How to make team coaching truly deliver

Working with groups can be complex – but it can also lead to remarkable results

Most of us understand that coaching focuses on a specific goal and works through a supported process to deliver that goal faster than if you try to do it alone. Team coaching follows the same process, with the added complexity of dealing with the team dynamics and the challenges that communicating in groups always brings.

The coach will be looking out for the behaviours of the people in the team to understand their style – recognising those who are theorists and reflectors as they will be less willing to speak out (but could be thinking before speaking) and those who are pragmatists and activists who could dominate.

The emotional state of people with different styles differs greatly. All types of people can be anxious, some because they want to speak out, others because they don’t want to speak out. It is the non-verbal clues that the coach will be looking for. If some are allowed to dominate, we will not hear the experience, ideas and issues of everyone in the room. To move the team forward, each party needs their chance to speak out.

The coach needs to establish several things before they can proceed:

  • clarify the specific aspect of performance from the team that is not being achieved;
  • create a safe environment where people feel at ease to say what they really mean; and
  • recognise who will speak, who will not speak and who will dominate, managing things so that the balance of contributions is equal.

The coach will be aiming to establish a ‘state’ in the room that is calm, assertive, confident, constructive, inclusive, fair and focused. That is the coach’s talent. In this state, discussion can begin and is more likely to be useful.

Team coaching is very much a time when closed questions will be used alongside open questions, enabling the coach to check agreement and see who engages in the discussion.

One question that all parties need to agree on is: ‘Do you want your team to succeed? The responsibility for high performance in teams lies with each person knowing what needs to be achieved and making a personal commitment to being accountable for their actions.

Getting in the way of the team doing this for themselves is typically a mix of issues: hidden agendas, mistrust, rivalry, not feeling safe and lack of fairness. One technique I have used with success is to coach the team 1:1 a couple of times before bringing them into the team session. This way, the team trust me as individuals and have usually already shared their personal blockers. While I would never divulge who said what, I am able to draw on that knowledge to form questions that get to the core more quickly.

One thing the coach can be sure of is that there are hidden barriers. If there weren’t, the task would probably already have been completed. So understanding what is blocking each person from working with another and opening up a discussion to resolve them and spend time focusing on the output is where team coaching adds the value.

From experience, getting to agreement is more successful with an external coach. But whichever approach you take, I believe team coaching has the potential to be truly transformative – if you take the time to prepare thoroughly.

Penny Whitelock is the director of Crystal Clear Business Solutions