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Posted on 06-05-2017

Welcome to the fifth and final part of my monthly series on using the metaphor of “shape-shifting” to understand the fluid roles of a coach when working with teams. Each installment of the series is part of the culmination of an empirical research study I conducted in 2012--the first study of its kind exploring the practical science and practice of team coaching. (Hauser, L. (2012). Shape-Shifting: A Team Coaching Model for Coach Practitioners, Educators, and Researchers. Journal of Psychological Issues in Organizational Culture)

Throughout the series, I've shared the reasoning, research, results, and reflection that occur as a necessary response when we expand our practice from coaching individuals to coaching work teams. But what exactly are we responding to and when? What are the specific cues that we need to look for which will lead us to "shape-shift" at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way? As we begin to engage with teams and embrace the complexity of coaching teams compared to individuals, our awareness about teams must also be broadened through mindful observation.

Theories about groups and group behavior have their roots and origins in psychology, sociology, communications, and more recently management sciences. But there is no single, universally accepted definition, nor one unifying theory about group behavior and how its members interact with each other within a unique set of circumstances. So, for the purpose of my research study and the metaphor of “shape-shifting” that grew out of the study, I categorized core theories and concepts about small groups into four primary perspectives. These four different perspectives, or sets of lenses, through which one can observe and understand the workings of a group, can lead to different coaching choices and, ultimately, different results.

These four perspectives include group taskgroup dynamics and processes, team development, and systems. (Read "Framework for Categorizing group and team literature," in Shape-Shifting doctoral dissertation, Hauser, October 2012)

Group Task Perspective: The first perspective examines what the group does. When a group performs its tasks, several factors impact members’ interactions and, thus, their ability to successfully achieve its goals.

Group Process and Dynamics Perspective: The second perspective refers to how the group does its work. It looks at the underlying emotional and psychological processes that influence behavior and, thus, the performance of tasks, such as hidden assumptions, group norms, and the degree of interdependence between the group members and its environment.

Team Development Perspective: The third perspective examined in this section is categorized as group development, which refers to how the group develops over time. Understanding this development can shed light on how a team’s life stage might impact the team’s performance and achievement of its tasks and goals.

Systems Perspective: A fourth perspective is categorized as the systemic perspective. Just as the coach works with an individual in the context of the whole person, the coach who works with a team coaches in the context of the whole system. Given the complexity of doing business in today’s increased global and technological environment, organizations need to act locally on the basis of broader goals, expectations, and intentions for the whole system in order to survive, let alone thrive in the long-term future.

Each lens offers and provides a different focus and set of assumptions that lead to different perceptions and coaching choices. In turn, each perspective can yield different outcomes for the group. And though any one of these perspectives enables an adequate view of the group, one perspective alone is insufficient to explain all that needs to be explained about what is occurring within the group. For example, a coach may be called in to help a team resolve a conflict. If the coach and the team only look through a group dynamics lens, the what may be seen is the conflict between some team members that affects the performance of the team. However, if the coach and the team simultaneously viewed the team's situation through the task lens, the coach and the team may discover that the source of the conflict was not interpersonal, but rather stemmed from a lack of clarity or agreement about team roles, goals, etc. Armed with this knowledge, the choices and results of coaching interventions would be more effective. Therefore, it is beneficial to view teams from all four perspectives in order to make more informed choices about how to interact with a team.

I must confess that I have a fondness (if not bias) for the term "shape-shifting" because it conveys the fluid movement of the coach in response to the complexity of coaching in a team environment. I wonder how the shape-shifting metaphor speaks to you. I look forward to hearing from you.

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