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Part 3 of the "Shape-Shifting" Series: A Behavioral Team Coaching Model

Four Factors that Influence a Coach to Shift Behaviors

Welcome to Part 3 of my five-part monthly series on using the metaphor of “shape-shifting” to understand the fluid roles of a coach when working with teams. This month I continue to share some of the key categorical findings that resulted from an empirical research study I conducted in 2012; the first study of its kind exploring the practical science and practice of team coaching. You are welcome to read the results of the research study published in a peer-reviewed article, Shape-Shifting: A Behavioral Team Coaching Model for Coach Education, Research, and Practice

As part of this study, I asked a group of participating coaches to describe their stories about a recent situation when they interacted with a work team as an external coach. Specifically, I asked the participants to reflect on what influenced, or informed, their choices about how to interact with the team given their recent team coaching circumstances and environment. 

Four key influences on coach behaviors emerged as part of this informative dialogue. The first influence, the coach’s background, is internal to the coach, whereas the remaining three influences are external to the coach. Participants reported making choices about how to shift their behaviors, or “shape-shift,” when interacting with a team depending on these internal and external factors.

Coach Background: Generalized to Coaching Yet Specific to Teams - Variation was found in the participants’ backgrounds in terms of education, training, and years of experience coaching and working with teams. Yet, in general, coaches reported having a broad and diverse background related to helping both individuals as well as teams. 

Perceptions by the Team About the Coach’s Role and the Team’s Readiness for Coaching - Most of the participants reported that the client’s perceptions and expectations about coaching influenced the way in which the coaches described their role to clients. The coaches reportedly chose terms to describe their role to clients and potential clients based on the client’s understanding and perceptions about coaching as an intentional means to reduce confusion. Another element that influenced a coach’s actions was categorized as “readiness,” defined as the team’s ability and willingness both to work together as a team and to be coached. 

Team-Based Coaching Goals - Coaches reported two primary types of coaching goals when working with teams that helped influence the coaches’ choices of behaviors: improving team effectiveness and improving team performance and productivity. One coach reported the implementation of a 16-week coaching process aimed at coaching the team toward both higher effectiveness and performance. Another shared an example of behaviors he used with a senior leadership team to improve its effectiveness which in turn, improved its performance. He said to the team:

“You can either be a learner or a judger. We all have it within us. What we’re going to have to do is eliminate the dysfunction so that we create a new culture that could be successful.”

Systemic Context - Coaching teams is more complex than coaching individuals. The interconnected systemic context within which the coach and their clients work reportedly heightened the level of complexity when coaching teams. All coaches interviewed for the study described simultaneously paying attention to the whole system including the systems and subsystems of individual team members, the collective team, leader of the team, other organizational departments, the team’s clients, and external consultants and agencies. The metaphor of leverage emerged from some participants, meaning that the effect of coaching interdependent elements of the system was greater than coaching only one part of the system (e.g., an individual or the team).

I found these results to be profoundly insightful, relevant, and of course extremely relatable. Not only unto themselves within the unique context of the research study, but as applied to the broader practice of coaching - both individuals and teams. In my work wearing multiple hats as coach, consultant, researcher, and educator, I advocate an important principle: successful coaching requires the co-creation of the coaching relationship. Undoubtedly the complexities of that co-creation expand as our roles expand to include the many layers attributed to working with teams. It is through our presence, communication (verbal and non-verbal), and our ability to adapt our behaviors, that we cultivate the opportunity for meaningful change within an organization.

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of Dr. Laura Hauser's series on "Shape-shifting: A Behavioral Team Coaching Model."

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