Team coaching has been described as one of the newest additions to the coaching family with both the practice and scholarship related to team coaching growing consistently year-on-year over the last few years. The rise in the popularity of team coaching is perhaps not surprising given that all of us, to varying degrees, will work within teams and groups. However, as an Associate Professor in Coaching who has focused my efforts on researching the effectiveness of one-to-one coaching, I was not clear on exactly what constitutes team coaching.
On reviewing the literature, I found that there was no clear guidance on how we should define team coaching and no generally accepted methodology of how to practice team coaching. This lack of clarity is problematic for team coaching researchers (if we don’t know what team coaching is then how can we investigate whether it works); for coach educators (if we don’t know what team coaching is then how can we teach people how to be team coaches) and for organizations (how do we know what is the most suitable learning and development intervention for our teams).
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Therefore, to address the lack of clarity on how we define team coaching, with colleagues, I sought to explore and identify what is team coaching by surveying over 400 practicing team coaches.
Our research leads us to identify the following defining components of team coaching:
- Common goal. A common goal is an essential component of team coaching. Therefore team coaching is focussed on assisting a team achieve a common goal, purpose, objective or mission
- Team performance. The output or outcome of team coaching is improved team performance. Therefore, team coaching enables individuals to perform effectively as a team
- Team learning and reflection. Team coaching generates improvements in team performance as team coaching is a dynamic collective process where team members learn from self-reflections and team member reflections
- Team coaching activities. A team coach improves the team’s capability to achieve their shared goal and improve team performance by raising awareness; improving communication and building trusting relationships among team members
- Focus on the team as a system. In team coaching, the team is viewed as comprising of individuals; however, these individuals form an interconnecting network which can be viewed as a complex whole. This complex whole is the focus of team coaching
- Advanced coaching skills. Coaching a group of individuals, all at the same time, is inherently more complex than coaching on a one-to-one basis. Advanced coaching skills include the ability to listen to and take into account multiple perspectives; the ability to observe and interpret interactions; the team coach needs to have a grasp of team facilitation techniques and the ability to build trust within the team coaching sessions to enable effective openness and sharing for reflective learning
- Coaching techniques. Team coaching involves the application of traditional coaching techniques to achieve the desired outcomes. For example, a core component of coaching is the use of dialogue and conversation and, in particular, effective questioning to encourage reflection. In addition, the coach is not an expert and does not provide instruction, training or guidance
- Longer-term. When compared to other forms of team development, team coaching is a longer-term intervention where a series of sessions are provided rather than a one-off event
Our research lead us to conclude that team coaching is likely to be appropriate when the focus of the learning and development is on teamwork processes (i.e. relationships, communication) rather than team task or project work. Our research highlights the complexity of team coaching and therefore we suggest that organisations should carefully consider the knowledge, skills and expertise of team coaches to ensure that they have the requisite ability to simultaneously manage multiple perspectives; observe and interpret interactions; build trust to enable openness and sharing; and have knowledge of team facilitation techniques.
We anticipate that the popularity of team coaching will continue to grow, particularly as research enhances our understanding of the specific benefits to teams and their organizations to working with a team coach. We suggest that given the challenging and dynamic environments today’s teams function in, team coaching is ideally placed to support teams in successfully navigating these challenges.
This article is based on a research article original published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology (Jones, R. J., Napiersky, U. & Lyubovnikova, J. (2019). Conceptualizing the distinctiveness of team coaching", Journal of Managerial Psychology, https://doi.org/10.1108/JMP-07-2018-0326)
Dr Rebecca J Jones is an Associate Professor in Coaching at Henley Business School and the Programme Director for their MSc in Coaching & Behavioural Change. Rebecca is actively engaged in researching workplace coaching, teaching the next generation of coaches and engaging with organisations regarding their coaching practice. Rebecca’s background is in Occupational Psychology and she is passionate about building the evidence-base of workplace coaching to inform theory, research and practice. Rebecca’s book ‘Coaching with Research in Mind’ is due for publication in Summer 2020 with Routledge. You can connect with Rebecca on Twitter (@coach_research) or for further information please e-mail email@example.com