Team coaching: team work

Coaching is usually thought of as a one-to-one activity. But that could be about to change with the advent of team coaching.

Team coaching is tipped to be one of the next big coaching developments. “It’s the next wave of coaching intervention,” says Ian Hunter, executive coach and founding partner of independent business advisers Orion Partners.

He is the co-author of the recently published book Seven Steps of Executive Coaching (Thorogood, £12.99), which identifies two factors for growth.

“Organisations that might have bought into outdoor training in the past are looking at fresh ways to engage with teams,” he says. “And people who have had one-to-one coaching themselves, and find it beneficial, are now looking to apply it to teams.”

The added appeal of coaching in a team context is that it can be a handy just-in-time intervention. A fast pace of organisational change means that teams need to be recruited and disbanded quickly, so coaching can be deployed to shape and drive the team.

Coaching champion

This approach works for Jaguar and Land Rover, according to its training and development manager Peter Wall, who is an internal coaching champion.

Wall can be used as a coach on a long-term basis for project teams. “But I’ve also been called on to offer ‘instant coaching’ in the coffee break for project development groups,” he says.

However, before any organisation looks to implement team coaching, it should check terminology and preconceptions. “Be clear that you are looking to coach a team, not a disparate group of people,” says Jeff Delay, senior consultant in leadership and management at training provider The Matchett Group.

“Always check for the team and their managers’ understanding of the word ‘team’. Just because people are working together, doesn’t necessarily mean they are a team. Broadly, it can be described as either a group of people with a collective goal, or people who work together and are interdependent on each other for success,” he explains.

It seems that just as coaching has sought to define itself over the past five years, so team coaching is still lacking a common identity.

“People are muddled between teambuilding, team coaching and team facilitation,” says David Clutterbuck, visiting professor in coaching and mentoring at Sheffield Hallam University, and co-founder of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council. “Teambuilding is about bringing people together,” he says. “Team facilitation is process consultancy and supporting the team to make the process easier. Team coaching is about giving greater insight into teams with the aim of improving performance and building capability.”

Team growth

In this context, coaching is about helping the team to grow so the workers have the ability to do things for themselves. The team must also develop a collective ability to learn for itself and share learning and knowledge. These are tough expectations.

Clutterbuck says any team coach must be able to deal with the different dynamics and appropriate timings of openness and disclosure. Company culture and the origins of the team also have to be taken into account. “The reasons why teams are together should not be allowed to dictate their progress,” he says.

“People usually bring in coaching for new projects that they don’t want to go wrong, or which have gone wrong and need to be pulled together.”

Also, some people might be part of more than one team, which means loyalties can be divided. It is up to the coach to pull the team away from these backgrounds.

“Some of the fundamentals of team coaching include looking at group accountabilities and doing things together,” says David Sole, head of leadership development at consultancy Whitehead Mann.

“We are not in the business of prescribing things, but they have to discuss how to work as a team and not delegate. They need to decide on a charter for how they operate.”

As with all forms of coaching, it is crucial to establish goals early on. And this is where the tension arises – the team has been formed to meet business objectives and its success will be measured by these. But, as Sole says, it has to talk about some of the learning goals as well as the performance goals.

Background research

Organisations that commission team coaching have to be aware that the coach must do a lot of work beforehand to understand the team. This could include using team psychometrics, such as the Belbin indicator, as the coach has to understand or work with an average of eight people.

“The principles of coaching are magnified,” says Sole. “It can be like running eight coaching sessions simultaneously.”

The design of the coaching sessions is crucial, says Ian Hunter, who advises a combination of group and individual activity.

“The individual sessions are used to complement the group activity by reinforcing learning and allowing time for individual development of core skills and behaviours,” he says, pointing out that as well as using individual coaching to complement group activity, the whole group is coached together.

There is an argument that the best use of team coaching is when it is attached to one-to-one executive coaching. Sole says this can enable the funding organisation to reap great rewards.

He says there will be issues of confidentiality if a coach is hearing frustrations from both the team and a senior executive who might have commissioned their formation. Coaches in these situations must guard their integrity.

“A coach can change both sides of the relationship,” says Sole. “The impact can be significant.”

Case study: Jaguar and Land Rover

Team coaching is a three-dimensional process at Jaguar and Land Rover, says education, training and development manager Peter Wall.

“I work on three levels when I’m coaching with a team,” he says. “First, with the leader of the team on personal effectiveness and impact. Second, on collective leadership – the whole team itself – coaching them on their relationships and effectiveness. And last, if needed, I work with individuals who may have to change their approach if the team is to move forward.”

Wall put this approach into play with the launch team for a new Land Rover product, which he coached over a six-month period.

He first established what the project leader was looking for, and “what success would look like”. They concluded that it was about how the leader behaved and how the project progressed.

The business criteria for a successful new product launch were already in place, having been set by Land Rover, and Wall says that this helps makes the coaching relevant and seamless. “Our approach means that we know what we are driven by, and any intervention is focused on the business need,” he says.

Wall says that the coaching process for this team was intense at the beginning, when he had specific one-to-one meetings with the team leader and some team workshops with the team as a whole, but that it is important to get into a “normal” working pattern as soon as possible.

He is concerned with keeping the coaching rooted in real-life situations. Wall ran team development workshops that were based on a real business topic of direct relevance to their work.

“So if the team wanted to work on team effectiveness, I’d observe them doing some real work and then help them to understand what they learned from that.”

Throughout any team coaching process, it is essential to stress the integrity of the coach.

“Every member of the team has to believe you are there for their collective benefit and that there are no alliances,” he says. “I know I have achieved success when they don’t need me so much. They start making their own process interventions and coaching themselves.”

How to work as a team coach

Peter Wall’s top five internal team coaching tips:

  1. Keep your distance and avoid taking on tasks – you cannot objectively help the team if you get sucked too far into their world.
  2. Remain impartial – avoid taking sides or building alliances with individuals at the expense of others.
  3. Make it real – work on genuine issues/work problems rather than discussing hypothetical situations.
  4. Establish rapport and trust with individual members. If they respect the coach for what they’re trying to achieve, then they are more than halfway there.
  5. Strike a balance between support and challenge – it’s important the team feels you are ‘on their side’, but your willingness to challenge and bring difficult issues into the open will make all the difference in the end.

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