Team coaching requires a portfolio of skills beyond those in one-to-one coaching. Most of these relate to the difference in context between individual conversations and group dynamics. For example:

  • Managing varying paces of learning. In team coaching, it is common for some members of the team to come to conclusions about the way forward, while others are still at the early stages of thinking it through. The team coach has to have processes that prevent this difference in pace from becoming a cause of conflict, and use it constructively to help the team come to better decisions overall.
  • Managing sub-groups. Many teams divide into sub-groups. These subgroups can sometimes vary according to the topics under discussion, or the nature of perceived threats; and they are not always obvious Being aware of these sub-groups and preventing them from hijacking the coaching conversation requires a string understanding of group dynamics and how allegiances change. In order for the coach to make the team aware of these behaviours (so they can consciously seek to change them) the coach has to be hypersensitive to them first!
  • Confidentiality. What gets said one-to-one often isn’t appropriate to say in front of the whole group. Yet the coach will typically be privy to a number of individual confidences from members of the team. Managing this takes delicate judgement and skill.
  • Facilitation. While the role of team coach is not the same as that of a facilitator (one of the key differences being between solving a problem and building capability), he or she does need a good grasp of facilitation skills and a toolkit of team facilitation techniques and methods.

Many of the standard approaches and qualities of one-to-one coaching are also essential in team coaching, but they tend to demand a higher level of skill. For example:

  • Listening is a core competence for all coaches. However, the team coach needs to listen both to the person talking and to everyone else in the room. Being aware of their silent conversations, through observing body language and intuiting the mood of the listeners, isn’t easy – especially of the speaker is particularly passionate or persuasive
  •  Using silence effectively is a sign of a confident and mature coach. But creating silence in a group situation, especially when the team is composed mainly of activists, is much more challenging.
  • Powerful questions are often at the core of coaching. In one-to-one coaching, the emphasis is usually on the coach finding the right question at the right time to stimulate learning in the client. In team coaching, the emphasis is more firmly on helping the team find its won powerful questions. the story. Coaches help individual clients to articulate, reflect upon and learn from their own story. The same principle applies to team coaching – but everyone has a slightly different (and sometimes radically different) perception of the story. The team coach has to help them accept and integrate each other’s version of the team story into a narrative that helps make coherent and compatible future choices.
  • Identity. Coaches help individuals articulate and understand their own identity. Achieving this awareness as a team tends to be more complex.
  • Conflict management. The one-to-one coach frequently helps clients to work out strategies for dealing with conflict in the workplace (or elsewhere). Those strategies are “opaque”, in the sense that they are known only to the coach and the client. In team coaching, conflict management strategies usually have to be transparent, because all the players are in the room and part of the conversation. Handling the emotional energy in such situations is a skilled task!

These differences make it essential that coaches, whose experience has been mostly in one-to-one environments, preface any move into team coaching by undertaking additional training to equip them for the extra demands of this more complex role. In doing so, they often find that those extra skills add to the impact of their one-to-one coaching.

© David Clutterbuck 2013

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