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Part 2 of the "Shape-Shifting" Series: A Behavioral Team Coaching Model

Three Lessons and Four Types of Behaviors for Coaching Work Teams

Welcome to the second installment of my five-part monthly series on using the metaphor of “shape-shifting” to understand the fluid roles of a coach when working with a team. You may recall that I conducted the first empirical research study about what external team coaches actually do when working with a team. 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. 

For the purpose of this post, I want to share with you three themes that surfaced as part of the original study. And then at the end of this blog I make a key distinction about the intended outcomes of coaching individuals compared to coaching teams.

The expert coaches I interviewed during the study revealed three key themes about what external coaches do when interacting with a work team.

1. Describe the Role of the Coach in Various Ways to Reduce Role Confusion: Participants reported that their choice about how they described their role as a coach when working with a team was based on the client’s perceptions about coaching. Even when being very explicit about their roles, at times the underlying assumptions of the coach and the client were misaligned. For example, one coach found that when a client requested coaching for his team, the client imagined each person on the team would be coached individually, whereas the coach assumed she would coach the team as an entire entity. Therefore, it is important for coaches to clarify their role, and discuss together with their client about how the team coach role would be enacted.

2. Enact Four Different Types of Behaviors: Coaches in the study reported using a wide range of behaviors when asked about what they actually do when working with teams in organizations. Those behaviors were coded and organized into categories representing four different types of behaviors: advisory, educational, catalytic, and transitional. The data indicated that the four different types of behaviors had a tendency to be associated with particular team outcomes: team coordination, team learning, team cohesion, and team transition. However, the majority of the coaches' time was spent focusing on the outcomes of team cohesion and team learning.

3. Behaviors Dynamically Shift at Different Times: External coaches who work with teams reported dynamically shifting their role behaviors both in the moment depending on the situation at hand and in concert with three different phases of the coaching engagement. These three different phases were classified as beginning, middle, and end:

  1. Beginning: Focuses on team coordination wherein the coach helps the team set its foundation such as clarifying roles and performance tasks and setting ground rules about how they operate together.
  2. Middle: Focuses on team learning and team cohesion. These behaviors tend to be more dialogic than directive such as negotiating conflicts, dealing with problematic group dynamics, and organizational hierarchies.
  3. End: Focuses transitioning the team to work independently with minimal support from the coach. The focus becomes more on the acknowledgment of the team’s achievements, synthesizing key learnings, and offering suggestions for future development.

Table 1 depicts a summary of the four types of behaviors and the timing of when the behaviors were most often used during a coaching engagement.

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I imagine you are saying to yourself, "Many of the behaviors listed in Table 1 are similar behaviors used when coaching individuals, so what's the big deal?" Good point. But there is is a key distinction: The intended outcomes of the coach's behaviors are focused on team outcomes vs. individual outcomes.

Undoubtedly companies and organizations GLOBALLY have become more reliant on team structures in order to conduct business, accomplish goals, streamline processes and the flow of communication, and stay competitive in a world where immediacy IS standard operating procedure. Yet the practice of one-on-one coaching doesn’t necessarily take into account the individual in the context of a team’s performance goals, group dynamics, group development, or organization systems. If the practice of coaching becomes extended to the context of teams, coaches also need to become skilled and competent in coaching teams, not just individuals. Feel free to call me about ways to become more skilled, competent, and confident when coaching teams.

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