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. Team coaching 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. Team coaching 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. Team coaching 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 is not something you do to a team; it is something you do with a team. You must develop the approach within yourself and model it for others to effectively apply it to teams.
Coaching a team is often initially slower than facilitating a team, but the gains far outweigh the investment of time. Team coaching is about slowing the team down in order to actually speed it up.
Team coaching is 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.
A note of caution
It’s important to add that team coaching is not for the faint-hearted. 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, power – the barriers to successful collaboration – takes real team coaching. It is 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. To be a great team coach requires that you work on yourself and your capacity to create a strong enough container for the work, to sit in the fire when the heat rises and to use yourself as an instrument of awareness, choice and change; this is where the magic lies.
Mastery as a team coach is achieved when these skills are in the bones, guiding your every thought and move. Team coaching becomes a unique expression of you and a practice that is truly congruent with who you are.
But the value of this bravery on the part of the team coach can be seen in the measurable impact of their interventions.
After all, the future of organisations is in the hands of teams, and team coaches are the key to turning up the dial of collaboration, which is the primary driver of team performance.
In future blogs, I will be exploring the role of the team coach and the team coaching journey in more detail.