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Teaching Leaders to Coach Teams

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Languaging Team Dynamics

Hackman & Wageman’s aversion to working with interpersonal relationships seems partly based on being unable to identify an approach linking process with outcomes, and from noticing that some of the methodologies they found appeared too ‘clinical’. As the field of team coaching continues to mature, so we can expect to find more appropriate methodologies emerge. One such approach is ‘structural dynamics’ pioneered by David Kantor (10). Structural dynamics comprises several lenses on group dynamics, the most popular of which is the ‘Four Player’ model.

The Four Player Model suggests that everything we say can be categorized into one of four ‘action modes’. When we ‘Move’ we initiate something. When we ‘Follow’ we support someone else’s move, not just nodding silently, but validating the idea and moving it forward to completion. When we ‘Oppose’ we challenge and correct the ‘Move’. When we ‘Bystand’ we provide a perspective on, for example, the content of the conversation, or the quality of the interaction.

The task of the team coach is to help the team notice its own patterns of interaction using this language and equip them to change the nature of their discourse when they get stuck in certain patterns. The coach enables the team to call out the way it is operating (bystand) allowing the team to take steps to enhance the quality of dialogue. And the team coach normalizes the ‘oppose’, enabling the team to reflect upon its collective comfort with challenge. This model is an example of a relatively simple construct that enables the team to talk about the way it is operating in a way that invites discussion and review. It is purposeful in that this discussion is always in the context of the team’s ability to achieve desired outcomes.

Team coaching is not the same as facilitation, nor is it the same as coaching individuals, but both coaching and facilitation skills may form a sound foundation upon which to build the ability to work purposefully with team

Learning How

Learning how to coach teams is, for many, a daunting challenge. Here are some principles that may prove useful in developing internal capability.

  1. Recognise what leaders are already good at

Team coaching is not the same as facilitation, nor is it the same as coaching individuals, but both coaching and facilitation skills may form a solid foundation upon which to build the ability to work purposefully with team dynamics. Teaching leaders to coach teams may be best positioned as following on from learning individual coaching and facilitation skills.

  1. Impart knowledge

Learning to become a better team coach isn’t only about learning new skills and competencies. There exist many different approaches to team coaching – multiple perspectives and philosophies. Some work best in particular contexts and some will resonate more with some people than with others. Whilst learning to coach teams isn’t all about learning new models and theories, offering up a few frameworks from which to choose may be very helpful.

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