Research Paper By Ana Caetano
(Executive Coach, PORTUGAL)
The ICF provides a regulatory framework for coaching and coaching programs and the eleven ICFs Core Competencies are the foundation of each coaching conversation. By utilizing all the core competencies, coaches are able to uphold the highest standards of the coaching profession and offer individualized services uniquely designed to meet the desires of the client.
This research paper is a reflection of the challenges that arise when using these competences in team coaching.
Team coaching is aimed at helping the team achieve better cohesion and commitment to the team goals, improve quality of interaction, improve ability to integrate differences and deal with them. Since the client is comprised of an entire team and not individuals, the coach needs to be aware of specific concerns that are particular to team coaching.
The specific application of the core competencies to team coaching are described below.
Setting the Foundation
1. Meeting Ethical Guidelines and Professional Standards
The team coach follows the ethical guidelines and professional standards of ICF Code of Conduct.
Regarding its application to team context, the coach should:
- Not only respect the confidentiality, but ensure all the members of the team/group respect them;
- Clearly communicate the distinctions between coaching, team building training, consulting and group therapy, to avoid misunderstandings or wrong expectations;
- Clearly communicate to all team members that he/she follows the ICF Standards of Conduct.
2. Establishing the Coaching Agreement
Creating a coaching environment requires that members agree to consistent standards. That agreement may include honouring each other’s privacy, confidentiality, choices, expertise, and contributions. Instead of giving advice, group members learn to coach each other by asking curious and powerful questions, listening very carefully, reflecting, challenging, and supporting.
Besides the contract regarding the duration, fees and all conditions of the program, we should be aware that we can have two types of clients: a) the one that hired the coach (e.g. HR Department, Management, etc.) and b) the members of the group/team. The coach establishes the agreement with the team at each coaching meeting, as to what the team wants to get out of the meeting, including measurable results.
The coaching agreement is where the “game rules” are established. What can be accepted or not in the group relation, rules to communicate, etc.
At the end of the session, the coach asks the team to rate how well it did against what expectations, allowing the team to assess its own progress and learning.
Members who join a group/team coaching process might be asked to make a pledge of confidentiality.
The pledge is in writing, and involves a commitment to not share audio recording, and personal observations about others.
Share something you personally said or anything you experienced in the group meeting, just don’t share what others say or experience.
As you meet the first time with the team, there are some tools for creating trust and connection that can be used:
- discuss the group guidelines and what they mean to each group member individually, and demonstrate and practice those guidelines consistently in the group environment
- brainstorm ways this group can create an environment grounded in trust and confidentiality. As their coach, it is important to acknowledge and explore all suggestions if it’s a new formed team, to encourage connection between members quickly, the coach can ask one or more powerful questions to evoke responses that highlight feelings, rather than intellectualizing and storytelling. Example: what is it that you bring to your peers that will be incredibly valuable?
Co-creating the relationship
3. Establishing Trust and Intimacy
When we start a coaching process, the usual feeling is that the coach is a strange element and some teams may look at him/her as a person to be suspicious about. For this reason, it’s important that trust is established from the beginning until the end of the process.
Total acceptance, creating an atmosphere of trust that encourages the team members to open up and share their thoughts and expectations.
The coach needs to accept all points of view, and never adopt a position, not even regarding what the hiring client has asked.
Be empathic will all perspectives and always ask for permission to approach sensitive issues regarding the way the team acts.
Should also create the conditions for all members to participate in the same way.
In session interactions, the coach keeps strict acceptance of the team’s desires, asking the team members how they want to handle a particular situation, rather than telling them what to do. Coach continually points out the team’s strengths and greatness, helping team members to acknowledge within themselves that they have the tools, talents and abilities to solve any problem.
The coach keeps focused on the expectations, always upholding the trust each has put into him/her, and keeping all communication open and honest.
4. Coaching Presence
One of the most difficult competences to develop in a team coaching context. This means 1) adaptability; 2) security; 3) flexibility and 4) trust. Coaching Presence is the ability to trust the process and move between the participants as a jazz musician adapts himself to the changes of rhythm in an improvised session (Gorka, 2014).
The team coach is flexible, open, and present-moment focused. While the team’s mission is to produce some product or reach some goal, the coach’s mission is to help the team reach that goal while becoming high-performing and self-managed. The coach does not solve the team’s problems.
The coach empowers the team to solve its own problems, encouraging it to dig down to find its own hidden abilities to do so.
The coach expresses delight in the team’s insights and successes, and acknowledges it for its progress and perspicacity.
This means a clear, factual restatement of what the team achieved, what it learned and challenges the team on achieving continuous improvement and on using what was learned.
The coach partners with the team to find its own level of success. This means that the coach must give the team room to grow and to find its own path, while encouraging forward progress and productivity. The coach challenges the team on this path, and celebrates with it when it reaches its goals.
5. Active Listening
Coaching teams active listening escalates to a higher level, where the a coach listens to all team members, to what is missing from the conversation, to what is next step for the group conversation, and to the opportunities to take the conversation to a richer, deeper level. Thomas Leonard coined the phrase “tri-plex” listening to describe what occurs when coaches are listening at multiple levels. The focus is more than what is being said; it’s about the intention of the group members, which can include who is speaking and what they’re saying, who is responding and who is missing from the conversation.
A team coach with high active listening is able to show that has understood all the members’ points of view and provides clarity with the communication (reflecting back, summarizing the interventions…). A good active listening integrates visions, opinions and needs of all the members.
The team entity can be considered an individual with many moods and voices. It is up to the coach to listen to those voices and monitor the moods. When the coach sees an opportunity for learning, she or he brings it to the team’s notice (e.g., “what just happened here?”).
The coach listens beyond words, is aware of the team entity feelings as a whole system. What is not being said can be just as important as what is being actually said.
The coach listens for perceptions, beliefs and assumptions that create barriers for the team and brings those to light. The coach pays attention to the relationships within the team and how they affect the team’s overall well-being. Any time the coach senses a stumbling block, she or he brings the team’s members attention to it to enable them to resolve it.
6. Powerful Questioning
The coach uses powerful questions to help the team develop a deeper understanding of what makes it successful. Powerful questions are those that evoke deeper thought and consideration to answer.
Again the team coach will need to take the competences as Individual coach to a higher level. The powerful questions should invite the highest number of members to reflect. She or he needs to be careful about making questions directly to some participants or monopolizing the themes.
If this happens, some members may disconnect from the process and, as a consequence, the creativity and reflection of the team will be affected.
7. Direct Communication
The coach pays attention to how she or he communicates with the team, ensuring both that the team understands her or his meaning and that she or he, in turn, understands the team’s intent. The coach improves comprehension by reframing statements, summarizing long stories to highlight the bottom line, and asking the team to repeat what the coach just stated.
The coach shares feedback with the team in a non-judgmental way, but stating facts clearly. The coach holds a mirror up to the team so that it can see what others see.
Using this competence requires the ability to act in a chameleonic way, to ask, understand, hear in a way that adapts to all coachees present in the session.
The team coach should communicate in a direct way to the team, and also what she or he is observing in that team. In this way, the team also finds the way to communicate that serves them best.
Facilitating learning and results
8. Creating Awareness
Many teams’ dysfunctions are due to incompatible assumptions, beliefs and perceptions. The coach raises the team’s awareness of each other as valuable components of a powerful whole, each contributing her or his own unique blend of talents, skills, personality and knowledge.
By helping the team members gain new insights into what makes their teammates unique, a coach increases understating and collaboration.
When the team members discover an insight, the coach helps them to dig deeper to truly understand what that insight means to them, how they can achieve insights in the future and what that insight will do for them. This assistance includes creating new team norms that support the insight or crafting action steps based upon the insight.
The team coach role is to interrupt the automatic and non-conscious process of all and each member and help them to question the ideas implemented, and look at them from different points of view. This is achieved through active listening and powerful questioning.
The Coach needs to be very careful to not influence the team with ideas or opinions coming from her or his own world.
Again the coach must show flexibility and versatility because the main difference between an individual and group session is that, in the latter, there is a variety of thinking limitations and patterns.
Furthermore, she or he should be able to share the current level of awareness in the team.
9. Designing Actions
When applying this competence to team coaching, the coach will find additional challenges when compared to individual sessions.
A first difference is when there is a need to create new ideas and options that lead to action. The coach will need to manage all interventions to ensure that:
- all members participate;
- all ideas are respected;
- the team learns to decide, to reach a common ground; to act when a consensus doesn’t happen;
- the team members help each other to avoid being afraid of sharing ideas, even if they seem non-sense.
The next challenge is having equable participation of all members of the team when it comes to implementing actions and getting commitment from them.
It is very important to ask the team to what extent they will be responsible and committed to the action plan.
The coach helps the team to develop its own way of reaching its goals by clearly defining action steps that will lead to success.
The idea is to help the team find its own unique pattern of success and motivation. One way is through brainstorming sessions, where the coach ensures that everyone on the team has a voice. The coach can challenge the team when she or he feels that the action steps are inappropriate in some way (e.g., not challenging enough)
10. Planning and Goal Setting
The team coach will face the following challenges:
- manage different goals (the team leader, the hiring client, the team)
- need to align the goals
- be aware of:
a. participation of all team members
b. manage the situations of rejection of some ideas from some members
c. the risk of group thinking process and reach a false consensus
d. find a definition and KPIs that satisfy all members
e. relation between objectives and the reality of the team
For example, for a new team, the coach can help the team members define their mission and vision in their very first meeting. As a second step, she or he can help define the goals they need to meet that mission and work with the team to make these goals ambitious, realistic, achievable and measurable.
As the team works towards its goals, the coach establishes regular review meetings to determine the team’s progress. Goals are revisited and measured. Some may be completed, some may be dropped, and new ones may be added. The coach facilitates this process, ensuring the team is keeping its mission and vision in mind.
11. Managing Progress and Accountability
The coach helps the team prioritize its goals and holds it accountable for reaching them.
This is done in a non-judgmental way. The coach also helps the team members reflect on what can enable them to reach goals, to help them better understand what makes them successful.
The coach acknowledges the team’s progress and encourages it to celebrate success in some way.
The coach helps the team for accountability structures beyond her or himself. After all, the coach is helping to create a self-managed team that can thrive on its own. The structures are ideally within the team itself, but can also include stakeholders and managers to a lesser degree.
The coach needs to create the conditions to:
- Follow up on individual actions, as well as team actions
- Empower the team with responsibility and translate that responsibility into actions
- Encourage the team on the actions they have achieved
- Create a way of self-tracking to coordinate the different actions
- Ensure team members act as accountability partners of each other
Bartolomé, Gorka (2014). Efecto Sinergia, Coaching en Equipos y Sistemas
Cockerham, Ginger (2011). Group Coaching, a Comprehensive Blue Print
Harman, Kathleen (2009). PRISM Teams, Coaching Prolific, Radically Innovative, Self-Managed Teams
International Coach Federation, ICF Core Competencies,