This article aims to explain the details of the second phase of the team coaching framework explained in this article.
Change Themes / Aspirations
All coaching interventions start with a need for change, which later develops into an aspiration. In most cases, change need is phrased as an imprecise problem statement, which points out what is missing. I prefer to call such statements as change themes. When these statements are paraphrased to stress what is desired instead of what is missing, they are called as aspiration.
One of the greatest difficulties of team coaching when compared with individual coaching is developing a collectively agreed aspiration. The sponsor, the leader and the team members are all together become the client of the coaching relationship. It may sometimes be very difficult to align them since each may have different ideas about what is needed. The coach must ensure that the clients have at least one common need (change theme) to work on by the help of the coaching process.
The needs (and also aspirations) may change by time. This is normal, even expected, when new insights are gained during coaching process. However, having no common need is a big handicap. Starting from the initial discussions, the coach must make it clear to all clients that success in the coaching relies on alignment of all of them along the needs and aspirations and everybody must show some flexibility and be open to negotiation in order to institute an alignment.
To be successful, all team members must acknowledge that the selected change themes are high priority ones and they should agree on what to achieve (goals). Determining goals may sometimes require a hefty negotiation process. Quality of the preparation, by both client and coach may ease this process. The minimum at the outset of coaching should be having ‘draft’ goals for which everybody has some consent. In order to check how far consent has been achieved, the coach may ask to the team members following questions:
- What can be the intermediate steps that would indicate movement towards the goals?
- How would coaching contribute to achieving the goals?
The goals in the contract must be precise as much as possible. The definitions made must include not only what to achieve but also how to recognize that the goals are achieved. For example, ‘improving internal communication’ is not a coaching goal. It is a change theme. In order to set up a proper goal, the coach must clarify what type of communications need to be improved and how can improvement be recognized. It may be difficult to do this for all goals. Especially right at the beginning… But the more goals are precise the better. Vague goals can be refined along the process.
The coach must ensure that goals determined by the team are complete, which means that they take care the team members, the team and the larger ecosystem. The questions that can be utilized for this purpose: This team coaching will be a success for
- all individuals if …
- for the team as a whole if …
- for the larger organization if …
- for all stakeholders if …
Goals that teams would like to achieve through coaching can vary. They may focus on:
- end results,
- tasks and processes,
- behaviors related with internal engagements
- behaviors related with external (stakeholder) engagements,
- purpose, mission, vision, how the business needs to be transformed
Interestingly, most teams come with goals focusing on behaviors such as resolving conflict between individuals, or relating better interpersonally. It is probably because people mostly associate coaching with behavioral issues. I have also come across with many people believing in that team performance will improve when interpersonal relations improve. However, team performance depends on a lot of things and improvement in relations does not necessarily contribute to it. When a team comes with a behavioral change team, digging the purpose of behavioral change proves useful. If behaviors of concern are detrimental components of a performance problem, then a positive effect on performance will be more likely.
Along the coaching process, the team coach may sense that there are some unspoken expectations. At that moment, it is important to encourage the clients to make them explicit. Ignoring them or trying to meet them without acknowledging contain big risks. If they are not addressed, some or all of the clients may perceive the coaching journey and outputs as irrelevant. If they are pursued privately by some of the clients without recognition of all of them, the coaching endeavor may not create any proper result. Some expectations may be totally unconscious and may conflict with consciously raised expectations. Chris Argyris describes this conflict as a conflict between ‘espoused theory’ (what I say) and ‘theory- in-use’ (deduced from what I do). In this case, asking clients questions like “what is not being said” or “what the unwritten rules are” may prove useful.
Whenever an alignment is achieved about change themes, aspirations and goals, it must be written down on a paper or digital board, which is visible to the team all the time. This constitute the first step of building up a contract. In the first session, engagement rules must also be discussed and added into the contracts.
Some questions that can facilitate determining rules are:
- What kind of atmosphere do you want to have here?
- How do you want to feel when you leave each session?
- What will you do when you fall in conflict?
- What kind of behaviors will ensure that you will get utmost benefit from this coaching endeavor?
- How can this team best manage its time along coaching sessions? (Preferences of the team regarding starting time, break frequency, place, …etc)
- Based on all we have discussed up until now, what should be rules we should commit all together while working together along this coaching endeavor?
Contracting is a continuous process, which starts right at the assignment of coaching, and continue throughout the coaching journey. The contract needs to be updated whenever the clients’ understanding of themselves, their situation and goals change.
It can prove useful, if the coach underlines at initial stages that coaching is not a one-off activity. For years, a vast array of one-off activities has been sold to companies as “team building” solutions. They promoted the idea that if the team shares a challenging or pleasant experience, it will always translate into better relations and then to better performance. Teams are complex systems. Due to this, short-term team interventions generally fail to make a lasting difference.
Confidentiality of what is going to be said during coaching process is another topic need to be discussed at this phase. Commitment to total confidentiality is most of the time very difficult for all parties to live up to. Therefore it is recommended to commit only to a degree of confidentiality, which is consistent with that goal.
The coach must also be careful during one to one engagements with clients. He should not allow people make herself a secret box. If a team member tells the coach something important that she is not willing to have discussed in the group, consider why has the team member told you this. Find out with the team member the impact, on herself and others, of continuing to keep the secret.
Another important topic to be highlighted at this phase is the coaches position. The coach must emphasize that she is loyal to all clients. The coach may feel necessary to make separate meetings with the sponsor and team leader. Even though this is going to be perceived as normal and expected by many people, the coach must inform the team and explain why the difference in the sponsor’s and leader’s role make such meetings necessary in order to preserve transparency and trust. The coach may give the team an opportunity to air their feelings and ideas about such special treatments, by asking what the benefits and risks to them might be.