The challenges of coaching a team: it’s all about dynamics
Gillian is co-author, with Ro Gorell, of 50 Top Tools for Coaching. In this article she explains that coaching a team draws on an entirely different set of skills to coaching an individual, and gives practical tips for facilitating and supporting teams to help them to reach their own successful outcomes.
Whilst it’s relatively straightforward to coach an individual, the politics, personalities and multiple preferences of a group of people make coaching a team a little different.
It’s not about leading the group or controlling it, therapy or training; the focus of team coaching is still to empower people to grow, develop and achieve.
Coaching, rather than controlling performance, increases how much an individual or group is invested in the outcome. Because innovation and creativity are more important to business growth and competition than ever, coaching is increasingly seen as an effective tool within the workplace, adding value to an employee’s worth. Team coaching, mainly due to budget and time/productivity constraints, is becoming more and more common. Managers and leaders are encouraged to develop their coaching skills to enhance the development of those they steer.
As we’ve stated, the outcome of a project is important, and it’s crucial everyone in the group understands why they’re working towards it. But are we paying enough attention to how they get there, and how they interact with the others in the team along the way?
Don’t avoid dealing with conflict
If conflicts are left to fester, they can affect the dynamics of the team and even threaten the success of the project. Facilitate the resolution of disputes quickly, so that small disagreements don’t escalate into full-blown rows. Diversity and people’s differences will always be there, and should be seen as a strength: the differing ideas and opinions help to solve problems and innovate solutions, the team benefits from the range of skills of its members, and healthy competition drives up standards. And coaching is a great tool that helps people understand how to work better with others.
As a coach, you can help people determine their strengths and weaknesses, and those of others, and help them use this information towards the end goal. The dynamics of a team places extroverts alongside introverts, where we should welcome the marriage of the former ‘selling their vision’ and the latter tempering the discussion with thoughtful analysis. Helping members of the team to understand each other may increase their tolerance, dissipate any incorrect assumptions, and offer insights into the behaviour of others that they wouldn’t otherwise make the effort to gain. Coaching can encourage individuals to help the whole group advance, not just themselves.
It’s still important for a coach to develop individuals’ skills and boost their development in a team situation; however, an extra dimension is helping them appreciate how their performance impacts the team. Because everyone is different, coaches need to recognise that learning preferences will vary. Coaching can help everyone understand the end goal, and encourage their investment towards it.
Help create processes and outlines
So that the team isn’t constantly focusing on bad behaviour, failures or mistakes, instigate the creation of processes that deal with problems effectively and enable everyone to move on. Again, coaches can help facilitate this, so that the team reaches its own conclusions using guiding questions. The coach shouldn’t be tempted to rectify things for the team.
A group will work more cohesively and effectively if they understand what’s expected of them. Coaches can help outline what’s expected, what’s acceptable and what’s not.
No journey is without its peaks and troughs. Be prepared for when the team’s productivity, morale or results waver, and have tools and techniques ready that will combat their fatigue. Help instil relevant skills, such as boosting their resilience, so that downturns don’t threaten the progress of the project. A coach’s enthusiasm can make all the difference, so practise your optimism and lead by example. Without a coach’s unwavering support and lucid objectivity, teams can flounder against obstacles.
Coaching a team of people is very different from managing them. Outcomes come from within the team, they are not directed from the outside. Coaches support and motivate so the project reaches its conclusion. Coaches have the experience, tools and techniques to help people work together and understand differences, strengths and weaknesses.
You can order 50 Top Tools for Coaching 3rd Edition at a 20% discount when you enter code 50TOP20T at the checkout on www.koganpage.com. This discount is valid until 31 October 2015