Team coaching is essential in ensuring the work individuals undertake has an impact and makes a real difference to how they function as a team. Yet with so many various factors and considerations to weigh up when coaching teams, it can prove difficult to distinguish between the most important aspects involved.

In this post, my colleague and OPP Principal Consultant, Katy Lyne, highlights her five top tips for team coaching, and how these can make a real difference to how a team functions.

1. Work with a pressing and important agenda

Team coaching varies hugely in length, complexity and content; but it is those teams that have a pressing and important agenda to address that are likely to grow and change the most. There may be a ‘burning platform’ they want to address such as team conflict or difficult decision-making. Some teams may be functioning well, but realise that the challenges ahead require radical change. Others may want to realise their potential and become a high performing team rather than just a group of individuals. By ensuring that all team members are working with something that matters to them as individuals and as a team, a coach is most likely to gain the commitment and engagement needed for meaningful and sustained change.

2. Understand your starting point 

Like Gok Wan making his clients gaze into a 360° mirror, starting a team coaching programme with an honest, supportive look at how the team is working together provides focus and clarity. Gathering views through interviews or team performance tools and models is one way of doing this. It can also be helpful to perform a ‘team 360°’ to gather the views of significant stakeholders. Culture surveys, sales figures or other ‘hard data’ will provide information to help the team focus. It can also be helpful to gather individual 360° data so that individuals are aware of the strengths and challenges they bring to the team dynamic. Starting the programme this way enables a coach to make meaningful comparisons and is a vital way of measuring progress.

3. Focus on ‘how’ as well as ‘what’ – explore team dynamics 

Many teams are good at focusing on the ‘what’, i.e. tasks and challenges, but take little time to consider the ‘how’ – the patterns and themes playing out within their team dynamic. This is often about permission (e.g. ‘I’m not sure that it’s OK to let Tom know that his last-minute approach is making my life difficult….’), as well as having a language and framework to safely explore interactions and relationships (e.g. ‘’I’m not sure why I find Matt so much easier to work with than Becky…’). Using psychometric tools with teams allows individuals to understand each other better and provides a basis for constructive conversations about patterns of behaviour within the team.

4. Face the difficulties and lean into the challenges 

Difficult issues and challenges are inevitable in ambitious teams. An atmosphere where people are able to talk about disagreements and conflicts is vital to developing accountability for the things the team is working on together. Building an environment of honesty and vulnerability within the team can take time, and requires a skilled team coach; but where this is achieved, the ‘real issues’ of personality differences, conflicts and fears are surfaced. Some individuals will want to back away from these real issues in order to maintain ‘easy’ (if sometimes superficial) relationships. Real change can be painful. Only teams that are able to ‘lean into’ the real difficulties and have the courage to face what is genuinely limiting their relationships will be able to achieve long term meaningful change to high performance. 

5. Work closely with the team leader in order to ensure role-modelling and personal change

Impactful team coaching means addressing difficult and potentially painful barriers. The team leader is therefore key to making this happens in a constructive way. Ensuring close communication between the team coach and team leader is vital for setting expectations, as well as modelling changes and positive behaviour. What happens outside the coaching sessions can be as important as what happens during them; so having an open and honest relationship with the team leader will ensure that sessions focus on timely issues. This is most important when the team really engages with what’s holding them back and begins to change. A team leader who is open to change will help ensure each individual is supported through their personal journey within the team dynamic so that real growth is sustained.