Talking Teams: The Coaching Agreement

09 June 2020
Caroline Sumners

Successful team coaching has three essential needs: to establish the scope of the work, how it is approached and the agreement itself.

Here we explore the second of our competencies from our Team Coaching Competency Framework; establishing and maintaining the Coaching Agreement.

The team coaching agreement covers three significant areas of negotiation:

  1. The scope of the work including reason for the team coaching, focus of the work, the desired change and any measures of effectiveness
  2. The team coaching approach including the format, number and frequency of any sessions, any diagnostics used and how the data will be reviewed
  3. The working agreement how the team, leader, coach and organisation will work together in service of the scope of the work. This will include confidentiality, boundaries, roles and responsibilities, administrative and logistical matters, as well as who leads on what and how opportunities and issues (and there are always some) will be addressed.

It is about establishing focus and a pathway forward according to the team’s needs and wants and the coach’s approach and capacity. It is useful to establish the team coaching agreement in two distinct ways: at the outset of any initial formal discussions and at the beginning of each team coaching session.

First, the coach identifies who exactly the client is and with whom the team coaching will be agreed, reviewed and updated. Clear agreement must be reached on the roles and responsibilities of both coach, team leader and any organisational stakeholders or sponsors. Aims, measurable outcomes, benchmarks, accountabilities, deadlines, fees, scheduling and work boundaries are clearly established, discussed and agreed. Mutually agreed expectations with the team’s leader and other stakeholders will engender both confidence and a healthy anticipation in the team coaching process.

Second, the coach clearly describes their own team coaching approach and any potential impact on the team. It is important to be crystal clear about what is and what is not being offered in order to avoid any misinterpretations.

Third, the coach explores fully what the team expects and needs from each session and ensures that realistic measures for success are agreed. As the value of the coaching is the co-responsibility of both coach and team, it is helpful for both to offer summative and formative feedback, checking in regularly with each other to determine that the coaching is continuing to serve the team’s purpose.

The coach must be prepared to change direction willingly and collaboratively based on the team’s progress and feedback, and the ever-changing context that most teams are operating in. Masterful coaches continually re-contract throughout the programme, thereby co-creating a series of ‘mini-contracts’ for each piece of work with the team. An example of this may be the coach exploring whether the team would benefit from improved decision-making and asking how the team would like to go about that and what they need from the coach to make that happen.

Finally, it is important to remember that Establishing and Maintaining the Coaching Agreement is part of Setting the Foundation for the team coaching. Through experience in my own practice and supervising many team coaches, I find that the roots of issues that hamper the effectiveness of team coaching assignments are often found in insufficient attention to this sensitive and complex competency. The coaching agreement provides the ground and the support for the rest of the work and it is therefore essential for team coaching success.