by Krister Lowe and Jason Ighani

(Note: A version of this post can also be view on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/10-lessons-team-coaching-review-podcast-episodes-21-30-lowe-ph-d-)

In this post we highlight ten standout themes or lessons learned that emerged while reflecting on Episodes 21 to 30 of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast—a weekly interview show that features leading organizational coaches who share their insights and stories about coaching teams in companies and organizations. (To listen to a free podcast recording of our informal conversation reviewing these ten themes as well as all the episodes discussed in this post, go to The Team Coaching Zone Podcast at: iTunesStitcher Radio, or at http://www.teamcoachingzone.com/podcast-2/episodes-21-to-30/)

Lesson #1 –Neuroscience & Team Coaching

One cross-cutting theme that stands out from podcast episodes 21 to 30 is the influence of neuroscience on team coaches and team coaching. Episode #021 with Dr. Kobus Neethling looked at the role of cognitive-emotional thinking preferences and how individual team members as well as the team as a whole can develop more flexible and creative ways of thinking and working. He also spoke about teams getting into a state of “flow” and how when they are that state begin to leverage collective wisdom and intelligence. The concept of flow, as popularized by Mihaly Csikszentmihhalyi in his book The Psychology of Optimal Experience, was described by him as the state of “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” One way of thinking about team coaching is bringing about the conditions that help teams get into a state of flow and optimal performance. Gilbert Brenson Lazan’s episode (#023) on brain-friendly approaches to sustainable change highlighted some of the elements that he draws on to bring about those conditions including positive psychology, appreciative inquiry and solution-focused coaching. A number of guests including Krish Iyer (#022) and Alex Durand (#030) also spoke about appreciative inquiry and the role of solution-focused coaching in their practices. And Geetu Bharwaney’s episode (#029) on Team Emotional Intelligence (see Lesson #2 below) also explored the central role of emotion in high performance teams. Finally Kati Livingston’s episode (#026) also looked at the role of using metaphor as another tool to unlock different parts of the brain in coaching leaders and teams. In summary, neuroscience offers team coaches a rich source of insights and entry points into creating the conditions that lead to creative thinking and high performance in teams and we suspect that future episodes will continue exploring this trend.

Lesson #2 – Team Emotional Intelligence

Geetu Bharwaney in Episode #029 spoke about the essential role of team emotions in high performance. This was the first episode in the podcast series that focused squarely on emotions in teams. The research by Vanessa Druskat and Steven Wolff that she referenced and that was featured in a March 2001 Harvard Business Review article Building the Emotional Intelligence of Groups, demonstrates that what separates high performing teams from good performing teams is team emotional intelligence. Team EQ revolves around a number of dimensions at the individual/interpersonal level, team level and organizational level and as such provide team coaches with various entry points for customized coaching interventions. She also spoke about The Team Emotional Intelligence Survey—a diagnostic tool that team coaches can deploy to get at the heart of working with teams around emotion. And she spoke about her new book on Emotional Resilience and how it builds on and extends the rich body of knowledge and practice on emotional intelligence. Phil Sandhal (episode #024) also spoke about two key dimensions that often surface when he asks people to reflect on past great team experiences: positivity and productivity. In other words how people feel (i.e. positivity) about their team and the relationships among their teammates has a really strong impact on engagement and performance and as a result is a central component in his team coaching approach. And Alex Durand in episode #030 briefly discussed some recent work by Scott Kaufman featured in the August 2015 Harvard Business Review on the emotions that enable us to be more creative. Nancy Alexander and Ethan Hanabury in Episode #025 shared a great story and technique for building trust between members in a team that had been experiencing low trust. Many models of team effectiveness such as Lencioni’s five dysfunctions of a team revolve around affective dimensions that can make or break teams including trust, conflict, and commitment among others. And while it has been more than 20 years since Daniel Goleman popularized the concept of emotional intelligence in his 1995 book and despite the progress in helping individuals and teams make emotion less of a taboo subject, it seems that we still have a long way to go in harnessing the power of emotions to drive performance.  Team EQ is a rich area for team coaches that is calling for deeper exploration and for a more central role. We look forward to hearing additional team coaches on future episodes of the podcast speak about their lessons learned leveraging the power of team emotion to increase performance.

Lesson #3 – Creativity, Experimentation & Learning in Team Coaching

One of the themes that also jumps out while reflecting on these episodes is around the role of creativity, experimentation and learning in team coaching. A number of the guests including Gilbert Brenson-Lazan (#023) and Alex Durand (#030) focused on the importance of solution-focused coaching.  Solution-focused coaching, rooted in positive psychology, calls us to learn our way to solutions through experimentation and unlocking our creativity rather than through problem-solving or trying to “fix” what’s not working. As Krish Iyer (#022) noted, when he referenced Amy Edmondson’s work on Teaming, the operating environments most teams are now experiencing are increasingly complex and don’t have clear cut answers or solutions but that instead require us to learn through doing, through taking risks and failing quickly in order to discover a way forward. This really gets into the role of learning agility both for team leaders as well as teams as a whole. We suspect that before long we will have a team coach on the podcast who has created a niche approach to team coaching revolving around learning agility. One of the dimensions Geetu Bharwaney spoke about in her episode (#029) on Team Emotional Intelligence is that higher performing teams have developed the competency of “self-evaluation” which is essential for accelerating learning and performance. Coaching team leaders as well as whole teams is fundamentally at its core a process of helping people to summon their creative resources, to experiment and to learn their way into new realities. A Whitehead quote comes to mind that captures the spirit of this theme: “Learning is a creative advance into novelty.” And finally, Alex Durand’s (#030) call to coaches to challenge their assumptions about coaching and to use the scientific method (i.e. creating and testing hypotheses through active experimentation) gets at how we as team coaches need to be modeling learning and pushing ourselves in addition to asking that of our clients.

Lesson #4 – Metrics in Team Coaching

Phil Sandhal (#024) emerged as the first guest of the podcast to bring measurement and metrics into the center of team coaching. As clients often wish to know the potential ROI of investing in team coaching, it behooves team coaches to be able to provide data on its benefits. In the episode Phil mentions that his data showed on average a 20% increase in improvement on both positivity as well as productivity factors in coaching teams over a six-month period. While many of us as team coaches have abundant and rich anecdotes and case studies of the power of team coaching, few of us have hard data that demonstrate those results. Phil’s work at Team Coaching International and the instruments they have developed specifically around team coaching including the Team Diagnostic really set a standard of best practice in the arena around measurement. Measurement has always been a challenge for learning and development professionals for a number of reasons including: that it often requires developing valid and reliable measurement instruments; that some outcomes can be difficult to measure (e.g. sleeper effects – when behavior change takes place 3 to 6 months after an intervention has ended); and that clients often do not want to pay for evaluation.  Furthermore there is the risk of focusing too narrowly or excessively on measurement issues, thereby inadvertantly crowding the coaching space with too much of the so-called “left brain” and leaving too little for the “right brain.” Despite the challenges and risk, we clearly live in an age that values evidenced-based practice and as such aspiring team coaches would do well to develop a concrete measurement strategy to incorporate into their team coaching practices. An exciting area for more advanced team coaches who are engaged in coaching large numbers of teams within or between organizations (for example see DJ Mitsch in Episode #009 on “Scaling Team Coaching to Drive Organizational Change”), is to begin measuring the impact of multiple simultaneous team coaching interventions on important organizational outcomes such as engagement, performance, efficiency and the like. As with many other themes discussed in this summary post, measurement is another rich area for team coaches to specialize in and we salute Phil Sandhal for his leading work in this area. Often times theory and practice move ahead faster than the research. Hopefully in team coaching, more practitioners will take an interest in metrics and measurement so that our discipline can stand on solid ground with supporting evidence.

Lesson #5 – Facilitation in Team Coaching

Another notable cross-cutting theme that emerged in episodes #21 to 30 is the critical role of facilitation skills as part of the toolkit for team coaches. (See review post on episodes #011 to 020 available here for an in-depth discussion drawing on Peter Hawkins’ continuum of team coaching which provides team coaches with a way of understanding the similarities and differences in the various approaches to team development, team building, team facilitation, and team coaching). Gilbert Brenson-Lazan (#023) shared his view that facilitation is the base of team coaching. While many team coaches might argue that coaching is at the base, the reality is that both are “heroes” in successful team coaching engagements and often take the center stage at different points in the process. Many of the guests shared examples of facilitation techniques as part of their team coaching engagements. For example, Nancy Alexander and Ethan Hanabury (#025) discussed powerful facilitation techniques for feeding back needs assessment data to a team, for building trust between team members, and for facilitating action planning sessions during a team coaching kick-off retreat. Krish Iyer (#022) also discussed using a number of facilitation techniques and processes including design thinking exercises, Q-storming, small and large group dialogue methods, appreciative inquiry and more to help engage teams and move the team coaching process forward. Competency in team facilitation skills is essential in particular when working with a team in one to two day kick-offs or launch retreats. However in follow-up coaching sessions with teams, having facilitation exercises and tools can also be helpful for team coaches. Pamela Van Dyke (#027) presented her PERFORM group and team coaching model. The letter “F” in the acronym stands for “Facilitation” and she elaborated on the central importance of this skill when working face-to-face as well as virtually in both group and team coaching settings. While team coaching often incorporates many other skills (e.g. data collection and feedback; use of diagnostic instruments; ongoing coaching sessions with the team leader and the team as a whole in order to set goals, provide support and challenge, and to provide accountability; delivering training modules around specific skills; etc…) in addition to facilitation, clearly facilitation is a core competency for successful team coaching and is a standout theme mentioned repeatedly in these ten episodes.

Lesson #6 – Co-Team Coaching

Nancy Alexander & Ethan Hanabury (Episosde #025) were the first pair of co-team coaches interviewed on the podcast series since the show launched in January 2015. While coaching a team solo is very doable, especially by seasoned team coaches, there are many benefits of working with another team coach. Nancy and Ethan mentioned some of these benefits including: providing a model of collaboration and trust which team leaders and members can then emulate; having one coach focused on what is happening with the team in the immediate moment while the other pays attention to the dynamics of the team as a whole; leveraging the diversity of their perspectives as well as complementary skill sets and more. All of these benefits can be a win-win for both the team coaches as well as for the client who may end up receiving a more impactful intervention. Co-team coaching also provides new team coaches with one of the best ways to learn the trade in a responsible manner when paired with a more seasoned team coach who can hold the boundaries around the overall coaching effort. Finally, when teams have complicated histories or are working in complex environments, the group dynamics that often emerge (e.g. splitting, emergence of factions, authority struggles, latent conflict, issues of diversity and inclusion, etc…) can be difficult to manage and having a co-team coach present can go a long way to helping maintain a “holding environment” for the team. We look forward to learning more about the co-team coaching experiences of additional coaches in future episodes. Much thanks to Nancy and Ethan for getting the ball rolling!

Lesson #7 – Bringing Team Coaching Closer to Actual Team Work

Another interesting cross-cutting theme that emerged across the interviews was the importance of engaging in team coaching during the actual work of the team rather than as a separate activity. Geetu Bharwaney (#029) spoke about a shift in her team coaching practice away from offsite team retreats followed by team coaching sessions to frontloading actual team working sessions with some team coaching which would then impact the team immediately during the team’s task work. Ethan Schutz (#028) also shared experiences of providing a team with some brief concepts from his program The Human Element prior to a team working session during which he would then observe and make coaching interventions.  He mentioned drawing on process consultation techniques to help the team both learn in the moment while also improving performance on an important immediate task. Krish Iyer (#022) shared further examples from his experience in the technology sector of acting like a SCRUM master during team coaching sessions to help teams get unstuck. While team offsites can be fun and productive, they also may pose the risk of lacking clear transfer mechanisms once the team is back at work. Team coaching provides such a learning transfer mechanism and what the team coaches here are suggesting is for those team coaching sessions to take place as close as possible to live work sessions as possible in order to maximize impact.

Lesson #8 – The Polarity of Team Coaching for Results and Learning

Krish Iyer in Episode (#022) referenced Amy Edmundson’s notion of “team” as a noun versus that of “teaming” as a verb. The distinction captures the notion that while many teams may be relatively stable over time, more and more teaming happens in ad hoc ways. Many teams may form and disband at rapid rates. As such it is essential for organizations to develop cultures of teaming so that whether one is working on a stable ongoing team or on a more dynamic ad hoc team or even both at the same time, one has internalized basic teaming competencies. While 80% of companies cite using teams as a fundamental structure for getting work done, only about 10% of teams are reported to be performing at a high level with 40% performing at an acceptable level and a whopping 40% at a low level (Source: Wageman, Nunes, Burruss, & Hackman, 2008). One of the benefits of team coaching is that it not only helps a team accelerate and increase its performance on real business outcomes but it also serves as a vehicle for helping individuals learn how to truly team. As such team coaching provides a “twofer” in that it both generates results while simultaneously building capacity. This theme harkens back to episode #009 with DJ Mitsch who discusses how her team coaching program, The Team Advantage,focuses on helping a team achieve an extraordinary goal in 16 weeks while simultaneously teaching the team leader how to coach their own team and teaching the team how to become a high performing team.  If all goes as planned, by the end of the team coaching engagement the team coach has worked themselves out of their job. In summary, team coaching provides both short-term performance results while also investing in capacity-building for future teaming efforts whether with the same or a new team. This is a polarity that needs to be managed rather than getting lost privileging one outcome over the other. This harkens back to Cliff Kayser in Episode #017 where he introduced listeners to polarity thinking and polarity management in leadership and team coaching.

Lesson #9 – Change Processes and Team Coaching

Krish Iyer (#022) spoke explicitly about team coaching as a change process in and of itself. He spoke about the changing nature of change and discussed the challenges presented by an increasingly VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguouos) world and marketplace. As mentioned earlier under Lesson #3, in such an environment teams need to learn quickly and fail quickly.  As such learning is synonymous with change itself. Gilbert Brenson-Lazan (#023) also shared powerful examples of facilitating large scale change through developing a leadership culture in a private sector company as well as empowering community members to facilitate change following a natural disaster that resulted in the loss of 26,000 lives. Both Krish as well as Gilbert spoke about the role of developing leader-facilitators or leader-coaches in order to act as effective change agents. Alex Durand (#030) shared how his 3-phase Frable coaching model draws on the work of Richard Boyatzis on Intentional Change Theory. Executive coaching and team coaching is fundamentally a process of learning and change and as such team coaches should have a clearly articulated “theory of change” that underlies their coaching approach. Many of the guests in episodes #021 to 30 spoke about theories or approaches that facilitate sustainable change such as positive psychology, appreciative inquiry and solution-focused coaching among others, however Alex was one of the few that explained how his Frable method explicitly leverages vision, values and action to facilitate change in his clients. For team coaching to develop as a profession, team coaches will need to clearly articulate the underlying change process (i.e. the thruput or mediating mechanisms) of their coaching approaches and not just describe the inputs and outputs that result in change. We salute Alex for articulating his change process in an explicit way. 

Lesson #10 – Challenging Ourselves as Team Coaches

A powerful theme that emerged in a number of interviews and in particular in episode #030 with Alex Durand was the importance of challenging ourselves as team coaches. As coaches our role is to support as well as challenge our clients to confront their own limitations and to take courageous bold action. In like manner we need to do the same as team coaches. Alex suggested that the team coaching field needs more debate and dialogue. He suggested a number of ripe areas to start debating including: the role of subject matter expertise and/or industry experience as a coach; focusing on the “past” in addition to the present and future in coaching; challenging our notions around intergenerational thinking; the use of technology in team coaching; focusing too narrowly on goals vs. allowing for more creative and emergent approaches and more. Alex along with Pamela Van Dyke (#027) spoke about the need for forums and communities of practice in team coaching where these debates can take place. These discussions ideally would also go beyond internal navel gazing (i.e. only discussions among and between team coaches) but also extend to leaders of real teams as well as team members. As team coaching is an emerging discipline in many ways, many team coaches are isolated and could benefit from more communities of practice.

In summary, episodes #021 to 30 of the podcast provided a wealth of penetrating insights as well as practical tips, tools and resources to the listeners. We hope that readers found this high level summary useful and also helpful for pointing to specific episodes where a deeper dive on a specific topic can be explored.   For readers who wish to dig deeper, the Resources page at the Team Coaching Zone website http://www.teamcoachingzone.com/resources/ provides lots of additional information on team coaching including suggested resources (i.e. articles, assessments, books, coach training programs, free downloads, and more).

We look forward to continuing to release new episodes of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast on a weekly basis. Episodes can be listened to for free on iTunesStitcher Radio, or at www.TeamCoachingZone.com/podcasts. Also be sure to check out our free monthly webinar hangouts on team coaching http://www.teamcoachingzone.com/webinars/, our group on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Team-Coaching-Zone-8227188/about and subscribe to our newsletter.

We look forward to returning back after the next ten episodes to provide another similar summary and we welcome your comments and feedback which you can direct to krister@teamcoachingzone.com and/or to jason.ighani@gmail.com. Until then remember to stay in the team coaching zone!

About the Bloggers

Krister Lowe, Ph.D. is an Organizational Psychologist, a Leadership and Team Coach and the Host of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast as well as the Creator of the Team Coaching Zone: Exploring the Art & Science of Team Coaching at www.TeamCoachingZone.com. Krister is also an instructor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. He is based out of the New York City metro area. Learn more about Krister at: http://www.TeamCoachingZone.com/about as well as on LinkedIn here.

Jason Ighani is an Executive and Team Coach as well as an Organizational Health Consultant based out of Seattle and Costa Rica. Jason is presently providing coaching and consulting services in partnership with C Global Consulting, is a Leadership Coach for Cargill’s High Performance Leadership Academy and is the Creator of the Pro Bono Coaching Program. The PBCP is an initiative that contributes to the resilience, engagement and wellbeing of humanitarian staff globally, particularly those serving in hardship duty stations. Learn more about Jason on LinkedIn here.

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