TALKING TEAMS: SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL

This new column by Georgina Woudstra seeks to stimulate thinking around the growing landscape of team coaching

There is a growing need for team coaching. The 6th Ridler Report (www.Ridlerandco.com) forecasts that 76% of organisations expect to increase their use of team coaching over the next two years. Yet it is still in its infancy and the profession needs to clarify simple questions such as ‘what is team coaching?’, ‘what is the role of a team coach?’ and ‘what are the competences of team coaching?’

In this new column, we’ll explore questions such as these, with the aim of stimulating thinking and development in team coaching.

In considering team coaching, we first need clarity on what makes a team. I find Katzenbach & Smith’s (1993) definition the most useful: “A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they are mutually accountable.”

This enduring definition is referred to in much of the team performance and team coaching literature. When I share it with teams, it makes sense to them. I believe the definition is a set of essential disciplines, each taking much effort and consideration to master.

Large groups have trouble interacting constructively, much less agreeing specific actions. In my experience, to make effective collective decisions, the optimum senior leadership team has five to eight members.

Teams benefit from the right mix of complementary skills to do their collective work. Knowledge, experience, skills, representation of key perspectives and functional or operational expertise are vital. They also need excellent collaborative problem-solving and decision-making skills and strong interpersonal skills, including effective communication and constructive use of conflict.

The best leadership teams have a crystal-clear sense of the team’s added value in delivering on strategy. They’re committed to a common purpose, one that is challenging, consequential and clear. This frames interdependencies between team members.

Effective teams transform broad directives into specific, measurable goals. These need to be compelling as they commit themselves as a team to making a difference.

Teams need a common approach to how members will work together to deliver results. I encourage every team member to contribute beyond commenting, reviewing and deciding. Also, to agree on roles, who does what tasks, how progress is tracked, what skills are needed, how decisions will be made and how continuing membership will be earned.

No group becomes a team until it can hold itself accountable as one. There is a significant difference between ‘the leader holds me accountable’ and ‘we hold ourselves accountable’. Team accountability underpins two critical aspects of teams: commitment and trust. As a relational practitioner, I have adapted Katzenbach & Smith to build on a relational systems approach to team performance by adding two key criteria. First, a team collectively and intentionally manages its processes, dynamics and relationships; second, it fosters and builds relationships with the wider system.

The interconnectivity of teams to the wider organisation and its stakeholders is a critical success factor in matrixed organisations and today’s socially networked world. A team that cannot collectively and proactively maintain a productive connection between its own members, is highly unlikely to manage its relationships well in the wider system.

  • Next issue: what is team coaching?

 

Reference

  • J Katzenbach & D Smith, The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-performance Organization, Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 1993
  • Georgina Woudstra is an executive coach specialising in coaching chief executives and senior leadership teams. She is founder and principal of the Executive Coach Studio
  • www.georginawoudstra.com
  • www.executivecoachstudio.com
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