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7 June 2021


How to make the whole
greater than the sum
of its parts.

In my blogs to date, I have focused mainly on 1 to 1 coaching, but this month I am looking at team coaching. 

Many of the core coaching skills used for 1 to 1 coaching are the same as those required for team coaching, but with the added complexity of being one to many, rather than 1 to 1; including the challenges this brings and the approaches required to engage all team members and stakeholders.

So, what is team coaching and what is it trying to achieve?

Just as 1 to 1 coaching’s purpose is the delivery of high performing individuals, team coaching’s is to create high performing teams. 

In 1993, Katzenbach and Smith described high performing teams as: 

“A small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”

This definition of a high performing team has stood the test of time, probably because although many of the challenges that teams face have changed over the years, what makes a team great remains the same:

  • Clear and common objectives
  • Interdependency of team members
  • Regular reviews – “How are we doing as a team?”
  • Raised morale and alignment
  • Engaging key stakeholder groups
  • Constant learning

Katzenbach and Smith created a team performance curve to show the different teams that exist, from a working group to a high performing team, and where they sit on the performance/impact curve based on how well they deliver against the team criteria as above. 

Team coaching’s purpose is to facilitate a team’s journey up this curve to that of high performance.

Katzenbach and Smith

Katzenbach and Smith describe the five team states as follows:

Working group: This is not a team; it is a group of individuals whose outputs rely on the sum of “individual bests”. 

Pseudo team: The path to being a team rather than a working group often starts with conflict and if the team gets stuck in this stage, it can become a ‘Pseudo team’.

Potential team: It is moving in the right direction but hasn’t yet established collective accountability.

Real team: This is the heart of the model. It is the team where a small number of people with complementary skills are equally committed and hold themselves mutually accountable for a common purpose, goals and working approach. This is the minimum level that a project, programme or team leader needs to attain to ensure a successful outcome.

High-performance team: Performance impact does not stop with the real team. In some cases, it is reasonable to aim for a high performing team where members are deeply committed to one another’s personal development and success. 

So how does team coaching facilitate this journey to being a high-performance team?

The AoEC’s Systemic Team Coaching approach (in which I am qualified) involves five stages that a coach will facilitate the team through:

  • Scoping and agreement: Agreeing how the coach, team, team leader and sponsor are going to work together. Agreeing how confidentiality will work for the team and developing an understanding of the team’s purpose and objectives.
  • Inquiry and discovery: Carrying out 360 diagnostics on the team to collect input from the team and key stakeholder groups on how well the team understands its purpose and objectives, the relationships within the team and with key stakeholder groups and how well the team learns from its experiences.
  • Developing agenda: Reviewing the diagnostics with the team to identify its strengths and development areas, which then sets the agenda for the work the coach will do with the team.
  • Engagement and execution: Working through a series of team coaching sessions focusing on the development areas agreed. This may also be supported by 1 to 1 coaching with team members to support them individually to develop in parallel with the team development process.
  • Review: Evaluating how coaching has developed the team to better achieve its purpose. This may include a repeat of some of the 360 diagnostics to gain key stakeholder groups input into the review. 

It is the focus on the wider system (gained from key stakeholder groups feedback) that the team operates in, which gives this approach its name; Systemic Team Coaching. 

It is a sizeable commitment for an organisation to sign up for this approach, but the alternative is to risk having Working groups, Pseudo teams or Potential teams running the organisation’s key projects, or even the organisation itself!

We spend a lot of time on an individual’s performance and development. It makes good business sense to ensure that when individuals are working in a team we invest in its performance and development so that we can make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

As always, if there is anything in this blog you would like to discuss further, please get in touch.

From the author:

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