We are often asked “what makes a team”? or, “what is team coaching”. Answering these questions for ourselves is critically important to working as a team coach, as it provides the context for the next BIG question – what is the role of the team coach?
It is the topic that generates the most confusion, in my experience of training in team coaching for the last 7 years! I often ask participants to define each of a variety of roles including coach, facilitator, trainer, mentor, consultant and leader. This stimulates lively debate as the differences and similarities between each role is discussed, with many participants realising that they may be confusing or conflating the roles.
Why does this matter? Because when we are not clear on our role, we may find ourselves:
- unwittingly take on roles and tasks that are actually the team’s responsibility, eg. typing up notes of meetings, chairing meetings, recording actions and following up on progress
- hooked into doing more than we want or should for the team, eg. organising venues, preparing agendas and even performance management!
- consulting, advising or training the team how to increase performance rather than coaching the team to define and create this for themselves
- not trusting the coaching process and working too hard for results, which can actually impede sustainable results
- overly focusing on team performance and outputs, which is actually the role of the leader
Also, we may not actually be coaching, which is what we are offering!
When we look at some popular definitions of what team coaching is, for example; Peter Hawkins says, ‘Enabling a team to function at more than the sum of its parts by clarifying its mission and improving its external and internal relationships…”
It is easy to see how coaches can get pulled into the role of consultant, facilitator or trainer as we are providing a definition of success for the team rather than the team (ie. the ‘client’) defining success for themselves.
To really understand the role of the team coach, I suggest that we remind ourselves on the core competencies of coaching which include active listening, powerful questioning, and direct communication.
These are essentially competencies whereby the coach attends to the coaching process, enabling the client to focus on the content – their own goals, thinking, reflection, self-discovery and action. In the context of team coaching, I would add four new competencies which I have found to be crucial in team coaching:
- Providing Psychological Safety and Protection
- Modelling Effective Relating
- Stimulating Reflection
- Generating Effective Dialogue
If I were to summarise these competencies to define the role of the team coach, I would say it is to create the environment and provide the process by which the team thinks better, reflects better, has better dialogue and where team-awareness is raised. Ultimately, effective teamwork and relationships are what impacts the team’s performance the most and both are improved through reflection and dialogue.