscious level not to include a particular member in the work of the team. In that way they make this member isolated from the work of the team because it is too difficult or too painful to deal with him/her. Usually, this is caused by the particular behavioural patterns or by the fear that otherwise the work dynamics would be distorted. In a number of cases it shows that exactly the person concerned may turn out to be the missing part in the operation of the team while the inclusion of the missing person causes a “switch” or a “breakthrough”.

 “Helicopter view”: Due to their full every-day agendas and piling tasks and short deadlines the members of the team often fail to see the “bigger picture” and cannot think strategically. This tool enables the members of the team to step back from the daily processes, to think long-term, to start doing tasks in a different way and to adopt some new approaches.

 “Team performance assessment”: The technique involves questionnaires that are more focused on the issues of the teams and less on the individuals. The coach processes the results and communicates them to the team. As a rule, this adequately provides the answer to the following question: Where is the team now and where does it want to be in the future?