What does it take to make the transition from 1-2-1 coach to team coach?

Team coaching is the fastest growing area of coaching. There are around 5,000 accredited team coaches globally and an estimated need for 150,000 in the next few years. The two main professional bodies in coaching, the ICF and the EMCC, have both created accreditation routes to certify coaches, who work with teams. So what’s behind this phenomenon?

From a corporate perspective, the shift from command-and-control leadership to more collegial, distributed leadership is essential for survival. In a survey I co-led a while ago, more than 80% of CEOs and Human Resource Directors said that their companies needed to move from a focus on individual recognition, compensation and development, to one that focussed on teams. Although most team coaching is targeted at top teams and high-profile project teams, teaming skills are now a core organisational competence. There is a big difference, however, between team building (helping people get on together), team consultancy (solving a team’s problems for them), team facilitation (taking the team through a process that helps them resolve a specific problem) and team coaching (building the team’s capacity and capability to resolve its own problems). It’s the lasting impact of team coaching that makes it more impactful and more valuable to corporations.

From a coach perspective, there is increasing pressure to differentiate your practice from the thousands of newcomers entering the market each year. Not least, because a lot of basic individual coaching can increasingly be delivered by intelligent robots – which are getting smarter and more effective all the time. At the same time, serious coaches want to maximise the value they provide to their clients. Coaching one person has a limited impact. Coaching the team together has a much bigger impact.

Combining the corporate and coach perspectives, I estimate from the cases brought to me in supervision that between 40% and 60% of team coaching assignments arise because executives, who are often already receiving 1-2-1 coaching, want help in building a coaching culture in their teams.

The problem is that being a good coach to individuals isn’t sufficient grounding to be an effective team coach. My own first experiences trying to do so were very bruising! The dynamics of teams are much more complex. It’s easy, for example, for a dysfunctional team to finally find something they can agree upon – using the team coach as a scapegoat for all their failures!

While you can adapt many of the tools from 1-2-1 coaching into a team coaching environment, there are many others that relate to group dynamics and thinking in systems. Each team is a complex, adaptive system nested in other complex, adaptive systems. There are multiple roles for the coach, too. It’s generally regarded as good practice for team coaches to work in pairs – one to hold the conversation and the other to observe and be ready to step in as needed. That inevitably makes the pair of coaches a role model for teaming (good or bad!)

There are many team coach training courses now available and they fall into three categories:

  • Linear – formulaic approaches that are more consultancy or training than genuine coaching. These are most suitable, if you want first to build your skills of team facilitation before tackling team coaching.
  • Systemic – focusing on multiple linear relationships. These are most suitable, if you want to need a prescribed model to fall back on.
  • Complex, adaptive systems approaches – adding the dimensions of interactions between the team’s stakeholders and how the team influences and is influenced by the wider system. These are most suitable, if you are comfortable (or want to be comfortable) with holding the complexity and uncertainty, allowing the team to “have the conversations it needs” and constantly experimenting in the moment.

One of the outcomes that has most impressed me is that every team coach, who I have asked about the impact of becoming a team coach, says that their 1-2-1 coaching has greatly improved. In particular, the systems perspective they have acquired coaching teams is invaluable in helping clients see themselves within their own systems. Most also say that they value the constant challenge and personal growth that comes from working with teams.

For more information about team coach training, see here.

© David Clutterbuck, 2023

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