Research Paper By Suzanne Martyn-Jones
(Team Coaching/Team Coach, CANADA)
Great things in business are never done by one person, they are done by a team of people. Steve Jobs
There is such a strong correlation between the accomplishments of Apple and the vision of the late Steve Jobs that it might be easy to forget that it was a team – not one person – that innovated and developed the iPod, iPad, and iPhone. His famous quote boasts about the great things that happened at Apple, but more notably, it acknowledges that these great things happen because of a team. “Teamwork can be the single most important skill and business process in making your organization effective and better than the competition.”While teamwork is a critical component of the work environment, there isn’t a simple recipe for building great teams. Every team has different dynamics; from the skills of the individuals that make up the team; to the projects, they have been assigned; to the culture of the organization. “Even the best teams aren’t ready to be excellent on day one. They become great by learning from experience and adapting.”Team coaching is one of the most effective ways to help teams move from dysfunctional to functional, or from functional to optimal. By exploring the opportunities and challenges of teamwork, along with the role of coaching, it is evident that every team has the potential to achieve great things with the help of a coach.
“The reality is that when teams of people work together, any number of complications can arise, from heightened competition that cramps collaboration, to sabotaging spirit, to clashing personalities, to conflict avoidance.” When teams are dysfunctional, it often happens behind closed doors, and management is left puzzled as to why projects are not getting done and employee morale is low. In addition to a lack of productivity, being part of a team that isn’t working can cause stress at an individual level and even result in people leaving their jobs altogether. “Research indicates that western cultures are often more focused on individualism and less on collectivism.” This desire to compete with others in the workplace is both a cause and a result of poor teamwork.
Building Great Teams With Coaching: Why teamwork is important.
To better understand the importance of teamwork, we can look at the analogy of a boat race: “Each team had a comparable boat – built for the water and appropriately sized for the team with the potential to win. All things being equal, it’s not the boat that wins the race; it’s the team.”While boat racing may seem like a simple example, the benefits of teamwork are similar in boating to that of the workplace. The team is more valuable because of the collective skills of the group, and when individuals work well together, they can create something more powerful than any of the individuals could accomplish on their own.
“Teamwork is about how work gets done and teams that do it better outperform others by 20% or more.”. The reality is that putting people together in a room doesn’t automatically make them a team. A team only forms once individuals start to work collaboratively, “a process that involves a group of people to reach (a) goal.”This goal serves as an anchor to point the team in a common direction and the importance of this goal shouldn’t be underestimated. When a team is “actively moving toward a common goal or objective, we can see tremendous leaps in innovation and momentum.”This is not only a period of optimal performance for the team, but it is also when individuals feel the most connected and satisfied with their work.
Coaching teams towards a common goal.
“Collaboration and teaming are more necessary and common than ever before, yet there continue to be many myths about teamwork along with simplistic advice.”.The business theory will lead you to believe that it is easy to build a strong team. But with the complexity of the current work environment, that is far from the truth. “Today’s teams are different from the teams of the past: They’re far more diverse, dispersed, digital, and dynamic (with frequent changes in membership). But while teams face new hurdles, their success still hinges on a core set of fundamentals for group collaboration.”
Establishing the fundamentals is where coaching can play a role. Coaches are well-suited to help encourage group collaboration and can be effective at moving people towards a greater goal. A coach can listen and adapt to each unique situation, offering team members an environment to build trust and stimulate ideation. If teamwork is met with resistance, a coach can break down the barriers by allowing the group to interact with each other in a safe space. An experienced coach can “draw from individual strengths and ask for the team’s dedication, commitment, and creativity”as they work together under newly established ground rules.
“Any meaningful team coaching initiative should be linked to some organizational strategic objectives rather than conducted for its own sake. Team effectiveness is about maximizing the team’s contribution to the attainment of organizational strategic objectives.”Engaging team members in these discussions will ensure that diverse and well-rounded ideas are brought forward and that everyone feels included in the process.“After gathering your team, start with big-picture thinking and encourage members to discuss and brainstorm ways to meet (the) longer-term goals.”
As part of the facilitation process, the coach must help team members connect the goals to something bigger. Research has found that the “connection to mission or purpose is a key supporting object during times of change and transition.”Employees seek out work that makes a difference and having a purposeful mission helps to take a team to the next level, where they are working towards something more important than before.
Some barriers to team coaching.
“Despite the increasing evidence that teamwork can be a powerful strategy for the realization of organizational goals, evidence suggests a failure to take advantage of this useful tool”.That failure can happen at many levels: from a company that doesn’t support teamwork; to individuals that resist working together; to managers who have conflicting agendas; to the coach who isn’t skilled enough at dealing with the complexity of team dynamics.
Those team dynamics can have deep-rooted issues that are embedded in the behaviors of the workplace, making it difficult to successfully bring team members together. “The presence of rigid silos and the absence of collaboration and commitment, which are endemic and characteristics of an organizational culture, may pose a potential threat to successful team coaching implementation.”
Another potential threat is the lack of support from the top. “Veterans of command-and-control style leadership are often reluctant to embrace the idea (of coaching) because it takes time to deliver results, and those can be hard to measure.”Applying a results-based approach to coaching can help demonstrate value throughout the journey to ensure that any successes, and potential failures, are being communicated and addressed. It’s not only about improving working relationships within the team, but also demonstrating an increase in productivity, effectiveness, or any other business metric associated with the team.
Ultimately, there is “damage caused by executives who do not know how to embrace team spirit and motivate their employees”. This can result in unintended consequences that go beyond the loss of good people within an organization. As such, there is a heightened lens on the importance of cultivating strong working relationships and the positive impacts that can come from coaching.“A qualified executive team knows how to build a team, maintain momentum, and foster excitement in all levels of the corporate structure. If (the) executive team is qualified, then they will want to commit to making teamwork a priority.”
Creating success with team coaching.
“Coaching has never been more necessary than now and into the future.”As the complexity of the workplace evolves, there is a greater need to work in groups to solve problems and drive innovation. “Forming, storming, norming and performing (is) the 55-year-old, simplistic model for leading high performing teams that most managers are aware of. But can we do better?”Allowing a team to struggle through the forming and storming stages can take weeks or even months. What does this do to the morale of the team during this time and what is the loss to productivity? Onboarding a team with an experienced coach can allow individuals to form together as a cohesive team sooner rather than later, and it can help to avoid or reduce the storming stage altogether.
“Team coaching, which has been around for about a decade, is particularly effective when companies want to resolve workplace conflicts that may erupt or increase cohesion and productivity as organizational models change.”Corrective or disciplinary action may work for individual performance, but it can’t address team issues when the source of conflict is rarely known. A coach has an opportunity to start working with a team before problems arise or shortly thereafter. If there are issues between team members, the coach can ensure everyone has a voice while working through the solutions. Getting the group to think strategically is a first step, which helps to turn the focus away from internal problems and towards the larger goals that the team is tasked to solve. This creates the right environment for collaboration while making sure that everyone feels part of the process. It is often beneficial in difficult circumstances that two coaches work with a team – one to facilitate the discussion and the other to watch for team dynamics that are taking place in the room. This allows issues to be brought forward and dealt with in an open forum.“Normally, internal leaders would not spend time discovering and understanding internal conflicts…but there is a beneficial element to talking about it. Coaches lubricate the process.”
The success of the coaching engagement is tied to the buy-in of executives, the mindset of the participants, and the skill level of the coach. “Inadequate coaching experience and a poor appreciation of team dynamics can undermine the team coach’s good intentions and effectively derail the coaching project.” Team coaching requires that individuals come together as a team. It’s not enough for a few of the individuals of the team to achieve a breakthrough – it must happen at the full team level. Yet there are also benefits for each of the individuals that participate in the coaching experience. “Team coaching allows each team member to sharpen his own skills while learning how best to work within the group to reach common goals.” It is a win-win for everybody.
“Organizations focused on developing teamwork tend to experience many benefits including better and better decision making, flexibility among the workforce and focus on achieving organizational goals with a highly motivated workforce and synergy among team members”. The COVID-19 global pandemic has introduced additional challenges to team members who are figuring out how to work remotely. It has also been a time of immense change and uncertainty that can make it more difficult to bond.
“To retool companies for the new world of work, managers need fresh insights into what makes their teams tick. With staff routinely working from home, and many expecting to visit offices much less frequently, leaders can no longer rely on water-cooler moments to fuel innovation and growth.”If we had trouble getting teams to work together in a boardroom, it is even harder over Zoom. This new environment, whether temporary or permanent, is compounding the challenges of teamwork. It’s a challenge that coaching can help to overcome. “Many organizations, researchers, and leaders have identified coaching as a critical leadership and management competency. In addition, employees are asking more and more for coaching. True coaching improves employee and organizational resiliency and effectiveness in change.”
“Teams are at the core of how organizations get things done. A literature review…found that coaching had a positive effect on team effectiveness and productivity.”Given the advantages of teamwork, it is worth putting time and resources into helping people work better together for the greater good. Coaching allows teams to work through their differences and find common ground, allowing them to grow and succeed both as a group and as individuals contributing to a group.“Employees who are coaching to performance rather than managed to performance are more committed to and invested in the outcomes of their work and achievement of organizational goals.
“Successful coaching adds value to employees, who then add value to their organizations by giving their best. Employees want to be happy, productive, and innovative, and coaching creates the environment where this can happen. Coaching also supports diversity by recognizing every employee’s uniqueness.”It’s fair to say that achieving great teamwork is easier said than done. The answer doesn’t lie in a textbook and there isn’t a one-size, fits all, approach to making teams work. However, every team has the potential to achieve greatness. “When we set out to document the behavior of teams that `click’, we noticed we could sense a buzz in a team even if we didn’t understand what the members were talking about.”It’s the buzz that we are striving for; the sign that the team has reached a different level of togetherness. And with the help of a coach, it is the type of teamwork that every organization wants to create, and every employee wants to experience.
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