Team Coaching: What It is and What It is not?


4 min read

What is Team Coaching?

There are many definitions of coaching around, and each present a different perspective. The common characteristics of these definitions are that coaching is a formal relationship that concerns:

  • developing insight (awareness)
  • setting up specific goals
  • designing options for achieving selected goals
  • support and encouragement in experimenting with options  
  • questioning, reflection, dialogue

I personally appreciate solution focused developmental coaching model, which has its origins in Socratic dialogue and appreciative inquiry. This model suggests:

  • Focusing on goals and solutions, not on problems or causes of problems.
  • Provoking new perspectives for developing different solution options.
  • Identifying resources that can be utilized for realizing solutions.
  • Encouraging experimentation and doing more of whatever works.

I believe, if this coaching concept is extended to teams, it should emphasis:

  • Developing a collective understanding about goals
  • Provoking collective intelligence for developing different options
  • Identifying collective resources that can be utilized for realizing solutions.
  • Encouraging collective action on selected options

EMCC has a very good definition, which is also pretty aligned with the above outline.

Team coaching focuses on helping the team collectively achieve the teams work in terms of both task work and team work through a sustained series of conversations that raises the individual and collective level of reflection and self awareness, and challenges the teams thinking and behaviours as they develop their own sustainable solutions and practices.

However, I prefer to use below simple definition for team coaching:

Team coaching is helping a team become more effective in creating customer value by provoking its collective wisdom, resources and action.

What Team Coaching is Not?

It is important to distinguish teams from groups. All teams are groups, but not all groups are teams. A team can be defined as a clearly distinguishable group of people, who are interdependent (with respect to information, resources, knowledge and skills) and seek to combine their efforts to achieve a common goal. When one of these qualities is missing or at very low level in a group, it is better to call it just as “group”. (See this article to read more about teams.)

Similarly, it is necessary to distinguish team coaching from group coaching. Focal client of any team coaching intervention is the team as a whole. In group coaching, coaching is done to individuals in a group setting. The individuals being coached need not to be from the same team. They work together only during the coaching sessions, and serve as coaching resources to each other.

Sometimes team coaching concept is confused with other group interventions, such as:

  • team development / building, in which someone trains a team to develop capacity to work well together
  • group facilitation, in which someone oversees a process (ie: conflict resolution, idea creation…etc) on behalf of a group so that the group can focus on the topic
  • group consultancy, in which someone participates in some group processes in order to review and provide feedback on how the group is doing

Coaching must not be confused with therapy, too. Coaching deals with clients who are functional, although dissatisfied with something and aspire to improve on that thing. Therapy deals with people who are in some way dysfunctional. Therapy tries to unravel psychological problems and fix them by focusing on the root causes of those problems.  Therefore, therapy tends to be more past focused while coaching is more future focused.

Benefits of Team Coaching

Teams in today’s modern organizations are subject to two major forces. First of all, they are expected to get the job done. Secondly, they are expected to improve what they do and how they do. It is very easy (and common in today’s organizations) to let the first force dominate teams and then pay for severe dysfunctional effects in medium and long-term.

In order to properly respond to the second force, teams need to continuously check what and how has been done, develop different options for improvement, experiment with these options and check the results again. This is called empirical learning and development.

Evidences from some studies suggest that teams with sufficient learning and development orientation tend to pursue a greater number of new ideas for a wider range of team activities and challenge current paradigm more. It has been observed that such teams created specific occasions – for example one for discussing how to work smarter, and another for how to develop supportive behaviors (building relationships, understanding each other’s weaknesses and strengths). These occasions sometimes provided opportunities even for peer-to-peer coaching.

However, evidence also suggests that overemphasis on learning makes teams suffer the costs of experimentation without gaining many of its benefits and as a result compromise performance in the short term. In summary, failure to maintain a balance between these forces can ruin success in either short-term or long-term.

Team coaching interventions create a reflective space for teams. This reflective space is valuable especially for the ones which are unable to do it on their own along the usual tempo of the work life. Anyone who had experienced the modern corporate world can estimate what percentage of teams lack learning and development routines. For most organizations, normal team discussions tend to be dominated by immediate tasks. Even if they manage to create reflective occasions, they frequently fall into the traps of avoiding some issues with potential to create conflict, ignoring external views or views of some team members, missing the full picture…etc. Team coaching experience increases awareness in teams about importance of learning and development focus as well as teaches them techniques to develop their own learning and development routines.