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What is Team Coaching? and why competencies are so important

14 July 2021
Georgina Woudstra

In today’s business environment, many leaders have experienced one-to-one coaching. Organisations that sponsor executive coaching know what a coaching programme looks like, and some even prescribe an approach and expect leaders and their coaches to adopt this. Coaching is a mature profession, and nowadays, there is a whole body of knowledge and experience pointing to what good coaching looks like.

Team coaching, however, is a much younger discipline, and few coaches really know what it is. So how can potential clients really know what to expect or need from team coaching? While many clients will have attended facilitated workshops or team development sessions, most have not experienced real team coaching.

But, before I get to a definition of team coaching, it might be helpful to look at what, in my book, team coaching is not.

1. It is not facilitation

I discovered this the hard way. About 20 years ago, a CEO I was coaching asked whether I could work with his team. I thought this would be an exciting new challenge, so I agreed.

I began running awaydays, mainly focused on helping team members to get to know each other better so that they could develop the mutual trust and respect on which all good teamwork depends. We crafted a statement defining the team’s purpose and developed a team charter determining how they would work together.

I mostly got great feedback, which was obviously gratifying, but so often, these successful awaydays proved only a short-term fix. A few months later, most teams had reverted to business as usual.

I realised that I hadn’t been coaching teams at all. I had slipped into a very different role: that of facilitator – the setter-up of awayday events, the person who made sure the whiteboard was clean and that there were enough pads and pencils to go round. I had fallen into facilitating teams when I needed to understand how to coach them. This was one of the most important realisations of my career, and I have spent the last two decades working it out.

2. It is not training

A trainer is responsible for developing people’s skills, delivering a set of teaching concepts with learning outcomes, and sharing strategies, tools and techniques. Even if they observe the dynamics of a team, a trainer doesn’t work with them in any meaningful way.

3. It is not consultancy

A consultant is usually an external expert who analyses, diagnoses advises, solves problems and submits reports and recommendations. They do not coach individuals or teams.

OK, so what is team coaching?

At Team Coaching Studio, we believe that our definition of team coaching provides sufficient flexibility to embrace different approaches while working to the client’s agenda (i.e., the team) and honouring the principles and beliefs that underpin the coaching profession:

Partnering with a team to unleash its collective power, purpose and potential to connect and collaborate.

Team coaching is about creating spaces where teams can connect, think and rewire how they work together. It’s not something you do to a team; it’s something you do with a team. You must develop the approach within yourself, and model it for others, to be effective in applying it to teams. Team coaching is about slowing the team down in order to actually speed it up. It’s about going beyond pre-planned agendas, tools and techniques into the process of what psychiatrist Fritz Perls called ‘safe emergence’. To do this, you must be able to create a safe-enough container to meet every moment and work emergently with the team in service of learning in the here-and-now – just as you would in one-to-one coaching.

It’s important to add that team coaching is not for the fainthearted. Working with a team during an awayday to shape a new vision or craft their strategy can take skilful facilitation, but penetrating the surface of team dynamics, politics and power – the barriers to successful collaboration – takes real team coaching. It’s challenging and unpredictable and you can’t control the outcome. It can take you to the edge of your capacity, to the limits of your courage and into the depths of your vulnerability.

Team coaching competencies

Team coaching is far more complex than individual one-to-one coaching because each team member arrives with different thoughts, feelings, energy and history. Therefore, it becomes even more important for a team coach to act in accordance with core competencies on their journey to mastery. With this in mind, we have designed a set of 12 team coaching competencies that radiate out from the hub of the TCS Team Coaching Wheel. The wheel goes beyond competencies to higher-order meta-skills that serve as a methodology for change. At the heart of the wheel is the team coaching mindset – our philosophy, or set of principles, and our stance, which is how we act on these beliefs. These competencies have evolved over the course of 10 years, and are in alignment with the International Coaching Federation’s team coaching competencies, which were published in 2020.

The TCS core competencies are arranged in five clusters, as follows:

Setting the foundation

  1. Meeting ethical guidelines and professional standards
  2. Establishing and maintaining the coaching agreement

Co-creating the relationship

  1. Building psychological safety and trust
  2. Modelling effective relating

Fostering effective communication

  1. Active listening
  2. Powerful questioning
  3. Direct communication

Working with systems and dynamics

  1. Focusing on relationships in the system
  2. Engaging with the wider context and stakeholder expectations
  3. Working with power and authority

Facilitating learning and growth

  1. Creating awareness
  2. Generating results

These competencies provide a set of basic criteria that are necessary for the standardised measurement of excellence in team coaching. We believe that they are a primary starting point from which team coaching mastery can grow and develop. From here, we can work towards the development of team coaches around the world, consistently improving how teams work and collaborate together and driving change around the planet.

In future articles, I will be delving deeper into each of the 12 competencies as well as the TCS meta-skills