Team Coaching, what exactly is it?

“Team Coaching” is a term bandied around in sports, organizational and other contexts. There are many definitions out there, depending on where you are coming from. For example, the International Coaching Federation, currently developing a Team Coaching credential, extends its 1:1 coaching competencies to teams. Focus is on the team, not the topic and applies many of the same 1:1 coaching principles to a team context. People from mentoring or consulting often take a more facilitative approach, providing a framework for working through a problem, the practitioner having expertise on the team’s topic and responsible for helping to fix it for or with the team. In this blog, we will contrast that with the ACT philosophy for team coaching. 

Team Coaching and the Complex Fast Changing World

As our world becomes more complex, so do organizations and their teams. The whole manner in which business is conducted is changing and teams are feeling the pressure to become more responsible and accountable for creating results. Organizations navigating the complexities and challenges of a virtual environment since the pandemic are seeing the need for team coaching.  

Background to Team Coaching

Team coaching has emerged recently and is a fast growing discipline in the coaching profession.  The ICF are starting to embrace Team Coaching and in 2021 they developed the ICF Team Coaching Competencies.  This builds upon and integrates with the ICF Core Competencies but applies the principles of one-to-one coaching to the team as a whole.  ICF has now launched the ICF Advanced Certification in Team Coaching (ACTC), which is designed to recognize the knowledge, skill and competence of advanced team coach practitioners. ACT’s Team Coaching program will meet the education requirements for the ACTC (subject to approval).  Unlike the Leadership Coaching Certification or ACC, Team Coaching is in its infancy and there are a large number of coaching schools offering different styles of Team Coaching with different definitions, priorities and goals. ACT, in Partnership with Brown University has its own program and its own definition of Team Coaching and, in this article, Ashley Abbott (who leads ACT’s Team Coaching program) and Erin Hutchins, co-founder of ACT, explain how ACT is defining Team Coaching:  What it is; what it isn’t; the value of Team Coaching; the benefits to teams and why it might be useful for you.  

Team Coaching and Structure

An internet search based around the words ‘Team Coaching’ might come up with terms such as: facilitation, team training, team building, team assessments, consulting, supervising teams, managing teams, leading teams etc.  So where does team coaching fit into all of this?  A team is a collective of people who not only share a common goal, but are interdependent in order to achieve it.  A Team Coach is a professional who takes a structured approach to stimulate constructive conversation and increased self-awareness using tools and coaching skills. The coach will focus on the team itself, fostering awareness and responsibility for improving its own dynamics, capabilities, and results. They usually have a relationship lasting for several sessions.  

Team Roles and Responsibilities

Here are some areas of consideration when bringing together a team:   

Role of the Coach

What is the role of the team coach?

  • The Team Coach will coach a team, observing, assessing, giving feedback, training and applying concepts so the team is able to function and excel autonomously. 
  • It is also the Team Coach’s role to help them create safety and trust within their team and to ensure that team members feel seen and heard, allowing for more difficult, authentic conversations about what is really going on.
  • The Team Coach will  help a team connect to its Vision and Purpose. 
  • The Coach will read and co-create from the ‘Level 4’ (assumptions, limiting beliefs, stuck emotions), aligned to the team’s purpose. 
  • The Team Coach will see the team as a system and observe human dynamics and patterns of behavior.
  • Will train team members how to apply coaching skills and integrate into their structure.  
  • The Team Coach will facilitate a variety of foundational sessions, such as a values session: applying the Values Wheel so team members are aligned with each and the organization. 
  • And finally the Team Coach will encourage the team’s self discovery, resourcefulness, responsibility and creativity.

What is the team coach responsible for?

The Team Coach may well do some sort of team assessment up front and help the team co-create the relationship. Co-creating The Relationship is a very formal structured session that the team coach is responsible for leading.  In this session the Team Coach will help the team define its purpose and establish why the team exists.  Another responsibility of the Team Coach is helping the team to raise the quality and effectiveness of their interactions.  The Team Coach will firstly listen for where there might be challenges, deficits and blind spots in the team’s behavior, and will then transfer some skills ‘in the moment’ using the skills learned in the Team Coaching program in addition to the skills learned during the Leadership and Performance Coaching Certification Program. The Team Coach will train the team to be more effective at listening, to ask open-ended powerful questions, and to be more attentive to the impact and effectiveness of the way they operate.   

What the team coach isn’t responsible for?

The Team Coach isn’t responsible for the selection of the team, that’s the role of the Team Leader.  Setting the agenda is the role of the Team Leader or the Team Members but it depends on the team structure and topic expertise. In the formal definition of Team Coaching, the Team Coach doesn’t have expertise in the team’s business. They’re not giving advice or problem solving, they’re providing a structure but not in the same way that a facilitator would.  The Team Coach won’t be making the decisions but they are facilitating the decision-making process for the team so there’s clarity and accountability in place. 

The Team Coach will help surface the team dynamics that might be impacting the team in executing its Purpose.  In 1:1 coaching, we focus the coach’s awareness on the client and their relationship to their topic. You are reading the energy, body language, tone of voice and the things the person hasn’t said. Extending this to teams, we think of it as a collective or system. So, the principle is the same, but with greater complexity. Rather than getting involved in specifics of the team’s work and getting involved with individual team members, team coaches listen holistically for the patterns and dynamics in a team that affect its ability to collaborate well enough to address its purpose. Essentially you are speaking to the dynamics and emergent team energy more than the individuals. 

ACT’s goals are to train our coaches to be able to walk into a team situation and to help the team to acquire the awareness and interaction skills they need to succeed.  This is less about being a member of the team and more about being the unbiased but caring practitioner helping to empower the team and help find what’s important for them to address. Rather than going in with a consulting or fix-it mindset, it’s the team itself that is the focus.

Day in the Life of a Team Coach 
by Cassandra Matos, Team Coach Alumna (Summer 2020)

I have been invited to coach a team which is about to go through a big change.  They’re a distributed team and they’ve been virtual since the pandemic. Now that Covid is abating, staff have been asked to return to the office. There’s a wide range of opinions and comfort levels on how to do that, when to do it etc, so a team coach has been called in to get clarity on how the team wants to do that.  It’s important to make some really clear distinctions between a team coach, a facilitator and a leader of a team.  For example, if you are working with a team that’s navigating change, you’re going to spend a lot of time as a team coach getting to know them and creating a safe environment with the objective of helping that team to work towards a common goal.   In our Leadership & Performance and Coaching Certification Program we use the terms Reactive and Creative.  As team coach, we’re looking at how we can help the team become aware of when they’re in a reactive state.  A reactive state or reactive tendencies are underlying Self-Limiting Beliefs; these SLB’s limit leadership effectiveness and organizational performance.  It’s a state we regress into when put under pressure, similar to ‘fight, flight or freeze’.  As a Team Coach we want to get our team into a more creative space. A team behaving in a creative space would be cooperative, have an open dialogue, speak directly to issues, exhibit personal behavior consistent with values etc.  This might require adopting skills in terms of the way people speak to each other.  It’s important that I give them some skills and training so they speak a common language.  Without that common language and training, we find that teams will revert back to old behaviors. 

ACT trains coaches to go into teams and take responsibility for maintaining a level of effectiveness going forward.  The Team Coach will need to assess where the team are and their readiness to change what the team needs.  Not every team has a problem and you might find yourself working with a new team in a new organization.  As coach I will need to figure out what it means to be on this team, where it is headed, what’s going to be important, how we will interact with each other and how will we know when this team is succeeding.  We also need to take a look structurally, how do we set up this team for success, what kind of interventions are appropriate along the way and finally, how do you bring an end to the team coaching engagement?  I’ve been coaching a team within my organization and to give you some context, before I started coaching the team had several new members.  The team were technical practitioner’s and so everybody was an expert at their job.  We had new members joining in the remote environment and so we wanted to make sure that these people felt like they were part of the team.  Coming on board to a new organization is tough in a remote environment and so during the coaching we worked on three key things. We designed as a team and built on behavioral alignment.  With everyone being a technical expert, it was interesting to see them come together.  As a group we designed ten agreements, for example one was:  We’re all going to hold each other with positive intent when it comes to day-to-day interactions.  We printed them out so they were visual and could be viewed by all.  The team learned to trust each other which was a big ask especially for the new team members because they were just starting to get to know the others.  I taught the team the skill of active listening, paraphrasing and how to jump in.  We introduced silence and concepts around purpose, values (what are the team values – are they honoring them or stepping over them?) and these skills they practiced in small groups. 

The group agreed that when they were actively listening it made a positive impact on the relationship, they felt that the other members were paying full attention to what was being said.  The team is now in a good place and we can explore other facets of team engagement.  We’re doing 16 personalities, this month we’re going to work on the ladder of inference and I’m going to introduce two more team skills next month.   

ACT’s Team Coaching Program in Partnership with Brown University

ACT, in partnership with Brown University, offers a virtual and now a hybrid 3 month Team Program. It consists of 2 modules with an in-between field application project and an Inclusion Seminar Session on Team Coaching.  The program is designed as a springboard for coaches to be ready to advance their competencies from individual to team coaching. Coaches who are used to speaking to what’s happening to an individual will learn to speak to what is happening in the collective.  If you think of it like the climate and the weather.  The climate is generally how the team functions and the weather is what shows up in a conversation.  We pay attention to both, the weather is made up of more than just a drop of rain, it’s the wind, the temperature etc.  In this first module the Team Coach will review the core skills, the concepts, establish some purpose and vision for the team, co-create the relationship and awareness of the dynamics of the team.  This module will train coaches to establish whether team members are reactive or creative and have a sense of what’s important to this team.  Sensing when the team might need to step away rather than jump in and how to rebalance the voices in the room and bring the teams awareness of perhaps equity and inclusion. 

The second module will cover the preconditions that you need to be aware of if you want to give a team the best chances of success. Not all team engagement is the same and so when we train coaches, we are training them to be agile, we’re training them to meet the team where they are and to be able to have the capacity and ability to create from what the team needs. It’s very important for you to know about our approach, it’s not just like here is the magic formula – try this!  We are giving you a structure but we are also working on building your capacity to meet whatever arises from the team and to be able to help them navigate through that.  ACT will provide you with a model structure so you will have the confidence and flexibility to deal with what shows up on the day and in the moment.  At the end of the team coaching, how will you evaluate success?  How do you know that the team has been successful in getting the results they were looking for?  How do you help the team sustain their learning and sustain their growth? 

How might Team Coaching be useful to me?

Once you’re a trained Team Coach you can offer coaching practitioner services or work as an internal team coach. So how might Team Coaching be useful to me?

Optimizing Team Performance

Are you a coach with responsibility for leading or facilitating teams? Using the team coaching skills you will empower teams by giving them the tools and skills to enhance their team relationship, become highly engaged,  high performing resulting in long term sustainable change. 

Staying competitive in the field of executive coaching

One of the biggest hurdles for coaches is finding their niche. Staying competitive in the field of coaching requires practicing coaches to embody one of the International Coaching Federation’s (ICF) core competencies of “Embodying a Coaching Mindset”, which includes “…an invitation for coaches to be truly open to ongoing learning and development, to stay curious and develop a reflective practice…”

ICF Credentials

In a recent Forbes article the author shares the belief that “investing in honing your craft” is one of the top ways to stand out in the executive coaching market. Investing in continuing professional development is also required by the ICF in order to renew a credential at the ACC, PCC or MCC level.  ICF-accredited training hours are provided. 

To remain competitive in the field of executive coaching you owe it to yourself to engage in training that supports your own transformational growth, provides you the opportunity to co-create supportive relationships with curious and engaged colleagues and challenges you to integrate these new methods into your own coaching practice. 

About ACT

A Leadership and Performance Coaching company focused on developing exceptional leaders, helping leaders become Aware of their impact so they can make better Choices leading to Transformative results.

Our commitment to transformative learning, innovation and diverse thinking, and making an impact in the world is at the core of what we do. We are a family-owned, service-driven company who partners with the Brown University School of Professional Studies, organizations and government agencies to deliver our life changing programs.

ACT, in partnership with Brown University School of Professional Studies, an international leader in executive education, is excited to offer ACT’s ICF accredited Leadership and Performance Coaching Certification Program. ACT shares Brown University’s mission to develop reflective leaders, to effect change in the world, and to improve human welfare.

To find out more about ACT’s Team Coach training program and how you can align your career goals with our program, please contact us for more information.  

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ACT is an internationally recognized coaching, leadership development and consulting company known for its commitment to leadership and performance coaching, valuing its long term partnerships with Brown University, the intelligence communities and its loyal and devoted diverse community.