Business Team Coaching – A Personal Perspective

Generally, I am uncomfortable with the term coach in a business context overall.  It suggests in some ways that you are the guru, the soothsayer.  That interpretation doesn’t sit well with me at all.

The great team coaches whom I have observed possess the courage and confidence to not know where they are going in a process.  Instead, they build trust and confidence with the team, welcome ambiguity and create a safe space for insight and learning to emerge.  As the learned academics say team coaching can be “messy”.  I can see the sceptical looks of the various CEOs I have been lucky enough to learn from, at such a thought.   The idea of allowing a process to be responsive rather than prescriptive can be alien to many cultures. ‘If you’re coming in here to root around, you better have a good idea where we are going’ I hear them say.

But that’s the point in many ways.  Why is iteration based on insights sometimes seen as bad thing?  Many teams can be held back by trying to start initiatives from a place of perfection.

Shifting Perspective

The team coaching process is not random of course.  It focuses on the entire system from strategic to operational and from performance to personality. However, to ultimately succeed, the process requires that the leaders who engage are confident enough to learn and change. A shift in perspective is often required.  Rather than just looking at their eco-system from the inside out, leaders must help their organisation view the world from the outside in. A well-designed process will facilitate reflection on what is changing around the organisation and needs to be change within the team as a result. This can be personally challenging.  Having to accept that their own practices, behaviours, and ways of being may need to evolve will not come easily to the many Chief Executives for a multitude of reasons.  These are brave steps. Equally, brave steps are required across the entire top team.  A candid assessment of its own dynamics, practices, and openness to challenge and change is required. 

Candour

Many a leadership team will profess an openness to constructive criticism at an initial “chemistry” session.  When one gets into an initial diagnostic, a quite different reality can emerge.  I am saddened when I meet with those very insightful, yet disempowered, leaders who have told me about their fear of the potential repercussion of challenge in their ExCom.  They talk about how their apparent audacity of moving beyond their own area of competence or function has been badly received. Asking a question of a colleague who is seen as the functional expert can elicit a sharp put down.  This is more widespread than one might think.

Surely the best leaders are those who have a sense of the wider organisation.  Those who are prepared to ask the obvious and not so obvious questions can add the most value.  When a leader has a goal of making challenge culturally safe, significant progress is made in a process.  When a team comes to understand that challenge is intended to improve collective performance, it can be very powerful.  I have witnessed this transformative and liberating dynamic in both large and small businesses.

Pause for Insight

Team coaching is in in some ways a misnomer.  It’s the team that does the work.  The coach does not “tell” the client what to do.  The coach facilitates the process of change and often helps the client team surface unnamed and unhelpful dynamics.  A good process gives voice and reality to practices that need to change.  The teams that take the time to pause and step back can find many nuggets of insight which can be truly transformational.

If this topic is of interest and you want to discuss it further, please feel free to contact mark@martelloleadership.com

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