What is Team Coaching?
The time is right for team coaching. In the past, much coaching focused on the individual and how they showed up for success. Given the complexity of our volatile and uncertain times, most work in organisations is now done in teams. This has increasingly placed collective contribution at the heart of organisational performance. There is a resulting shift in focus from the ‘me’ to the ‘we’. Coaching is following suit with team coaching widely seen as the ‘next frontier' for coaching.
As a new and evolving field, using a single lens to define and explore ‘team coaching’ feels limiting to the Teamery team. We find a wide-angle and integrated view on team coaching more useful, taking our lead from a range of academics, researchers and practitioners in this emerging (and sometimes messy!) area.
Let’s step back for a moment and start by exploring what is meant by ‘team’.
Defined by Katzenbach and Smith - teaming icons – a ‘team’ is:
‘a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Thornton builds on this his emphasis on teams having ‘an explicit shared purpose and/or task, usually in a broader organisational context’. Finally, Kozlowski and Ilgen suggest that a team ‘ include two or more individuals who possess one or more common goals, exhibit interdependencies and encompassing organisational system with boundaries and linkages to the broader system context and task environment’.
What stands out for us – as a team ourselves – is the focus on:
A small number of people
A common purpose
A complementary set of skills but interdependent in delivering on performance goals
For which they are mutually accountable
With boundaries between and linkages to a broader system.
With a shared understanding of what we mean by ‘team’, we now turn to what constitutes ‘team coaching’. Here are a range of perspectives, similar in many ways and divergent in others.
Team coaching is:
‘Partnering in a co-creative and reflective process with a team and its dynamics and relationships in a way that inspires them to maximise their abilities and potential in order to reach their common purpose and shared goals’ The International Coaching Federation, 2020.
‘Helping the team improve performance, and the processes through which performance is achieved, through reflection and dialogue.’ David Clutterbuck, 2007.
‘Enabling a team to function at more than the sum of its parts, by clarifying its mission and improving its internal and external relationships It is different therefore from coaching team leaders on how to lead their teams or coaching individuals in a group setting’. Peter Hawkins and Nick Smith, 2014.
‘Team coaching helps teams work together, with others and within their wider environment, to create lasting change by developing safe and trusting relationships, better ways of working and new thinking, so that they maximise their collective potential, purpose and performance goals’. Paul J Barbour and Lucy Widdowson, 2020.
‘Partnering with a team to unleash its collective power, purpose and potential to connect and collaborate’. Georgina Woudstra, 2021.
From a Teamery perspective, Elaine Seale McKend comments that what resonates most with her is the:
consideration of relationships
new thinking and
collaborative nature of teams seeking to get the best out of themselves in the collective in delivery of a common goal/s/purpose/vision.
Adding to this, Teamery’s Kerrin Miller reflects on how these team coaching explainers implicitly also point to what team coaching is not. Team coaching is distinct from team building, team training or team process facilitation. It is a longer and deeper experience, not focused on delivering content or helping the team complete a specific task; but rather focused on how the team works together. Importantly it is centred on building the team’s collective connection and cohesion to deliver an output that exceeds what would be possible working individually. Kerrin mentions she often talks to teams about them ‘building muscle’ by not simply working ‘in the team’; but creating a team coaching rhythm to work ‘on the team’.
Teamery’s Kirstie McFarlane highlights the divergence from one-to-one coaching into team-focused coaching. She emphasises team coaching as a means to quickly and significantly unlock organisational performance in its focus on building and strengthening the interconnections within organisations. She notices the systemic approach underpinning team coaching and its natural and organic inclusion of multiple stakeholder viewpoints. These are represented by both the diverse team members in their different and complementary roles or functional areas; and the internal and external stakeholders they collectively serve.
Teamery’s Karen Gubb suggests that in a post-pandemic world, teams must be agile in their approach in order to quickly change direction, adapt and learn from failure and success. Sometimes there is no right answer but there is a need for ‘chaotic’ timely solutions that work for the present. She notices that both co-authors Paul J Barbour / Lucy Widdowson and Georgina Woudstra’s books on team coaching were launched (virtually, via Zoom) in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. This is apt given that team coaching benefits teams not only in delivering better business results but also in building collaborative, resilient, and sustainable teams. Karen adds that team coaching maximises collaborative effort by focusing on team strengths and deepening understanding. It can be used at any point where there is a need for a team to grow, change or adapt.
How then does Teamery explain ‘what team coaching is’.
Simply, we see team coaching as ‘partnering to build better teams’.
Whilst we bring decades of research, insight and experience in defining the elements and levers of high functioning teams, what ‘better’ looks like is largely defined by our clients. We spend significant time partnering with our clients to articulate both their aspirations and measures of success. We walk shoulder to shoulder with them, exploring, noticing, surfacing, supporting and challenging. We meet them where they are and step into their world with the assumption that they are resourceful and creative and contain the solutions to their own challenges. We see our role as co-creators, able to build new ways of looking at old problems and unblock blockages in the team system.
This results in teams that are collectively better than they were before - more than a sum of their parts, connected, productive, in flow, instinctive, consistent, curious, learning and iterating, cohesive, questioning, inclusive, collaborative, positive, hopeful, stretching themselves beyond their current levels, seeking difference and divergence, having brave conversations about difficult topics, future-focused, innovative, purpose-driven and in collective service of their multiple stakeholders.