Team Coaching a great alternative to teambuilding

Recently I presented a workshop at the Grand Valley HRPA’s biannual conference called “An Alternative to Teambuilding.” For those who couldn’t make it, I’m happy to share the highlights of my topic here.

Teams are important, and yet many of us dread working in a group. The typical responses to strengthening a team – improving communication and seeking role clarity – are a good solid start, yet they are often inadequate for dealing with the inevitable conflicts and cultural dysfunctions. Leaders often find that even well-designed teambuilding sessions are not enough to shift the habits and character of the team on-the-job.

At the same time, many leaders who engage in personal coaching are able to make significant changes in their working lives. Integral Coaching™, the method in which I am trained, uses human development theory and real-life practices that allow us to work at multiple levels: Growing Up – advancing and maturing the skills and abilities already in place, and Waking Up – become more aware of oneself and making conscious choices about behaviour. With Integral Coaching, leaders demonstrate sustainable change in behaviours and results.

Yet, we shouldn’t give up on our quest to develop stronger teams. They are the DNA of most organizations. Our ability to work well in groups is critical in the complexity of our world. As Katzenbach and Smith say in their book The Wisdom of Teams, “Teams naturally integrate performance and learning…learning not only occurs in teams, but endures.”

Could the principles of coaching be applied successfully to a team? Yes, they can. I have found that by integrating group development theories and group experience into a human development-centred approach, teams can have the same success as individuals when being coached. In the past year I have seen the real progress teams can make when they are coached together; when they share the experience of growing up and waking up.

Why does Team Coaching work so well?
• When work teams learn together, the changes they make are more culturally sustainable. The team that is coached together supports and challenges one other to try new behaviours in the “real world”, not just during an experiential activity at an offsite. Peers help sustain commitment to the goal and provide support, so one isn’t ostracized for new behaviours.
• Personal accountability is enhanced with group accountability. The coaching topic is created together and each person is singularly accountable reaching the developmental objectives. The coaching results then become a shared work-product, something which everyone commits to. This provides a platform for teambuilding without disturbing the valid and normal attention given to our functional and operational agendas.
• Team coaching sessions provide a vehicle for what Chris Argyris calls “double loop learning”, with their focus on new behaviours, real-time inquiry and transparency and feedback amongst the team. The process itself builds the team’s capacity to work together, as well as each person’s skill in collective interactions.
• Coaching over a number of months gives the group a change to clearly see the myriad of ways they work together. There is awareness that the current reality is a starting point, not a problem to be fixed. Together the group is energized to move forward to a future that includes, and transcends, what they have today.
• Team coaching distinguishes between the awareness of what to do (cognition) and our ability to actually do it (embodiment). Brilliant leaders understand concepts quickly, but don’t assume actions will shift too. With the help of a coach, the team learns to be patient about their awkward, early attempts to change. Embodiment comes only after much practice and reflection, provided in-between meetings by coaching homework.
• Team Coaching gives leaders a concrete way to personally identify with the transformation they wish for their organizations. During the coaching program they are able to develop shared and consistent management practices that, in the long term, will institutionalize the desired cultural change.
A 2008 study by the Center for Creative Leadership showed that 46% of respondents thought their leadership teams could use team coaching to enable culture change. The researchers concluded, “Closing the gap is important because teams whose members focus on providing each other timely feedback, learning together and building upon their interdependent strengths typically show greater capacity to achieve organizational improvement than teams who do not follow these practices.”
Team Coaching, which requires a commitment from the group, a skilled Coach who can build a learning program for the group, and facilitated healthy conversations is a valid and powerful alternative to teambuilding.
For more about Integral Coaching for teams or individuals email malleck@golden.net

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