Are we being too rigid in how we structure team coaching?

This fascinating question arose during a supervision group a few days ago. The stimulus was a cluster of cases, where, for one reason or another, the pause button had been pressed on the team coaching assignment. The coach(es) felt a variety of negative emotions about this, but particularly disappointment and frustration that the “good work” so far was not being capitalised on. While acknowledging the practicalities that had led to suspension of the assignment, it was hard to avoid a sense of failure, either on the part of the team, the coaches or both. There’s also the very real worry that, having lost momentum, it will be hard to regain it. Though we don’t have time to test assumptions!

Standard practice in team coaching is to allocate a set number of sessions to achieve priority changes identified in the Discovery process. There are strong practical arguments for this. It helps to ensure steady progress and measure outcomes. Clients are relatively clear what they are buying, rather than having an open-ended commitment, so it helps to keep the procurement department happy.

On the other hand, these arrangements assume continuity of context, when most teams are in a state of constant flux. Changes in team leadership, in team membership, in what the stakeholders demand, or in operating priorities are to be expected.

So what’s the answer? One alternative is to recast team coaching as a journey rather than a set of outcomes. Under this scenario, two core questions would be:

  • What are the critical conversations this team needs/ will need to have?
  • When will be the best time to have them?

Teams give a lot of excuses for indefinite postponements, but these usually boil down to “It’s too difficult right now”. Focusing on critical conversations allows for the possibility of having informal discussions that don’t come with the implied burden of needing to solve difficult problems. Rather, these conversations can aim simply to maintain the habit of maintaining clarity and purposefulness – a regular sense check that keeps the team on track through periods of uncertainty. In effect, this is “Team Coaching Lite”.

Trying to sell this idea in when a hiatus has already occurred may be difficult. The team may see it as one more unwanted interruption to their “real” work of resolving crisis. Building it into expectations as an anticipated default or insurance makes it more likely that the team will see interactions with the team coaches as a valuable part of working through the disruption.

© David Clutterbuck 2023




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