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Teaching Leaders to Coach Teams

13 min read

The task of the team coach is to facilitate the creation of an environment in which dialogue is likely to take place.

Working with Team Dynamics

Talking to external coaches, we found their biggest challenge in transitioning from working with individuals to working with teams, was learning to work with team dynamics. Working with coachees 1-to-1, there is one relationship in the room – the relationship between coach and coachee. When the coach works with a team there will likely be more than 20 relationships in the room, each one impacting on what plays out, each one dynamic and evolving. Some writers suggest the external team coach should never work alone because of the complexity of working with teams. The team leader usually has no choice but to work alone

Not all writers think that it’s useful to focus on group dynamics. Hackman & Wageman (5), for example, suggest that team performance drives interpersonal relationships rather than the other way round. If you successfully manage motivation, alignment of tasks, and team member’s knowledge and skills, then interpersonal relationships will look after themselves, goes the argument. This may be true some of the time, but even the authors acknowledge that serious interpersonal conflicts sometimes undermine team performance. The issue appears to be that Hackman & Wageman were unable to find approaches to working with interpersonal conflict proven to improve performance. What approaches can we then share with team leaders to help them work effectively with team dynamics?


David Clutterbuck (6) writes about the importance of creating a ‘safe psychological space’ in which team members are able to offer each other honest and timely feedback, a space that enables dialogue. Peter Hawkinsi writes of an environment in which the team leader is able to elicit open feedback on his strengths and weaknesses. The team coach, Hawkins says, encourages team members to sort their interpersonal and inter-functional issues out directly with each other. The effective team is self-managing and self-sustaining, learning together, even when the team leader is absent. All of this requires trust, and trust requires dialogue.

Isaacs (7) defines dialogue as shared enquiry, a way of thinking and reflecting together. To engage in dialogue is to choose to suspend our pre-conceptions and strongly held beliefs. Dialogue, so defined, is not the same as conversation. Rather it is a particular form of conversation in which participants are open to new possibilities and ready to build on the contributions of others. Dialogue is less a skill and more of a mindset. Through a dialogic mindset I see myself as one player on a stage among many. I notice the multitude of perspectives held by those with whom I interact and am curious as to the origin and nature of those multiple perspectives. The task of the team coach is to facilitate the creation of an environment in which dialogue is likely to take place.

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One Comment

  1. Roz Kay

    March 26, 2021 at 12:45 am

    I found this article interesting and shared the link with students in an online degree program. My main role is that of executive coach and what you have written seems to capture what I experience and hear from clients.


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