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Coaching a top team

Coaching now accounts for around 12% of the average learning and development budget and many organisations now have well established programmes. This is a testament to the outstanding results achievable and yet in spite of its popularity, coaching still tends to be positioned as a corrective intervention, something that a person requires as a ‘fix’.

Even for individuals, the more positively positioned the coaching, the greater its impact and this is especially true for investments in team coaching. Teams are working to deliver a shared purpose, so coaching a team provides its members with an opportunity to enhance existing skills, develop greater awareness, collectively learn and grow and ultimately, to achieve the group’s maximum potential.

According to Patrick Lencioni, the author of ‘Five Dysfunctions of a Team’, top performing teams have certain traits in common. They share a sense of humility and with this comes the ability to sustain positive conflict.  There is mutual trust between members and the common desire to become a learning team, reflecting on past actions and whether they could have been improved upon. All these traits require the team to accept a certain level of vulnerability, to be able to collectively question whether they are doing the right things and if they could be doing things better, all of which can be developed through team coaching.

From good to great

Identifying when to offer team coaching is not cut and dried, but there are some indicators to be mindful of. Firstly, it’s arguably human nature for well-established teams to become complacent – especially at the top of an organisation – in terms of what they are learning and how they push each other on. Through team coaching, established groups can un-learn what no longer serves them and accelerate learning new capabilities, not just individually but as a team. They also re-learn how to hold each other to account, individually and as a single entity and do so in a systemic way. The resulting ‘connectedness’ and ‘groundedness’ they develop gives them the capacity to avoid any associated ‘blindness’ to external issues that can set in and other common ‘CEO disease’ traps.

For HR leadership, it can be difficult to identify when to introduce team coaching. In many situations, there are no tell-tale signs that a team has ‘gone off the rails’ and rather than simply correcting existing dysfunction, team coaching provides the chance to take a good team and make it even better.

As a rule of thumb to identify where to focus efforts, if your organisation has transformation programmes underway (and a large proportion currently do), identify which teams are crucial to these efforts and support them with team coaching.  In addition to improving performance, this also creates an opportunity to use insights learned as L&D best practice models for elsewhere in the organisation.

Passion vs. objectivity

Commonly, an executive coach working with individuals is external to the organisation, but should team coaches be insourced? According to ICF research, a large proportion of team coaching is conducted internally, often by senior HR professionals within the organisation. From experience, the dilemma of whether to use an internal or external coach is not clear cut. Whereas some organisations believe their HR leaders are ideally placed to deliver team coaching, because they better understand the culture and values, there are many other aspects to consider too.  Internal coaches do bring knowledge of the system and a passion for the wider organisation, but they may lack objectivity and the legitimacy to critically challenge that an independent outsider will bring. Giving a team the opportunity to experience an external influence, with someone who is completely free of bias and corporate agenda, is really beneficial. Then at a later stage, once the team is able to self-manage, independently increase its learning capacity and take common responsibility for development, switching to an internal coach maintains the momentum. There is an arc of maturity development that happens over time.

Coaching a board or C-level team merits a slightly different approach and skill set to working with individuals and having an external coach from the outset, someone who has previously held P&L responsibility or faced many of the same challenges, is particularly valuable.  Although an internal coach may have the technical capabilities to coach an ‘ex-co’ team, they may lack relevant direct experience and be unable to ask the right questions. This issue may not arise when an internal coach is working with a less senior team.

Potential confidentiality breaches, or a conflict of interest, are other factors to consider when evaluating the merits of internal vs external team coaches at the highest levels in an organisation. It can be difficult to find a senior HR professional internally who can coach a top team without these issues getting in the way of achieving results. Finally, when dealing with top executives, there tends to be an expectation that the more senior the team needing coaching, the more they ‘deserve’ the inputs of an external coach.

Wider benefits for all

Overall, one of the best aspects of team coaching in terms of return on investment, is the ability it brings to widen access to the many benefits of coaching traditionally experienced by executives. Typically, coaching is reserved for a small number of highly privileged individuals. When broadened to teams, especially when done systemically across an organisation, it ultimately benefits a far greater number of people and is highly cost effective.

Just as a team delivers far more than the sum of its individual members, so team coaching has a greater impact on more people within an organisation beyond the immediate team. Individual coaching does benefit teams and the wider organisation in the long term, but focusing on a team is an approach that guarantees this by its very nature from the outset. Moreover, individual coaching of team members to support team coaching also becomes systemic as members are encouraged to identify strengths and developmental areas. This accelerates the capacity of the team to deliver its purpose.

Key commercial scenarios where team coaching delivers clear ROI

  • Navigating tough market conditions due to economic uncertainty
  • Developing new ways of thinking leading to greater innovation when profits are under pressure from challenger brands
  • Successfully leading change, overcoming resistance, decision-making inertia and indecision
  • Re-energising and refocusing long-standing teams to try new things
  • Resolving leadership and relationship challenges within an existing team
  • Re-balancing senior leadership to
  • focus on strategy rather than tactical details
  • Modelling best practice teamwork in the organisation for others to emulate
  • Supporting teams heading new initiatives or leading key change projects.

Author: Helen Battersby, Executive Coach

As a highly experienced global executive coach with more than 3000 hours of coaching experience over 12 years, Helen has over 20 years’ experience in global leadership roles (executive board level) with large multi-national manufacturing, sales and distribution organisations. She supports her clients with team coaching to develop their leadership potential so they can positively impact and inspire others. Notably, she held full P&L responsibility for a European holding company with a group turnover of 50 million euros. Helen has overseen acquisitions, building trust, setting common goals and growth strategies and has also formulated and implemented a recovery programme, successfully controlling spiralling overheads and implementing efficiency measures to increase profitability.

Further Reading

Related blog posts

Understanding the potential of Systemic Team Coaching

Team Coaching in action: International Consultancy learns to execute more strategically


About Aziz Corporate

Aziz was founded over 40 years ago by Khalid Aziz, a media pioneer of his day who at 21 became the youngest ever appointed BBC producer.

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