Organizations today function through numerous teams engaged in variety of tasks such as manufacturing, sales, finance, human resources, Research & development etc. These are all functional teams. In addition there are teams appointed to deal with specific issue or problem such as deciding strategy to enter a new market, develop new products, reduce employee attrition, improve profitability of a strategic business unit (SBU) etc. Further, there are numerous committees such as ethics committee, audit committee, strategy council, operations review committee, management development committee, etc.
At the top management level, CEO often holds meetings involving all his/her direct reports to review how business is progressing, what needs to be done differently, what are the key issues of the business at a point of time and how to resolve these. Team meetings are so common in organization that a typical senior manager in particular, spends much of available time attending meetings of one or the other kind. These teams invariably consist of people coming from varying background and each of them has distinct roles and responsibilities. Each one of them is expected to contribute to the purpose and larger goal of the team.
By harnessing the collective wisdom team is expected to meet their goals more effectively. In reality however, anyone who has been associated with functioning of organizations, would have witnessed that functioning of these teams are far from smooth and trouble free. Quite often, the team meetings are battle grounds for members to settle their individual scores, Members try to assert superiority by attacking the other members. Members tend to hijack the meeting toward own agenda and meet personal objectives rather than contributing to accomplishing team goals.
Many remain fixated in their own functional groove rather than look at bigger picture and address the issue in hand. There are gaps in sharing by deliberate withholding of information. Instead of meaningful dialogue and conversations, there are tendencies to dominate attack or withdraw by silence during these team meetings. Instead of collaboration, team members end up having unhealthy competition with each other. The outcomes of such dysfunctional meetings are far from satisfactory and they do not serve the organization purpose. David Rock (2007) echoes this when he says,
most teams by nature are disjointed, chaotic systems with people pulling in many different directions.
Organizations are concerned about dealing with such dysfunctionalities of team working and making them substantially more effective. Largely, the team leader has ownership and responsibility to make the team more effective. Ability of team leader to manage the team often gets debated and questioned. Team leaders get nominated to executive education programs to improve their leadership style for better management of team. These interventions do help but in a limited way.
In this context, this paper examines whether coaching of the team is relevant and if yes how effective coaching will be in raising team performance. The paper draws from theories and empirical evidences reported in the academic literature.
Theories relevant to team coaching
Gallwey (2000) defines coaching as, “the art of creating an environment, through conversation and a way of being, that facilitates the process by which a person can move toward desired goals in a fulfilling manner.” Like this, most theories and researches reported on coaching relate to individual. They deal with variety of models which coaches use to help individuals develop and reach their goals (Fournies, 1978). Besides coaching an individual, there is also emergence of ‘group coaching ‘where group of individuals are coached simultaneously by a coach. But here again the focus of change is the individual. They happen to be coming together for convenience of time and cost but the learning is at the individual level.
Distinct from individual and group coaching, focus of team coaching is the entire working team. Team coaching is aimed toward helping the team achieve better cohesion and commitment to the team goals, improve quality of interaction, improve ability to surface differences and deal with them, (Hackman & Wageman, 2005).
Team coaching has always been used by sports teams to enhance their capability and winning chances. Truman (2003) analyzing the behavior of sports coaches established that coaching leads to team cohesion which in turn leads to superior team performance. Team cohesion is very important for winning the game. There are frequent changes in the team. Athletes come and go which impacts quality of team. But it is not unusual for mediocre team with limited talent winning while teams with high talents losing the game. Cohesion in the team has been found to make the difference between winning and losing, Truman (2003). This has been corroborated by Schroeder (2010) after interviewing ten leading sports coaches who have made the unsuccessful teams as winners. These coaches significantly focused on change of team culture including set of values specific to their teams.
Coming to organizations, Hackman and Wageman (2005) mention that team coaches intervene at the team processes to enhance performance. These interventions help teams overcome interpersonal conflicts, communication breakdown, leadership struggle, common vision, group cohesion and quality of interaction within the team. Many of these are to be attended by the team leader by adopting appropriate leadership style. Team coach needs to be aware of this and then identify what aspects he /she as team coach will influence. Team coach complements and supports the team leader. There is also issue of timing of coaching intervention. Hackman and Wageman (2005) mention that there are three phase of team, beginning, mid and end points. At the beginning point team needs motivation to get on with the task. Team leader is in the best position to provide this. At the midpoint, when the team has worked together for some time and has experienced some of the dysfunctionalities, is the most appropriate time for the team coach to come and help the team move forward. The end point of the team is ideal for reflection and consolidating the learning. At this point as well, the team coach can help consolidate the learning. At the time of team coaching intervention, it is also important that team is not preoccupied with any other pressing agenda.
In terms of process, team coaching has large overlap with process consultation postulated by Schein (2004). Process consultation assumes that team has mental maps. Teams need to be made aware of these mental maps and their implications. Process consultant observes the team in action and shares the observations with the team. This is unfreezing phase. It then moves to cognitive restructuring and finally to refreezing. Cognitive restructuring, in the team happens through six different factors.
- Changes in what is paid attention to, what is measured and controlled.
- Role modeling
- Leader’s reaction to crisis
- Changing resource allocation
- Altering organization personal
- Reward behavior consistent with new culture
The cognitive restructuring is also reinforced by making changes in slogans, symbols and rituals.
Many of these process consultation interventions are akin to team coaching.
David Rock (2007) stipulates that six steps for transforming performance which he had outlined for individuals are equally applicable to coaching teams –
- Think about thinking –let the people in the team do all the thinking, keep them focused on solutions, stretch their thinking, accentuate the positive and follow good process.
- Listen for potential – assuming that people in the team have potential to find answers to the issues in hand by themselves.
- Speak with intent – to be succinct , specific and generous
- Dance toward insight –by getting permission for harder conversation, placement, using thinking questions and clarifying their responses.
- Create new thinking – by following CREATE model i.e. current realities, alternatives and tap into the energy of the team.
- Follow up – by focusing on facts and emotions, listening for learnings and implications.
Like Rock’s six steps model described above, perhaps other models of coaching individuals may also be applicable to team coaching.
Having established need for team coaching and the team coaching model, the paper now covers highlights of some success stories of the team coaching found in the literature.
Team Coaching at Caterpillar
Anderson, Anderson & Mayo (2008) describe how team coaching helped the leadership team in Caterpillar drive culture change. This case pertains to North American Commercial Division (NACD) with responsibility for dealer development and marketing machines for Caterpillar’s $ 44 billion North American market place. The new Vice President, William Mayo (Bill) wanted to make NACD a more customer centric organization. In this culture change journey, Bill engaged the nine department heads directly reporting to him. Bill engaged a professional coach Dianna Anderson who led series of individual as well as team coaching intervention. The team coaching was done with a view to strengthen the leadership team’s capability for driving cultural change in NACD. Individual coaching was done for the team leader as well as the nine department heads. The team coaching was done as follows –
- Background interviews with each team member to fully understand the aspirations and strengths of each member.
- Feedback and awareness building – half a day team coaching session where the coach shared observations based on the background interviews and held dialogue in the session to arrive at shared understanding of the opportunities for NACD.
- Coach attended number of leadership team meetings to provide real time feedback to support the team in applying new ways of working so as to enhance the team effectiveness.
At the end of this initiative which lasted for nearly two years, in the formal evaluation 89 % of the leadership team felt their effectiveness as a team has significantly improved in terms of decision making, matrix functioning, giving / receiving feedback and their journey toward becoming customer centric organization.
Team Coaching at Well’s Dairy
Anne Field (2007) described case of Well’s Dairy – a Iowa (USA) based 3000 employee company which has been in the business of selling Blue Bunny ice cream since 1913. To thrive in the changing market condition, CEO Gary Wells realized that company has to grow much faster and become top three players in the industry. To hasten the pace of growth, executive team was reconstituted by hiring of 7 new members including CFO, VP of Sales and VP of Logistics. The new team however demonstrated culture of conflict avoidance consequently critical details were not getting fully discussed leading to many operational gaps. It was decided to engage Center of Creative Leadership to provide team coaching to the executive team. The team coaching progressed as follows –
- Series of assessment of each member of executive team –these were 360 degree, MBTI and such like assessments.
- Sharing of assessment feedbacks with executive team and having conversation about its implication on day-to-day working. For instance, in moments of conflicts, some withdrew while others became more aggressive.
- With the understanding came greater trust and more productive interaction with each other. They began to have healthy debate and began to make more informed decision.
Team Coaching at Maple Leaf Foods
Anne Field (2007), further shared case of Maple Leaf Foods (MLF), a Toronto based food processing company where EVP, Michael Detlefsen was experiencing that his executive team of 14 members were not functioning effectively. The meetings were full of bickering, often members sniping at each other. To help improve the team functioning, a team coach was engaged who proceeded as follows –
- To begin with, Detlefsen laid the ground rules in terms of his expectations from the team. He emphasized the need to avoid uncooperative behavior and insisted that every one speaks up.
- Detlefsen and the team, with help from teach coach developed 9 ground rules of behavior. It included rules such as treat each other with respect, celebrate our successes etc. During the team meeting, members were reminded of these rules as the situation warranted.
- The team developed a communication template that invited members to describe 3 things they did not like about the proposal and the things they liked about the proposal.
- As a supplement one-on-one coaching was done for those who were particularly intimidating and abrasive in the meeting.
- MLF also altered their performance management system so that individuals and business units got rewarded on the basis of how well they collaborated with each other.
These interventions, that is, team coaching, one-on-one coaching and change in performance management system helped MLF make their executive team more collaborative, productive and effective.
All of these three case studies indicate that organizations function and get the task done through teams. Quite often these teams have dynamics which often are dysfunctional toward achieving the organization goals for which the teams are set up. Hence team coaching interventions are required to reframe the dynamics in the team and make them more productive. These real life case studies provide the empirical evidences that team coaching is relevant and if handled well can significantly enhance the team effectiveness. These may require, as was seen, in all the three cases described above, both team as well as individual coaching interventions. Further, the theory part of this paper indicates that process of team coaching could greatly overlap the process consulting model of Schein (2004). Also many of the coaching models for individuals like six steps model of David Rock (2007) may be equally applied in team coaching situations as well.
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