Team Coaching: Clarity or Confusion

Written by Dr. Kelly Whelan

Dr. Whelan is the Founder and CEO of Belem LLC. She specializes in partnering, empowering, and positioning executive leaders and teams for success by helping them design strategies that create stakeholder impact.

May 5, 2023

I admit it!

I was wrong, and you may be too!

Working with teams and team coaching may not be what you think.

In fact, as a professional coach, I thought I knew what a team was and what the practice of team coaching entailed. This all changed when I stepped into a foundations team coaching certification followed by a team coach Practitioner certification program with Professors David Clutterbuck, Peter Hawkins and their global faculty. I began to see there is more to team coaching than what meets the eye.

Although my company provides team development through various modalities as part of our services, systemic team coaching using a stakeholder lens and complex adaptive systems coaching (aka stepping into the chaos) in full measure exceeds what I had previously delivered. How I offered team development and what I thought was team coaching needed to be corrected. I was naive. Naive to believe that what I knew was enough and that what or how I contracted with teams was enough. For some professional coaches, it may be. But for me, someone who always seeks to bring a heightened level of excellence to those I serve, what I knew wasn’t enough. For some professional coaches, it may be. But for me, someone who always seeks to bring a heightened level of excellence to those I serve, what I knew wasn’t enough.

Are Coaches Failing their Teams?

Since 2020, I’ve realized that without [true] team coaching engagements, many teams will fail to reach elevated confidence in providing value and transformational impact for their stakeholders. When teams fail, stakeholders suffer. When stakeholders suffer, organizations falter. This progression is a domino effect that never ends well.

Researchers and trained team coaches view team coaching through a holistic lens. In team coaching, the sponsor, if there is a sponsor, and the team is the client rather than any one individual. According to the research of Clutterbuck and Hawkins, team coaching has a systemic lens where there are interactions with team members and stakeholders. Team coaching is a collective performance where team members co-create for stakeholder impact.

Hint: Even if you are an individual coach, striving to make stakeholder connections is key.

Are Teams and Groups the Same?

When two or more are gathered, use to be my idea of a team. It could be yours too. As a coach or coaching leader, it’s essential to go beyond that thinking.

A team must rally around a common purpose, commit to shared values, and a way forward; otherwise, it’s not a team! Many times “teams” are simply assembling without intention. They’re coming together with their individual agendas front and center, with the only objective is to be sure “their” work is completed. These “teams” don’t have shared accountability or shared values because they have never agreed upon them as a team. And as for a common purpose? If I told you how many teams are utilizing their organization’s purpose for their team purpose, I would lose count.

These could be teams don’t necessarily chart a way forward; they just continue to meet, thinking they will miraculously create an impact. When individuals assemble in this fashion, they are a group, not a team.

Just because people are assembling does not mean that they are a team!

There is a difference between groups and teams. Yes, they both include more than one person, but the two have distinct differences. You can think of the two as siblings with similar characteristics but distinct differences. Check out Dr. Wiater’s article, Team Coaching: A Complexity to view my table of coaching differences.

Putting It All Together

A team is more than one person; although two can be considered a team, most teams land between 6-12 leaders. Can there be more or less? Yes. However, the more voices in the room, the trickier it can be for the team’s effectiveness. This is not to say that a 10+ team cannot be effective. It just means the team will have to work harder to become a united, collaborative learning engine so they can produce effectively.

Researchers, including me, continue to poke and prod the definition of a team and team coaching. As you read the following, think of the teams in your organization and ask yourself if this aligns:

A collection of individuals who rally around a collective purpose and common goal. They are guided by shared values, embrace team learning and mutual accountability so together, they create confidence, high-value, and transformational impact for their stakeholders.

How did you make out?

Are your teams aligned with my working definition?

Somewhat aligned?

Not aligned at all?

As with anything, the more I learn, the more my working definition is crafted. That said, knowing what a team is will help you as a coach and/or leader of a team exist more fully.

Coaching Forward

There’s a saying in team coaching; the team purpose defines the team. Before a team can be effective, it must first define its identity as a collective body. While most team members understand they are part of a collective experience, they must also understand the depth to which a confident, high-value, transformational impact (CVTI) team is defined.

If you’re a 1:1 coach, how are you differentiating yourself in the cluttered coaching space? Moving from 1:1 coaching to team coaching is something to consider for those looking to elevate their coaching skills and what you deliver to your clients. If you are looking for additional training to up your game as a coach and be able to serve more individuals at one time, a team coaching certification may be your next step. Entering into team coaching does take a leap of faith. As messy as working with teams is, a spiritual component takes place each time I step into the mess. With the Holy Spirit guidance, you, too, can bring your gifts and talents to leaders, teams, and organizations as you serve through team coaching.

What do you think? Leave me a comment below.

*originally published in Christian Coaching Magazine 

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