Post #003: Team Coaching for Sustainable Change

Post #003: Team Coaching for Sustainable Change

The goal of all organizational development interventions, including individual and team coaching, is ultimately to foster constructive change.  Whether that goal is about driving performance and results, fostering creativity and innovation or stimulating learning and capacity-development, the underling motivation is a desire for change and more importantly change that is SUSTAINABLE.  Yet often the assumptions about that change, including how change occurs, are an afterthought.  Recently I was interviewing a member of a team in preparation for an upcoming one-day offsite retreat as part of a larger team coaching process.  When I asked what a successful offsite would look like my interviewee remarked: “We did a retreat last year and I honestly can’t tell you what has changed in our team…I guess what I would really like to see is a concrete roadmap for how we are going to implement our vision moving forward.”  This sentiment is a common refrain that I hear when working with teams around team building retreats and offsites. Too often these well-intentioned “events” create a good feeling in the team yet fail to articulate a “process” of sustainable change afterwards.  The gap between our intentions to change and our ability to bring about that change indeed can be described as a “wicked problem.” In this post I’d like to explore how two frameworks can assist team coaches as well as team leaders to address this wicked problem when coaching groups through a process of change.

Theory of Change

While frameworks like Tuckman’s “Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing” model, Hackman’s “Theory of Team Coaching” or Katzenbach & Smith’s “Team Performance Curve” (mentioned in previous blog posts at help us gain a global perspective on the components of effective teams as well as the stages of team development, they tend to lack a more finely tuned articulation of what leads to sustainable change in teams.  In other words, what these frameworks lack is a clearly stated Theory of Change that helps us identify the linkages between these elements and stages and how the desired change a team is seeking can be achieved.  It can be helpful for team coaches to be guided by an understanding of how sustainable change actually unfolds.  Work recently done by Boyatzis (2006) and Kegan & Lahey (2009) provide two practical theories of change that can help ground team coaches in their practice.  These are summarized briefly below.

Intentional Change Theory

Boyatzis (2006, p. 607) writes: “For all the time, effort, and money invested in attempts to help individuals develop through education, training, and coaching, there are few theories that help us to understand the change process…the actual process of change is left like a mysterious black box.”  As a result many “change fads” come and go and yet few are put to the “empirical test of demonstrating sustainable results.”  In order to respond to this vacuum, Boyatzis and his colleagues developed “Intentional Change Theory” (ICT) and have been applying and testing it to multiple levels of analysis including to: individuals, groups, organizations, communities, nations, etc…  Rather than a neat step-by-step process of change, ICT is based on the premise that change is a nonlinear, dynamic and interactive process that happens within a larger context or system.  ICT suggests that change, whether at the individual level or at the team level, is fundamentally a self-directed learning process that progresses through a series of 5 iterative discoveries.  The first discovery focuses on tapping into the positive emotional energy of the parasympathetic nervous system and explores the “ideal self or image” of what we wish to become.  In the second discovery a dynamic tension is created by tapping into the sympathetic nervous system where a realistic appraisal of our “real self or current image” resides.  This often includes a discovery of one’s strengths and gaps aided by external feedback sources.  The positive energy of the first discovery creates a dynamic tension with the negative energy of the second discovery in order to create an engine of motivation for change.  In the third discovery a learning agenda is developed to build on strengths while reducing gaps.  In the fourth discovery, experimentation with new thoughts, feelings and behaviors are acted upon and practiced in order to begin creating new neural pathways, habits and norms.  Finally in the fifth discovery, key external support resources (e.g. reference groups, coaches, accountability partners, etc…) are leveraged to sustain change.  The fifth discovery, which Boyatzis calls “Resonant Relationships,” are integral throughout all the other five phases of change.  People and groups can only change through direct interaction with their environment and through key relationships.  And when we are talking about creating change in teams, team coaches can serve as one powerful “resonant relationship.”

Immunity to Change

In 2009 the renowned developmental psychologist, Robert Kegan, and his colleague Lisa Lahey, published their ground-breaking work “Immunity to Change.”  This books gets at the “processes of dynamic equilibrium, which, like an immune system, powerfully and mysteriously tend to keep things pretty much as they are.”  The book helps to explain why only 1 in 7 people will actually follow a doctor’s prescription when presented with the prospect of mortality due to a life threatening cardiac condition, why most of us fail to deliver on our new year’s resolutions, or why we set lofty goals and aspirations in our team building retreats and yet fail to deliver on them afterwards.  The framework revolves around creating a practical “X-Ray” or “Immunity Map” that outlines the individual’s and/or team’s change equilibrium.  The X-Ray consists of 5 steps mapped out onto a five column worksheet.  In “Step 1: Identifying Your Collective Improvement Goal” two columns are filled out.  The first involves individual brainstorming of improvement goals and then a collective decision to select the most compelling one for the group’s work and commitment.  This goal is then entered into the second column and assessed for alignment on a number of criteria before proceeding to the second column.  In “Step 2: Taking a Fearless Inventory of Behaviors Contrary to the Improvement Goal” a similar process is conducted through which the individuals and then the group assess what things the group collectively does or fails to do that works against achieving that goal.  Note that this analysis focuses NOT ON WHAT WORK IT IS DOING to achieve the goal but more importantly ON WHAT WORK IT IS DOING AGAINST achieving that goal. The level of honesty in this stage is directly reflected in the power of the map and the payoff that will be attained.  While what the group does well is important, in this process the real action is going to be on working on the things that sabotage and undermine potential change.  At the end of this step the group completes the second column and assesses its quality based on criteria.  In “Step 3: Uncovering Your Collective Competing Commitments” each individual begins by identifying what he/she thinks the group would be most worried about if they tried to do the opposite of every second-column behavior.  In other words what fears or anxieties come to the surface if the group were actually to act towards achieving the collective goal.  These are then collectively shared and discussed, entered onto the third column of the map and again assessed against criteria.  The power of this step is getting at the mechanisms of “self-protection” that undermine our ability to change.  This helps us see why just focusing on eliminating column two behaviors won’t work.  And as Kegan and Lahey state:  “You can all see a coherent system that successfully manufactures nonchange…” and that leads to “How do we get out of this?”  In “Step 4: Uncovering Your Collective Big Assumptions” the adaptive means for overturning the immunity are discovered.  Through another round of individual and group reflection the areas or “danger zones” that the group has not yet ventured into are identified and the assumptions that inhibit that exploration are uncovered.  Finally in “Step 5: Preparing to Test Your Big Assumptions,” the group begins to brainstorm and identify thought experiments and action tests to explore the big assumptions. These are Safe, Modest, Actionable, Research-based, and an evaluation or a Test of the big assumptions (Note the spin on the old SMART goal-setting formula).  Through a series of these action learning tests the group begins to create the discipline of becoming a learning organization and getting change underway.

Team Coaching for Sustainable Change

The two frameworks on change summarized in this post provide a closer look into the psychological processes of change that occur at the individual and collective levels.  Team coaching practitioners will find that these two approaches help ground their work when coaching teams through a process of sustainable change.  I often hear organizational practitioners and bloggers write that people fundamentally don’t want to change.  I actually disagree. I think we all want to change and to experience the success that results when change is successful.  What we really fear is not the change itself but the fear of the unknown process that will take us there and the emotional risk of making that investment.  This really lies at the heart of what I think my interviewee, mentioned at the beginning of this post, was getting at when he said he needed a roadmap for change following the team building retreat.  In effect he was saying, “I want to change yet I need a sense of what that will look like, something to hold onto. If you can give me that I’m on board!”

Recently I stumbled across a powerful quote online which I will paraphrase: “The difference between successful and unsuccessful people lies in the difference in how they manage fear.”  As team coaches our work lies at the nexus of helping individuals and groups navigate and overcome this fear in order to unlock their full potential.   In the latest episode of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast (available on iTunes at  ) leading organizational team coach Felipe Paiva discusses examples of facilitating sustainable change in teams through team coaching.  He mentions how The Immunity to Change framework among others inform his practice.  Team coaching practitioners may find this episode inspiring and these change frameworks helpful in taking their team coaching game to the next level.

For more information and resources on team coaching visit and feel free to share your comments below.  Thanks for reading this post!


Boyatzis, R.E. (2006). An overview of intentional change from a complexity perspective. Journal of Management Development, 25(7), 607-623.

Kegan, R. & Laskow Lahey, L. (2009). Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization. Harvard Business Review Press.


Post #002: Understanding Team Coaching and Its Promise

Post #002: Understanding Team Coaching and Its Promise

When I talk with people about team coaching in organizations I often am met with a number of common questions: “So what exactly is team coaching?  How is it different from team building, team training or team facilitation? Why should I care about team coaching?”   It’s interesting to ponder because most people would immediately understand what you are talking about if you mention coaching sports teams.  It’s hard to imagine a top sports team achieving high levels of performance without robust individual and team coaching.  Yet when you mention the idea of coaching business teams, you are often met with a puzzled look as if you are speaking a different language!  Recently I was talking about team coaching with a former Chief Talent and Development Officer who has now become an external coach and consultant. After we had been speaking for a while she remarked: “You know, I now realize that I’ve been doing team coaching for a long time but never knew what to call it!”  While executive coaching has become commonplace in companies, team coaching has yet to reach the same degree of prominence.  I find it interesting because a leader can’t exist without a team that brings the leader’s vision into reality.  Perhaps as team coaching becomes more prevalent we will reach a tipping point and it will become part of the organizational lexicon just as executive coaching has become common over the last decade.

In this post I’d like to try to capture in a simple and concise way what team coaching is and what a team coach does in order to make the concept more accessible. Once we have a clear definition of team coaching we can begin to see the promise that it offers.

Defining Team Coaching & Delineating What Team Coaches Do

In last week’s blog post (2015 – The Year of Team Coaching!) I shared the following general description of team coaching from Peters & Carr (2013): “Team coaching is distinct from individual coaching because in team coaching, the team as a whole is the client and collective performance is the goal, versus the individual focus of one-on-one coaching.”  This is a helpful description upon which we can expand.  In my view, what differentiates team coaching from team building, team training and team facilitation is that team coaching often happens over a period of time (e.g. 6 to 12 months) as a PROCESS rather than as an EVENT much like these other interventions.  While change may get triggered or catalyzed through such events, sustainable change often only happens over time through an iterative process (See Boyatzis, 2006, on Intentional Change for more about the conditions that foster change in individuals, groups and organizations).  Team building, team training and team facilitation may be incorporated within a team coaching process.   Yet team coaching is more about a relationship between the team and the coach that fosters an enabling environment. This environment both supports and challenges the team to take is functioning to the next level.  At the heart of team coaching is helping a team accelerate its progression along the stages of team performance from a working group –> to a pseudo team –> to a potential team –> to a real team –> to a high performing team (Katzenbach & Smith, 2006).

Hackman & Wageman’s 2005 article on “A Theory of Team Coaching” in the Academy of Management Review is one of the few references in the literature where team coaching has been explicitly defined and delineated.  They define team coaching as:

  • “Direct interaction with a team intended to help members make coordinated and task-appropriate use of their collective resources in accomplishing the team’s work.”   They further state that team coaches provide “…interventions that inhibit process losses and foster process gains for each of…three performance processes.”

The three performance processes referred to in the above definition that team coaches often target are:

  1. Motivation: In this type of coaching the team coach helps the group develop shared commitment to the team and its performance goals and to ensure that team members don’t slack off or engage in free riding or “social loafing.”
  2. Performance Strategies: In this type of coaching the team coach helps the group identify and invent performance strategies that are well aligned with the task or outcome the team is trying to achieve.
  3. Learning: In this type of coaching the team coach supports the growth and development of team members in order to increase knowledge and skill both individually as well as collectively.

Finally, these three performance processes map on roughly to a team’s performance cycle (i.e. beginnings, mid points and end points) and as such create three specific windows of opportunity when teams and their leaders may be receptive to team coaching interventions.

The Promise of Teams

So in summary, team coaches help teams leverage motivation, performance strategies and learning to accelerate their development and performance.   In my interviews with team coaches on The Team Coaching Zone Podcast (available in iTunes by clicking here) I’m consistently inspired by the kinds of impacts team coaches are having on teams in all kinds of organizations–technology startups, fast moving consumer goods companies, non-profits, universities, oil and gas companies, professional associations, Fortune 500 firms and more.  At the heart of every great team is a story of change and transformation.  And in the weekly podcast episodes you can listen to stories of success as well as failure from real-world team coaches as they try to help more teams achieve success.

Being part of a high performing team can be among life’s most enriching experiences.  And being part of a poorly performing team can, conversely, be among the most depressing.  Yet when teams work well the greatest of achievements can be made and the impossible can become possible.  The challenges that human civilization faces in 2015 and in the years to come will surely require some of our best and most innovative team work yet.  While a lot is known about teams and team effectiveness, we are still in the early stages of learning how to unleash their true potential.  Team coaching offers one promising approach to achieve that worthy end.


Boyatzis, R. (2006). An overview of intentional change from a complexity perspective. Journal of Management, 25(7), 607-623.

Hackman, J.R. & Wakeman, R. (2005). A theory of team coaching. Academy of Management Review, 30(2), 269-287.

Katzenbach, J.R. & Smith, D.K. (2006). The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High Performance Organization.

Peters, J. & Carr, C. (2013). Team effectiveness and team coaching literature review. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory Research and Practice, 6(2), 116-136.

Post #001: 2015 – The Year of Team Coaching!

Post #001: 2015 – The Year of Team Coaching!

As the coaching field matures and consolidates, what trends can we expect in 2015 and beyond? One place to look for such trends are in the coaching “niche” areas that are increasingly establishing themselves. My contention is that within companies and organizations, coaching teams and groups as well as the larger systems in which they are embedded will become an increasingly prominent trend and niche area.  Team coaching is not only a powerful vehicle for generating higher performance within a given team but it also can be a catalyst for supporting change management, for creating leadership cultures as well as cultures of creativity and innovation.  A 2012 survey of 1100+ executive, business and life coaches as well as HR and training development professionals found that only 30% of companies have team coaching programs in place suggesting that this is an area ripe for further exploration and development. (Source: The Sherpa Executive Coaching Survey, 7th Annual Report, 2012).  When we look back on 2015, we may indeed conclude that it was the year when team coaching really entered the scene in a big way.

You may be asking “so what is team coaching anyway” and “how is it different from individual coaching, from team training or team building?” Peters and Carr (2013) state that: “Team coaching is distinct from individual coaching because in team coaching, the team as a whole is the client and collective performance is the goal, versus the individual focus of one-on-one coaching.” (Source: Peters, J. & Carr, C, 2013, Team effectiveness and team coaching literature review, Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 6, 2, 116-136). And while team coaching may incorporate training or team building as part of its process, what differentiates team coaching is that the team coach provides a supportive context to both support and challenge the team to grow and increase performance over time. Team coaching is more of a process that can lead to sustainable change and performance at the group level in much the same way that one-to-one coaching effects such change at the individual level.

As I speak with coaches, with leaders from coach training schools as well as with my colleagues and clients about the state of team coaching, I’m consistently hearing that this is an exciting, underutilized and emerging growth area in the field of coaching. In one global organization where I’ve personally been helping to introduce both managerial as well as team coaching, team coaching is viewed by employees as “a novel and promising alternative to training and team building events.”  Training and team building events, while helpful, often are insufficient in and of themselves to generate sustainable learning and change.  Over the past 15 years I’ve facilitated numerous team building events and have heard a familiar refrain: “These events make everyone feel good for a while afterwards but when we get back to the office and back to the real work, nothing fundamentally changes.”  Team coaching offers a more promising alternative to help facilitate that sustainable change.

But why coach teams in the first place?  Here are a few reasons outlined in the Peters & Carr (2013) article cited above:

  • Over 80% of companies state that they rely on teams as a fundamental structure for getting results.
  • Adapting to turbulent and dynamic markets and operating requirements increasingly depends on groups and teams.
  • Many leaders and organizational decision makers remain ill-equipped to create the conditions that lead to high team performance in technical, professional, information and service industries.

While research on the efficacy of team coaching is still in its infancy and while only a handful of studies have been conducted on team coaching specifically, some of the early evidence suggests that team coaching can have an impact on important areas like: innovation, creativity, change capacity, learning, collaboration, trust, decision making, sustainability and more (See Peters & Carr article cited earlier).

Team coaching is an area ripe for exploration and for more theory, research and practice.  Beginning this month The Team Coaching Zone ( will contribute to this exploration through a weekly podcast called The Team Coaching Zone Podcast.  The podcast will feature interviews with leading organizational team coaches and focus on exploring the art and science of team coaching.  The 45 to 60 minute episodes highlight stories, tips, techniques and practical resources from real world team coaches. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes as well as listen to the latest episodes on the website.

2015 is going to be an exciting year.  Let’s make 2015 – The Year of Team Coaching!

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