Why should you care about teams? Because your company’s success or failure depends on the effectiveness of your leadership team and other teams within your business. As I have said before teamwork is almost always lacking in companies which fail and is present in companies that succeed. Arguably the most important leadership role is to figure out how to create an environment where your teams add more than the sum of their parts.

But it’s hard to create a highly effective team. Too often you come across teams with an average intelligence of over 120, but the team functions at a collective intelligence of 60. Group think, lack of psychological safety, keenness to please the leader…

And it’s getting harder. The world is becoming more interconnected and complex. Remote, hybrid or distributed teams are on the increase. Millennials and generation Z have higher, and different expectations than before.

Team leaders may realise the importance of a high value-add leadership team but they often lack the competencies and capabilities to create one. Most Western leaders have been brought up in an individualistic culture and are less skilled at collaboration i.e. a high IQ but a low We Q or collective intelligence.

This is where a professional team coach can help.

So what is team coaching?

It’s about raising awareness about what is working well and what is working less well. It’s about encouraging team members to look beyond their individual ambitions and goals to what is best for the team too. It’s about helping team members realise that effective internal functioning (e.g. how they work together) is necessary but not sufficient for high performance; to shift their focus to other teams and stakeholders (e.g. investors, customers, suppliers) and how they influence and are influenced by them. It’s about becoming a learning machine – both individually and as a team. It’s about developing the team capabilities to handle current and future challenges.

It’s more than a quick intervention. It’s about creating trusting relationships so that new behaviours can be developed overtime with feedback and learning at the centre of it.

Team coaching is both different and more complex than individual coaching. A team coach combines coaching philosophies and methodologies similar to one-to-one coaching but also with an understanding of systems, group dynamics and organisations. Here is a quick dive into those three competencies that help make a great team coach.

1. Practise Systemic Thinking

The reason it’s hard to build a high performance team is because teams are complex systems. A complex system is an entity with multiple interdependent parts which interact with each other to create a whole which in turn creates results of some kind or achieves a goal. A team is a subpart of another system, the organisation, which in turn is a subpart of the wider community.

Why is it important to use systemic thinking in teams? Because applying a simplistic framework (e.g. simple linear cause and effect) to a complex system will likely result in failure. How many times have you ‘improved’ something in your team, but the improvements haven’t lasted long? Or a quick fix ends up making things worse?

A systems approach is designed to recognise that improvement in one part of the team can adversely affect another part of the system. Everything is interconnected. Systems thinking orients you to the long-term view, to think of the whole not just the individual constituents and to the fact that cause and effect are often far apart. For example, cutting back on team training can bring cost savings, but materially affect the performance of the team and the company in the long-run.

2. Understand Group Dynamics

Group dynamics has been defined as “all the invisible and emotional forces and communications between individuals in a group, which lead groups to behave in much more extreme ways than any of the individuals would have done on their own” (Hardingham et al). Essentially it describes the way people in a group interact with each other.

Imagine you have assembled the most intelligent people you can find to help you scale your business. High hopes. Then you see the team in action. One member is very critical of others’ ideas. Another has hardly said anything in the meetings. And finally one group member makes jokes at the wrong times, resulting in loss of momentum.

When dynamics are poor, the team’s effectiveness is reduced. Whereas positive team dynamics results in more creativity, better decision making, effectiveness and accountability.

A team coach needs to be able to diagnose collective team dynamics, feed them back in a productive way and coach the team to strengthen them.

3. Organisational/Business Context

As a team coach you need to understand the organisational and team context i.e. the company’s purpose, processes, strategy, culture and financial position.

It’s important the coach takes this into account when designing the team coaching programme, and is able to show this knowledge to the team and its stakeholders. That being said, a genuine curiosity in the team’s world will go a long way too.

Team coaching is a partnership, a collaborative process which is likely to be a journey with multiple highs and lows. The intention is to create lasting change where the team learns to coach itself through the never ending challenges and opportunities.

At Fit to Lead we believe in using co-coaches when coaching a team. That way you get the benefit of diversity of backgrounds and perspectives and decades of experience and expertise. All of our coaches have deep knowledge of the three competencies mentioned above – systems, group dynamics and organisations – as well as the ‘softer’ skills (e.g. connection, compassion, courage and confidence) required to be a skilled team coach.

Mark Farrer-Brown
Founder and CEO Coach, Entrepreneur, Business Builder and Angel Investor

Mark Farrer-Brown

Mark is known for his scale up expertise having been part of multiple successful exits over the last 25 years as a founder, business builder, coach, mentor and investor.

Follow Mark on LinkedIn.

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