Are you really a team? You may be surprised!

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.

September 19, 2020


I admit it! I was wrong, and you may be too!

Teams and team coaching isn’t what you may think.

In fact, as a professional coach, I too thought I knew what a team was AND what the practice of team coaching entailed, until… I stepped into the Global Team Coaching Institute’s Team Coaching certification program. It was here where I began to see there is more than what meets the eye.

Although I provide team coaching as part of my services, team coaching in the full measure reaches beyond what I had previously delivered. How I provided team coaching wasn’t wrong. What was wrong is that I was negligent. Negligent in thinking that what I knew was enough. For some professional coaches, it may be. But for me, someone who always seeks to up my game so I can provide my best to those I serve, what I knew wasn’t enough.

Over the last year I’ve come to the realization that without [true] team coaching engagements, many teams will fail.  When teams fail, stakeholders suffer. When stakeholders suffer, organizations falter. This progression is a domino effect that ends badly.


Defining Differences

What’s a team anyway?

Researchers continue to poke and prod the definition of a team. As you read the following, think of the teams in your organization.

“A small number of people with complimentary skills, who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach, for which they themselves are mutually accountable.” John Katzenbach (1994)

“A group of people, who are interdependent with respect to information, resources, and skills, and who seek to combine their efforts to achieve a common goal.” Leah Thompson (2000)

“A collection of individuals who rally around a collective purpose and common goal. They are guided by shared values and embrace mutual accountability so that they create impact for their stakeholders.” Dr. Kelly Whelan (2020)

Just because people are assembling together does not mean that they are a team! When you assess your “team” do the definitions align? If not, your “team” may be a group.

There is a difference between groups and teams. Yes, they both include more than one person, but there are distinct differences between the two. You can think of the two as siblings with similar characteristics, but also have distinct differences.


Many “work groups” call themselves a “team” but aren’t performing or producing as one! 


Below are examples of group and team distinction.




Individuals assembling with other individuals as a group during a designated time Collective body regardless of if they are together or apart- they are a structured unit
Individual development Development as a unit
Individual goals and values Shared significance:

Common goals

Shared values

Collective purpose

Connecting as an individual Interconnectedness and dependence,working as part of a system
“I” focused

Individual accountability

“We” focused

Individual and mutual accountability


Do you notice the differences?

Think of it this way. Have you ever taken part in a master mind group or group coaching? Each individual comes to the group with their own agenda, individual values and holds themself accountable. The mastermind is facilitated by an individual or the group by a professional coach. The participants may value the input of the other group members, but they are not working together toward a common goal. Instead, the goal they seek is individualized.

To the contrary…


Teams work collectively to achieve an established shared goal. They have a common purpose and regardless of where they assemble, they are always a collective body.


To gain a clearer understanding, let’s take a look at the definitions of group and team as it pertain to professional coaching.


Groups & Teams Need A Coach


The following definitions are based on the work of researchers in the field of group and team coaching.


Group Coaching Defined

“The application of coaching principles to a small group for the purposes of personal or professional development, the achievement of goals, or greater self-awareness, along thematic or non-thematic line.” Jennifer Britton, Effective Group Coaching (2010)

“A facilitated group process led by a skilled professional coach and created with the intention of maximizing the combined energy, experience, and wisdom of individuals who choose to join in order to achieve organizational objectives or individual goals.” Ginger Cockherham, Group Coaching: A Comprehensive Blueprint (2011)


Team Coaching Defined

“Helping the team improve performance, and the processes, by which performance is achieved, through reflection and dialogue.” David Clutterbuck, (2009)

“Enabling a team to function at more than the sum of it’s parts, by clarifying its mission and improving its external and internal relationships.” Peter Hawkins & Smith (2006)

What we know, based on research, is that team coaching has a working definition, just like individual and group coaching has a working definition. The profession is in its infancy, being only about ten years old. Within that, definitions have changed as the value and benefits of team coaching emerge.

As we venture deeper into this unique space of team coaching, the definition will continue to be poked and prodded so that it encapsulates the very essence of the work that practitioners conduct as they partner with teams.

Although the definition may shift with time, what remains the same is the impact team coaching has on the collective body of those assembled, the organization and into the wider value pool of their stakeholders.

So, do you work as a group or as a team?

If you’d like to dive deeper in to that question, let’s connect!


Be sure to tune in to our podcast CONVERSATIONS For Leaders & Teams, or on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or your favorite listening platform!

Click here to purchase your copy of Leadership Excellence By Design: Strategies For Sustainability & Strength on Amazon!

Leadership by Design Kelly Whelan Book

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