Four Arguments for Team Coaching

In case you haven’t heard, executive coaching has been on a tear. In 2014, The International Coach Federation (ICF) counted some 41,300 business coaches worldwide (something about global growth rates). And in Asia, where coaching is still relatively new, the industry has been growing even more explosively, with estimates in the range of 40 to 60% per year.

Why has coaching become popular? One reason is that it works. Used in the right way, at the right time, with the right coachee and the right coach, it can be a very powerful driver of personal and professional growth. It’s now recognized that coaching can help really good executives become even better, and can help them through critical career transitions.

Another reason is that it’s painless. The disruption to the business and the rest of the organization is zero. In fact, no one even needs to know. And it’s relatively inexpensive: a typical coaching assignment lasting six months might cost $20,000, and in the corporate world that’s not a lot of money.

As a result of these advantages, one-to-one coaching has become “a good thing,” and the Leadership & Development groups within large companies have latched on to it, giving the coaching industry a comfortable home.

But one-to-one executive coaching is not a panacea. More and more I see companies using coaching in situations where it is not very likely to add much value: for example, as a substitute for performance management, or when offering coaching to execs who are not already motivated to change.

At the same time, I see a lot of opportunity for companies to make more use of Team Coaching – which is something that very few clients currently do, or even understand.

So here are five reasons why team coaching can be a lot more powerful, and add a lot more value, than one-to-one coaching:

First-hand Information: When I work with an individual, I rely on what they say is going on. So, for example, if I have been coaching my client to offer more praise, and be less harsh in offering constructive criticism, and my client tells me that “he’s doing much better now,” what does that really mean? And how do I know how much has really changed?

Whereas, if I am coaching a team, I am in the room when the team is holding some of its most important discussions – so I see firsthand how everyone is behaving, including in the “heat of battle.” I see the body language and the nuance of how they communicate, which gives me a much fuller picture and a much stronger basis from which to help everyone in the room to grow and do better.

Hot Context: In one-to-one coaching, my client and I meet in a nice conference room, with a cup of tea or coffee. For most clients this is actually a welcome break from the pressure of their daily agenda. And coaches are trained to create a stress-free zone in which their clients can think and reflect.

But this cuts both ways. In this environment, it’s easy for the client to “show his best side” to the coach. In fact, they may not even be aware of how their behavior changes when operating under stress. And, as a result, the coach may also not be aware of his client’s “true colors.”

But in a team environment, it’s all there to see. Teams can also show their best side to their coach, when the topic being discussed is low stakes – say where to hold the company picnic. But a skilled coach will ensure that most of the time is spent on high-stakes topics, where team members are more likely to revert to their old patterns of behavior.

Surfacing Elephants: One key to helping clients and teams to make progress is to help them surface and resolve any “Elephants in the Room:” topics that are deemed too sensitive to surface, but which are holding the team back from a full and honest discussions of its challenges. It’s far easier for a coach to see these Elephants, and to help the team to get comfortable with raising them, when he’s party to the team environment.

Accountability for Making Changes: Coaches are taught to hold their clients accountable for any changes that the client agrees to make in his behaviour – which is a good thing. But the coach is not around very much. Far more powerful is to get your own colleagues to hold you accountable: so, for example, if you are trying to talk less at meetings and ask more questions, it’s powerful if one of your trusted colleagues can give you feedback after every meeting. And then you can do the same for them!

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