October 19, 2022

What is Team Coaching (and Why Does It Matter)?

By Strata Leadership staff

Team Coaching on the Rise

Team Coaching is an organizational and leadership development approach that is growing in popularity for a good reason. The need for teams to work together to think critically, solve meaningful problems, and collaborate for the greater good of the organization is increasing. There are several reasons why this is the case.

First, in a knowledge economy, specialization is on the rise, particularly in mid-to-large sized organizations. Thus, employees are highly dependent on the knowledge, expertise, and skills of their colleagues to complete projects. 

Second, the rate of change and degrees of innovation/creativity that is now expected of employees is requiring a new type of teamwork, which has been coined “teaming” by Amy Edmondson[1]. More traditional teamwork structures have allowed for projects to be clearly defined at the outset and roles/responsibilities of individual members to be pre-determined. In contrast, teaming requires members to be flexible in which roles they play, creates a need to be collaborative but also an impetus to make decisions quickly, and increases the leadership responsibility of those in non-formal leadership roles. While teaming has many benefits, it also creates conditions that are ripe for miscommunication, lack of shared vision, and conflict due to the speed, lack of clarity, and lack of formal leadership brought about through this process. 

Third, in an increasingly complex and post-COVID19 world, chronic stress levels of employees have led some to suggest that we’re experiencing a burnout epidemic[2], the ramifications of which many organizational leaders are struggling to address. By engaging in team-level coaching, organizations can address this challenge while in many cases allocating fewer resources than individual-level coaching and are also hopeful to create channels for employees to feel a greater sense of belonging and community with their team, which has been shown to reduce the effects of burnout[3].

Team Coaching Defined

In 2020, the International Coaching Federation (ICF) put forth a set of team coaching competencies, as well as a definition of team coaching. Per ICF, team coaching is “partnering in a co-creative and reflective process with a team on its dynamics and relationships in a way that inspires them to maximize their abilities and potential in order to reach their common purpose and shared goals”[4]

Naturally, this definition shares many commonalities with ICF’s definition of individual coaching (i.e., partnering, creative process, maximization of potential, etc.), but also differs in a few critical ways. Most notably, team coaching is different than individual coaching in that the goal is to achieve a “common purpose” and “shared goals” by focusing on the team “dynamics and relationships.” This is noteworthy because many practices within organizations, such as hiring, performance management, and recognition programs, are aimed at individuals. 

While it is true that organizations are comprised of individuals, it is also true that teams and not individuals are the primary drivers of organizational effectiveness[5]. Further, having a team comprised of high-performing individuals does not necessarily equate to having a high-performing team. In other words, individual effectiveness and team effectiveness are both important, but are not one in the same. And unfortunately, almost all developmental resources are aimed at individual performance to the neglect of team performance.

Team Coaching Considerations

At Strata Leadership, we offer three different coaching formatsindividual coachinggroup coaching, and team coaching. We believe in the power of all three and acknowledge that each can offer unique benefits. Of the three, team coaching is unique in that the focus, scope, and outcomes of the engagement are primarily collective in nature. Meaning, whereas individual and group coaching are primarily aimed at helping individuals thrive, team coaching applies a systemic lens to assess and address interpersonal dynamics and team-level identity, tasks, and goals.

While team coaching may require more by way of facilitation from the coach than individual coaching, it is still a coaching intervention. It thus differs from training in that the topic, agenda, and focus of each session is influenced, set, and directed by the client (i.e., team). As a result, the anticipated outcomes of team coaching will vary from team to team, and even session to session within a single engagement. 

In this way, team coaching is a “just in time” tool with built-in relevance and immediate applicability to the context(s) of those taking part in the coaching. 

Further, as team coaching expert David Clutterbuck notes, “teams are typically so busy doing that they have little time for reflection. Team coaching helps teams review performance, boost results, improve communication, and build rapport…it harnesses a combination of intelligence and curiosity to help teams think through what they are doing and why, how they will integrate individual skill sets, and how they will innovate.”[6]

Team coaching is a fantastic organizational and leadership development initiative for any organization looking to invest in its employees, improve communication and conflict management, generate more creativity and innovation, and reduce burnout. 

The power of team coaching lies in a structured rhythm that invites the members of a team to slow down, communicate openly, and think proactively with the help of a professional team coach who holds expertise in coaching, leadership, organizational behavior, and characteristics of high-performing teams. 

In an increasingly complex, fast-paced, and competitive business environment, organizations need teams that think critically, work well together, and learn and grow together as the landscape, both internal and external to the organization, continues to shift and evolve. 

As such, team coaching is a fantastic and severely underutilized approach to building high-performing teams that drive organizational success.

[1] https://hbr.org/2013/12/the-three-pillars-of-a-teaming-culture

[2] https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/mckinsey-on-books/author-talks-why-burnout-is-an-epidemic-and-what-to-do-about-it

[3] https://hbr.org/2017/06/burnout-at-work-isnt-just-about-exhaustion-its-also-about-loneliness

[4] https://coachingfederation.org/app/uploads/2021/10/Team-Coaching-Competencies_10.4.21.pdf

[5] https://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2016/03/03/why-a-focus-on-teams-not-just-leaders-is-the-secret-to-business-performance/?sh=7207d66424d5

[6] Clutterbuck, D. (2020). Coaching the team at work: The definitive guide to team coaching (2nd ed.). Nicholas Brealey International.