by Dr. Krister Lowe and Dr. Sandra Hayes

On January 15th of this year The Team Coaching Zone Podcast was launched.  The weekly show, available on iTunes and Stitcher, features interviews with leading organizational coaches and explores the art and science of coaching teams in companies and organizations.  In this post we would like to share 10 lessons learned or meta-themes that emerged from the first ten episodes.  A summary podcast of these themes is also available here.  The following 10 lessons were extracted from that episode and are presented in this blog post.  They are not presented in any special order.  We hope that you find them both interesting as well as useful as you reflect on your work coaching teams, leading teams or as a member of a team.

Lesson #1 – Team Coaches are Interesting! All the coaches interviewed on the show were really fascinating people and seemed to evolve into team coaching as a result of their natural growth as practitioners.  Many of them tended to start off their careers in fields other than coaching and then found their way into this work.  In addition to being coaches, many came from multi-disciplinary backgrounds that they called upon on when coaching teams.  For example, one coach, Felipe Paiva (Episode #004) who is also a musician and a surfer, spoke about drawing on his multi-disciplinary background when engaging teams in the dynamic process of coaching.  Many of the coaches spoke about the importance of being able to move beyond the “self” in order to be fully present when working with teams. In doing so, coaches model a focus on the collective rather than on the individual—an essential quality of effective teaming.

Lesson #2 – Team Coaching As an Accelerant for Development and Performance:  A number of the coaches spoke explicitly about how they use team coaching methods to accelerate team development and improve performance.  Rachel Ciporen (Episode #003) provided a text book example with one team she coached.  Another coach, DJ Mitsch (Episode #009), discussed how she helps teams move through the phases of forming, storming, norming and performing in a 16-week timeframe—much faster than the two years it took Dr. Bruce Tuckman (1965) to observe and name these phenomena in teams.  Greg Burns (Episode #008) also spoke about helping senior leadership teams accelerate their evolution toward higher performance in order to respond to the adaptive challenges in their companies.  While we know that accelerating development and performance occurs in one-to-one coaching, it is exciting to see examples of this accelerating at the team level as well.   Parkinson’s Law seems to apply here: the law suggests that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson’s_law).  In other words, the more time we give to a given task the more time it will take accomplish that task.  Steve Jobs at Apple was a master of applying this law to accelerate the performance of his teams.  And this is something team coaches can replicate.

Lesson #3 – Team Coaching as a Vehicle for Organizational Change: A lot of organizations are facing adaptive challenges in addition to technical ones.  Adaptive challenges require that teams push themselves to learn, to innovate and to transform.  Felipe Paiva (Episode #004) and Greg Burns (Episode #008) both referred to the Immunity to Change framework by Kegan and Lahey as being very helpful  when coaching teams through a change process or when dealing with seemingly unsolvable problems.  And Jane Abitanta (Episode #010) mentioned Intentional Change Theory by Richard Boyatzis and Warner Burke’s work on Learning Agility as helpful frameworks when working with teams around change.  Effective team development can also lead to effective organizational change.  Large-scale team coaching can be a powerful approach to organizational transformation. DJ Mitsch’s (Episode #009) example of coaching 60 teams a Sanofi Pharmaceuticals had a dramatic impact on a number of organizational metrics.  Team coaching is a systemic intervention and can be a powerful vehicle for facilitating broader organizational change.

 Lesson #4 – Team Coaching to Foster Leadership Cultures:  Coaching senior leadership teams has the power to transform not only a company’s business but also its leadership bench and culture.  Jean Frankel (Episode #005) shared a powerful story of providing one-to-one coaching with the president of a university and 14 vice presidents while simultaneously coaching the leadership team as a whole.  This story highlighted how team coaching is  breaking down silos among the leaders and helping a new more engaged leadership ethos to emerge.  Dr. Yaron Prywes (Episode #007) shares the story of coaching as C-Suite team using 360 degree feedback and how the leadership culture around learning and development is changing as a result.  Greg Burns (Episode #008) also spoke about helping teams identify the 2 to 3 compelling challenges or opportunities that have the potential to transform the company.  In one of his stories, the leadership team’s effectiveness itself became one of those compelling challenges to transform and how team coaching facilitated a shift in the leadership team’s dynamics and subsequently organizational results.

Lesson #5 – Coach-ability and Coaching Motivation of Team Leaders and Members:   Often times when team coaching isn’t working well, something is not working with the team’s leader.  In many cases. the leaders themselves may not be coachable–may not be willing or able to do the hard work necessary to ensure they are able to lead  effectively.   Change requires risk-taking, vulnerability and trust and team leaders need to create the conditions for those behaviors to emerge. This was a theme mentioned on many episodes (Krister Lowe Episode #002, Felipe Paiva Episode #004, Jean Frankel Episode #005, Greg Burns Episode #008, Jane Abitanta Episode #010).  Dr. Yaron Prywes’ story (Episode #007) illustrates how coaching itself helped increase the coaching motivation among some C-Suite team members who were initially going through the process as a “window dressing” exercise.  We also learned of cases where the leader was on board with doing the hard work of coaching but the team wasn’t.  Sometimes teams want the benefits of being a team but don’t want to pay the cost of what becoming a high functioning one entails.  DJ Mitsch (Episode #009) really challenged one group by asking them to consider what would be different if the team started to tell the real truth about the business and its needs. This led to getting the leaders to make the hard decisions they were stalling on and that once made led to dramatic shifts in the firm’s results.

Lesson #6 – The Role of Supervision and Co-Team Coaching: A number of coaches (Dr. Yaron Prywes Episode #007 and Jane Abitanta Episode #010) discussed the importance of having formal or informal supervisors or peer coaches to help support the team coach during an engagement.  Receiving supervision can really help a team coach stay centered during the challenging and dynamic ups and downs of a team coaching engagement.  When the “storming” phase occurs with teams, it can be easy for team coaches to get knocked off center.  Supervision can help regain that balance more quickly.  Dr. Prywes mentioned how supervision in Europe is a much more prominent feature of the coaching industry than as compared to North America. A number of guests (Jean Frankel Episode #005 and DJ Mitsch Episode #009) spoke about the value of co-team coaching with either a pair of external team coaches or a pair with one external and one internal team coach.  This latter approach provides the advantage of ensuring the business context is well leveraged during team coaching.

Lesson #7 – Partnership Coaching:  Coaching CEO’s and COOs as well as founders of firms can have a dramatic impact on a company’s outcomes and culture given the systemic position and role they occupy. Tom Fumarelli (Episode #006), who earlier in his career had been in the roles of President, COO and CFO of major companies, spoke about the power of CEO an COO partnership coaching that he experienced when he was a C-Suite executive.  Now as an executive coach he provides this type of coaching in pairs as well as trios and the results are quite significant.

Lesson #8 – Differentiating Team Training, Team Facilitation, and Team Building from Team Coaching: While many of the coaches mentioned using team training, team facilitation and team building as part of their team coaching engagements, what differentiates team coaching is the ongoing work of helping teams set goals, take action and hold themselves accountable.  Helping teams focus on their collective task, which helps individuals transcend their own individual wants and perspectives, is one way coaches add value to teams.    Teams perform better when they can be coached to avoid the trap of getting lost in the conflicts and relationship issues that often emerge when individual preferences and wants are clashing.  Also, being clear on what role you are playing (trainer, facilitator, coach, etc…) is critical throughout the team coaching process.  These themes were mentioned by a number of coaches in the episodes (Rachel Ciporen Episode #003, Felipe Paiva Episode #004, Jean Frankel Episode #005, Jane Abitanta Episode #010).

Lesson #9 – Subject Matter Expertise and Credibility:  While having industry expertise and knowing the business can be a powerful way to build credibility as a team coach, it can also bring bias, assumptions and pitfalls.  This was mentioned vividly by Jane Abitanta (Episode #010). Tom Fumarelli often is asked to provide “advice” when coaching executives given his business leadership experience.  He manages this by being clear about which role he is playing in a given moment (i.e. coach vs. advisor).   Greg Burns (Episode #008) spoke at length about doing a lot of homework on his clients and really “learning” the client in order to be able to do his job as a team coach effectively.  Conducting interviews with each team member prior to a team coaching engagement was a common theme that helped the coaches “learn” the client and establish credibility. This was illustrated well by Rachel Ciporen (Episode #003) and Felipe Paiva (Episode #004) among others.

Lesson #10 – Helping Leaders Get Out of the FoxHole Mentality:  Leaders of today’s companies are under so much pressure that they often seem to be in “foxholes” and have a foxhole mentality.  Part of the job of a team coach is to help the leader get out his/her foxhole, get centered and  enabled to lead their teams.  Team coaches can support leaders to lead from a place of strength and empathy with a focus on the collective rather than from a focus on the self buried deep in the fox hole.  Greg Burns (Episode #008) makes this an explicit part of his process when coaching teams.  This insight and lesson helps us understand better why team leaders often can trip up team coaching engagements.  Perhaps team coaches need to work harder at coaching the team leaders themselves and not engage coaching the team until the leader is out of the foxhole and ready to be fully present in the team coaching change process.  Felipe Paiva (Episode #004) shared cogent examples of leaders who were and who were not able to get out of their foxholes to lead their teams effectively.  This said, Greg Burns also urges coaches to bring a healthy dose of empathy to coaching leaders and their teams.   Being able to put oneself in the shoes of the other is an important element of productive coaching and today’s leaders need a lot support and empathy to rise to the challenge.

In summary, team coaching is a very rich organizational intervention that holds significant promise.  The first 10 episodes of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast revealed many powerful lessons.  Here we have captured ten.  We look forward to sharing additional blog posts after the next 10 episodes and to identifying more powerful themes and lessons learned that can benefit team coaches and the teams they are working with. We hope that you found these lessons both interesting as well as useful!  For more information and resources about team coaching go to: www.TeamCoachingZone.com.

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Krister Lowe Ph.D. is an Organizational Psychologist and the Host of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast.  You can learn more about Krister and his work at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kristerlowe

Sandra Hayes, Ed.D. is a Development Consultant and a Coach who leverages adult learning and collaborative negotiation expertise to promote leadership competency and team effectiveness.   You can learn more about Sandra and her work at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandrahayesedd

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