(Note: This post was originally published on August 23, 2016 on LinkedIn.  You can view it on LinkedIn here).

Since launching The Team Coaching Zone Podcast-an interview show that explores the art & science of coaching teams in organizations–back in January of 2015, I’ve interviewed some great pioneers, thought leaders and practitioners in the field.  The insights that I have gleaned from the interviews have transformed my approach to team coaching as well as my business. When listeners of the show reach out to me I’m often asked for recommendations on team coaching resources.  Specifically they revolve around three themes:

  • What team coaching assessments are available?
  • What are some of the main books on team coaching?
  • What team coach training programs should I consider exploring?

Recently a listener suggested that I pull together a consumer reports type episode or blog post series to review some of the resources that I’ve come across.  So voila here we go with the first in a 3-part blog post series on Team Coaching Resources!  I’ll also be recording podcast versions covering similar content so feel free to check those out at http://www.teamcoachingzone.com as well as on iTunesSoundCloudStitcher Radioand Google Play Music.

In this post that focuses on team coaching assessments I will:

  1. Briefly discuss some pros and cons of using assessments in team coaching engagements.
  2. Discuss using individual-level assessments in team coaching and list some of the assessments that I’ve come across on the podcast.
  3. Discuss using team-level assessments and highlight 5 team level assessments that I believe warrant a closer look by team coaches.
  4. Outline some alternatives to using assessments including do-it-yourself surveys (e.g. Survey Monkey or Google Forms), interviews, focus groups and observation.  I’ll also briefly discuss combining methods as well.

1) Pros and Cons of Using Assessments in Team Coaching

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So why use an assessment in the first place? That’s a good question! An easy way to answer this is to think about using Google Maps, Apple Maps or in the old days MapQuest.  To get anywhere you have to input where you are starting from and where you are going.  Once those two coordinates have been identified a road map can be drawn identifying various routes to guide you to the destination.  A good team assessment in like manner can help you hone in on your current state and also help you map out the route to your destination.

However there is another important point which is about building motivation and readiness for change.   Dr. Richard Boyatzis, out of Case Western University, has outlined five dynamic phases or as he likes to call them discoveries that individuals, groups or larger systems must make when trying to create intentional sustainable change  (For more info check out Boyatzis, R.E. (2006) An overview of intentional change from a complexity perspective. Journal of Management Development, 25, 607-623).  Creating sustainable change requires 1) discovering the ideal self or desired future; 2) an assessment of the real self or current state; 3) a learning agenda; 4) experimentation and practice; and 5) resonant relationships that enable us to learn. The engine for change gets created by the gap or dynamic tension between the desired future and current states.

An assessment can help create the motivational tension that when harnessed can propel the team forward.  And while there are different ways of doing this (see section 4 below), assessments can be great approach to doing this efficiently.  In my experience coaching teams I’ve found a few general pros and cons using assessments that are summarized in the table below:

ProsCons

 2) Individual-Level Assessments

Given the historical focus in most organizations on individual level performance management, it’s not surprising that a plethora of individual-level assessments abound.  Well-known instruments like MBTI and DiSC often times show up in team building and team coaching engagements.  And while they can help teams form and create a more safe interpersonal climate, they have some limitations when applied at the group level.  One limitation or risk of using individual-level assessments with groups and teams is that a team is an entity unto itself with its own personality, history and dynamics.  It has been observed that coaching all the individual members of a leadership team doesn’t necessarily result in increased team performance (Source: Wageman, R., Nunes, D.A., Burruss, J.A., & Hackman, J.R. (2008). Senior Leadership Teams: What It Takes To Make Them Great). And that’s because a team is more than the sum of its parts.   Team dynamics cannot easily be captured by simply aggregating individual level measures and making interpretations based on such averages.

So the main point here is that while individual assessments may be supportive of a team coaching engagement and useful as part of the team formation stage as well as in peer coaching among team members, their diagnostic potential is limited. Before moving on to the next section which focuses on team-level assessments for team coaching, let’s pause for a moment to list some of the individual-level instruments (13 based on my review!) that haven been mentioned throughout the various episodes of the team coaching zone podcast:

3) Team-Level Assessments

In this section I’d like provide an overview of 5 team-level assessments that I’ve discovered through the podcast interviews that are particularly suited to team coaching. While there are many team assessments on the market, the five presented here are, in my view, particularly suited for team coaching.  The list is not intended to be exhaustive.  I’ve used a number of these instruments as a team coach myself and have also experienced one of them directly as an end user on a team.

A. The Team Diagnostic Survey

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Developed by the late Dr. Richard Hackman and other scholar-practitioners at Harvard University including Dr. Ruth Wageman, the Team Diagnostic Survey is based on substantial research on real-world teams in a number of industries.  The research underlying the instrument found that approximately 50% of the variance in team effectiveness can be attributed to two sets of conditions (Essential and Enabling) each measured by three factors.  The three essential factors

The three enabling factors include: 4) Sound Structure – the team has a clear task design, the right size in terms of number and shared norms for how it will work together; 5) Organizational Support – the team receives the information, resources, education and recognition/rewards that it needs to succeed; and 6) Team Coaching – support and challenge by an external or internal team coach, a team leader and/or team members that is regularly available and that is helpful.

In addition to the Essential and Enabling conditions, the assessment captures three measures of team effectiveness: 1) task performance – the team’s main clients or users are satisfied with the quality, quantity and timeliness of the team’s work; 2) quality of the team’s process – team members work together in ways that enable them to increase their effectiveness over time vs. one-time performances; and 3) member satisfaction – the team’s dynamic facilitates rather than impedes the learning and growth of team members.

Furthermore there are some additional dimensions assessed including the team leader’s effectiveness; psychological safety, the team’s learning orientation and more.  To learn more about the Team Diagnostic survey you can check out:

 

B. Team Emotional Intelligence Survey

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Based on 20 years of research by Dr. Vanessa Druskat and Dr. Steve Wolff that focuses on understanding what differentiates high performing teams from good performing teams, The Team Emotional Intelligence Survey assess 3 Team Fundamentals (1. Goals & Objectives, 2. Meeting Procedures, and 3. Roles & Responsibilities) that all good and high performing teams have in place. The assessment also captures 9 Team Emotional Intelligence Norms that point the way for a team to go from good to great.  The 9 norms are organized across three levels:

  • Individual Level – 1) Interpersonal Understanding, 2) Addressing Counterproductive Behavior, 3) Caring Behavior
  • Team Level – 4) Team Self-Evaluation; 5) Creating Emotion Resources; 6) Creating an Affirmative Environment; 7) Proactive Problem-Solving
  • Organizational Level – 8) Organizational Understanding; 9) Building External Relations

An additional interesting set of factors assessed in the instrument are 4 Elements of Team Social Capital that emerge when the Team Fundamentals and Team Ei Norms are established.  These include: 1) Safety, Trust & Risk Taking; 2) Team Identity; 3) Innovation; and 4) Creating Debate.

Finally the survey includes a section for verbatim responses that ask respondents to share what the team should Continue doing wellStop doing that isn’t working well; and Start doing that they aren’t doing as well as a final question involving what else they would like to share about the team’s functioning.

To learn more about The Team Emotional Intelligence Survey you can check out:

 

C. Team Diagnostic – Team Leaderview – Team 360 View – Organization View Suite of Assessments

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Team Coaching International’s (TCI) Co-Founders Alexis Phillips and Phil Sandhal (Co-Author of Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives), created a suite of four diagnostic instruments specifically designed for team coaching.  Their research identified two sets of strengths that enable teams to take action and that build effective relationships to motivate and sustain that action.

  1. Productivity Strengths: 7 productivity strengths or sub-dimensions are identified that support the team in achieving results, accomplishing tasks, sand taying on course to reach goals and objectives. The seven include: Resources, Decision Making, Alignment, Accountability, Leadership, Goals & Strategies and Proactive.
  2. Positivity Strengths: 7 positivity strengths or sub-dimensions help the team with interrelationships between team members and the spirt of the team as a system.  The strengths build on research from the areas of Emotional Intelligence, Positive Psychology and academic research into relationships that work.  The seven include: Respect, Values Diversity, Camaraderie, Communication, Constructive Interaction, Optimism, Trust.

The two sets of Productivity and Positivity strengths form the basis of the four instruments TCI has specifically designed for team coaching.  The four instruments include:

  • Team Diagnostic: a team level online assessment completed by all team members on the two sets of strengths. The 40 page report that is generated contains a generous number of quad and spider diagrams, tables of the highest and lowest scoring items in each of the two ares, line graphs of the items where the most agreement and least agreement was reported and more.  The survey also includes open-ended questions which can be customized.  TCI reports a 20% increase on average in a team’s effectiveness on the Productivity and Positivity dimensions following use of the Team Diagnostic.
  • Team Leader View: A second instrument available is the Team Leader View. The diagnostic tool is based on the same model as the Team Diagnostic and consists of a team leader’s “view” of his/her own team on the Productivity and Positivity strengths.  The results can be layered onto the results of the Team Diagnostic profile to see where a leader’s view of the team aligns or not with that of the team.  The results outline areas of strength as well as areas for improvement for both the team as well as the team leader.
  • Team 360 View: A third instrument, the Team 360 View, is an external assessment conducted by stakeholder’s of the team. Stakeholder’s assess the team on the Productivity and Positivity competencies.
  • Organization View: A fourth instrument in the suite, the Organization View, assesses the health of the organization’s culture (Positivity) as well as the capability of the organization to be productive (Productivity).  The instrument can be used with a division, a large department, an entire organization or a representative sample of the company.  The final report can also be segmented to show overall results as well as subsets (e.g. IT, finance, manufacturing, etc…)

To learn more about TCI’s methodology and instruments you can check out:

 

D. Team Connect 360

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Based on the pioneering work of Peter Hawkins, PhD on the 5 disciplines of high performing teams, the Academy of Executive Coaching (AoEC) and Renewal Associates partnered to develop the Team Connect 360.  The instrument, available to team coaches who have been trained in Systemic Team Coaching, provides a holistic view of the team’s internal dynamics as well as its external relationships with stakeholders.

The instrument collects data on the 5 disciplines of high performing teams from 4 sets of raters: Team Members, Primary Stakeholder (i.e. who the team reports to), Direct Reports of the Team, and Other Stakeholders. The five disciplines framework provides a balanced look at the team on both task as well as process dimensions as well as outside and inside views of the team.  The five disciplines include:

  1. Stakeholder Expectations – focuses on looking externally from a task perspective on what the team is being called to achieve.
  2. Team Tasks – focuses on looking internally within the team from a task perspective on the specific areas the team will focus on to achieve its purpose.
  3. Team Relationships – focuses on looking internally within the team from a process perspective on how the team will co-create its way of working together to achieve its Team Tasks and Stakeholder Expectations.
  4. Stakeholder Relationships – focuses on looking externally from a process perspective on which stakeholders need to be engaged for the team to successfully deliver on its purpose.
  5. Team Learning – focuses on how well the team is capturing the learning for the benefit of the organization, as well as how it nurtures and encourages the learning and development of each team member.

The assessment includes both quantitative ratings as well as qualitative open-ended comments sections for raters to provide feedback on each of the 5 disciplines.  Summary views, detailed breakdowns within each of the 5 areas as well as overall performance summaries on a number of team success criteria are provided.

To learn more about the 5 Disciplines, Systemic Team Coaching, and the Team Connect 360 you can check out:

 

5) Polarity Map

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Based on the pioneering work of Dr. Barry Johnson on Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable ProblemsPolarity Partnerships developed the Polarity Approach to Continuity and Transformation (PACT), the Polarity Map and the Polarity Assessment.  The approach helps leaders, teams and organizations to utilize problem solving as well as “both/and” thinking to address strategic opportunities and challenges.  All leaders, teams and organizations face polarities (also known as paradox, wicked problems, chronic tensions, dilemmas, contradictions, dualities and dichotomies) that by nature are “unsolvable.” While fundamentally unsolvable, the energy contained in these systems of interdependent pairs can be harnessed to drive learning and change.

A few years ago I was fortunate to experience the Polarity Map as as an end user while working as part of a small management consulting team.  The assessment and process helped us to quickly identify the unique polarities that were alive in our team and that had yet to be harnessed to propel us to the next level of effectiveness.

The PACT process unfolds in 5 steps:

  1. Seeing: identifying the polarities a team is facing.
  2. Mapping: mapping out the polarities on a polarity map.
  3. Assessing: assessing through an online instrument how well or poorly your team is leveraging the polarity.
  4. Learning: making meaning out your assessment results.
  5. Leveraging: leveraging your insights to commit to developing actions and tactical strategies to achieve success as well as to identify and monitor early warnings that require course correction.

To learn more about this approach you can check out:

 

4) Alternatives to Using Assessments

Let’s close out this post by suggesting some alternatives to using assessments as well as combining assessments with other forms of data collection. Collecting needs assessment data and feeding that data back to team can be accomplished through variety of additional methods including:

  • Do-it-Yourself Surveys: prior to getting trained and certified in a number of the instruments mentioned in this post, I relied heavily on Survey Monkey and Google Forms to create customized quantitative and qualitative surveys prior to team coaching engagements.  An easy yet effective method I found was to collect SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) data through a series of open-ended questions and then to add some quantitative rating scales on a number of team effectiveness dimensions identified from research articles on team performance.  I still use Survey Monkey surveys to this day and find that the graphs and tables they generate can easily be adapted to create PowerPoint decks for feedback sessions with clients.  The downside to me of this approach is simply the time involved. As my practice has grown, my time has become more limited and so I am more willing to pay to have this work done for me through a validated assessment than building out a custom survey.
  • Interviews: in many ways conducting 20 to 30 minutes interviews with members of a team as well its stakeholders is unbeatable.  In addition to collecting data it has the advantage of helping you build a relationship with each member of the team. It’s an opportunity to build trust with team members in a way that an online assessment simply can’t.  You also gain lots of nuance into how the dynamics in the team are playing out.  Online assessments tend to be more impersonal and lack the ability to capture these nuances. While costly in terms of time, interviews begin the process of building readiness for change.  Tip:  when creating an interview protocol, first identify a team effectiveness model from which you can then formulate a few questions that drive a semi-structured interview.  In other words, have some structure to your questions but then follow the energy and get curious when something sounds interesting or warranting of deeper exploration.  After conducting the interviews you can then organize the data across all of your interviewees according to the model which will help when feeding the data back.
  • Focus Groups: get groups of 6 to 10 people either face-to-face or online via a webinar platform (e.g Adobe Connect, WebEx, Zoom, Go-To-Meeting, etc…) to conduct a group interview.  One creative approach a colleague and I developed a few years ago when working with a larger team, was to have focus group members begin the session by first interviewing each other on their experience of the team guided by a few key questions (e.g. what are 1 or 2 main strengths of our team and what are 1 or 2 things that are really holding us back).  After each person is interviewed (usually about 7 minutes per person) the full group then can share findings and begin a larger group dialogue about the current state of the team and where they would like to go in the future.  This approach has the benefit of starting in a safe and more personal way (i.e. via the interviews) and then moving up to a rich group dialogue.  An advantage of focus groups is that you can engage a large number of people in the process in less time than via conducting one-to-one interviews but you still can capture the nuance.  Also you enroll participants in a more dynamic way in getting the change process started and generating their motivation and buy-in.
  • Observation: a final and largely underutilized method is observation.  Sitting in on team meetings is guaranteed to reveal a wealth of data about the team’s dynamics, strengths and areas for improvement.  One team that I work with conducts an annual one day retreat. They invite me to come and observe the first half day of the session and then to spend the afternoon sharing my observations, facilitating a dialogue about the findings as well as engaging in team coaching on a specific area for improvement.  The advantage of this approach is that the needs assessment happens in real time and the coaching follows in quick succession.

In summary, there are a number of alternatives to using assessments all of which have advantages and disadvantages.  They also can be combined together including with an online assessment.  The “triangulation” of data that occurs can lead to greater confidence in the findings when patterns across the different sets of data corroborate each other.  I like to combine interviews with an online assessment so that I get the best of both worlds (i.e. building a relationship with each team member and capturing the nuances while also have the concrete data and tables that are fit to a team effectiveness model).

So in closing, as the field of team coaching evolves it can be helpful for us as team coaches to explore both best practices for conducting team needs assessments as well as the various methodologies and technologies available for doing so.  In this post we explored the pros and cons of using assessments, briefly discussed the strengths and limitations of using individual-level assessments in team coaching, explored 5 online team-level assessments for team coaching and also explored some alternatives to using assessments.  I hope you found this post informative and stimulates your thinking about how you are approaching your work with teams.

I welcome your comments and feedback as well as any insights you have gleaned from your practice using assessments as part of team coaching engagements.

To further your learning, checkout http://www.teamcoachingzone.com for a range of free content and be sure to subscribe to The Team Coaching Zone Newsletter to stay up to date on the latest podcast episodes, blog posts, webinars and events going on at The Team Coaching Zone as well as to gain information and discounts on upcoming team coaching training events.

Have a great day!

Krister Lowe, MA, PhD, CPCC

Dr. Krister Lowe is an Organizational Psychologist, a Leadership and Team Coach, and the Creator of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast and Website (www.TeamCoachingZone.com). He is a specialist in leadership and team coaching and has more than fifteen years of experience consulting to diverse organizations in more than 25 countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. His coaching, consulting, facilitation and training interventions have reached more than 25,000 people globally. He is the Host of The Team Coaching Zone podcast–a weekly interview show that explores the art and science of coaching teams in organizations–and that has a listenership in more than 95 countries around the world.

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