Coaching one-to-one is a very powerful way to help someone reflect upon issues that affect their performance and well-being. But just focusing on the individual and what is going on for them internally, is only part of the picture. All really effective coaching addresses not only the individual, but the systems, of which they are a part. Sustainable individual change can often only be achieved, if the systems around them also change to support and reinforce new behaviours, priorities and ways of thinking.
Research shows that individual performance is far more dependent on the team environment than had previously been thought. Moreover, high individual performance by one or more people in a team doesn’t necessarily lead to high performance overall – indeed, sometimes the opposite may be the case.
Team coaching has emerged in recent decades as a practical way to apply the principles of coaching to the team as a whole. It enables the team to:
- Develop a climate of psychological safety, conducive to collective learning. Team members learn to have open dialogue, to share concerns and fears and to work with constructive, empathetic challenge. As a result they build deeper levels of trust and higher quality of collaboration.
- Gain greater clarity, coherence and consistency around priorities – what’s most important for the team to achieve collectively. One of the signs that a team is successful in this is that individuals routinely put the team priorities ahead of their own personal task priorities.
- Better understand the processes that underlie how the team works, and identify ways to improve these. Team coaching helps the team question and validate its own assumptions, with the result that radically new ways of working frequently emerge
- Manage all three types of conflict (task, process and relationship) constructively – so that conflict becomes a driver of performance, rather than a barrier.
- Understand and value the contribution each member can make at their best, and how to support each other in creating circumstances, where they can play to their strengths
- Explore the team culture and help it evolve in line with changing environment, while still enabling everyone to retain their personal authenticity
- Increase the level of creativity and innovation
- Manage its reputation within and outside the organization
- Improve the effectiveness of communication, both between team members and with external stakeholders
- Have a stronger sense of shared purpose
- Become more resilient to setbacks
- Adjust its temporal orientation (achieving a better balance between attention to the past, present, near future and long-term future)
Because everyone in the team learns and reflects together, teams that embrace team coaching tend to demonstrate more focused, collective energy. As they learn together – and support each other’s learning – they can use real work issues to put the learning into practice, so embedding new skills. Typically, co-coaching becomes a routine activity.
Team coaching isn’t always transformational. Nor is it the answer for all team performance issues – if the team is actually just a bunch of people who work together, but have no desire for collective improvement, then the impact may be very limited. Equally, if the team leader does not accept that change involves him or her as well, team coaching isn’t necessarily a practical approach.
Where team coaching does frequently deliver the goods is when:
- A new team is being formed and needs to hit the ground running
- A key team is not working as effectively as it could, and the team leader and team members agree that they want to do better
- A long-established team has lost its sparkle and wants to regain it
- A top team wants to become a role model for the rest of the organisation
What team coaching can do in all these cases is to re-energise, refocus and create collective habits of success.