Coaching Teams Tips from the Trenches


Earlier this week I met with a group of coaches of various experience levels from different backgrounds to talk about coaching teams.  We discussed together our successes and failures in attempts to learn from one another.  What follows is a list of the results of what we discovered together.

  1. Create an environment where it is safe for people to fail – In order for teams an individuals to learn and grow they must be able to experience both success and failure.  Most of us learn more from our mistakes and failures than we do from our successes.  When we protect and buffer teams from failure we cripple them.  When we give them all the answers to their problems and provide solutions for them we stunt their growth.  As coaches, we have to step back and  help teams have the courage to make decisions, investigate new ways of doing things, take risks, and explore areas they have feared to enter previously.  They can’t do that if we will not move out of their way and allow them space to succeed and fail.  Failure is a learning experience.  We can’t always just take over when we see them struggling.  We have to give them room to grow.  We have to be confident enough in our ability as coaches to help teams navigate their way back up from failure to success that we have the courage to allow them to experience enough failure to grow and become higher performing.  This doesn’t mean that we should stand by and watch them walk head first off a cliff.  As experts, we should know when to blow the whistle – but use the whistle sparingly only when it is no longer safe to fail.
  2. Believe in people in ways that give them the courage to believe in themselves – As coaches we have to look beyond what we see standing in front of us today.  We have to be able to look at what is in front of us today and see characteristics in people and in teams and roll those things forward weeks, months, and years ahead in our thinking in order to see the great things they have the potential to become.  We can’t think of it as what they might become.  We have to see it as who they are.  Coaches have the power to activate and unlock dormant gifts and talents in people by believing in them in ways that they can’t even believe in themselves.  People don’t need someone to patronize them, they need someone who truly has vision for who they are and can articulate specifically what they see in them and why those things are powerful and amazing.  They need a coach who can point out the simple yet amazing things they do and the impacts that those actions have on the team and on their career so people can have a light shining on the path that shows them what direction to walk.
  3. Use The Language of Appreciation – Speaking to people in an encouraging language that tells them that they are valued and appreciated motivates teams and individuals and makes them want to move forward.  It builds a solid connection and helps to form a trusting relationship with their coach because they see that the coach cares about them and believes in them.  (See the other posts in this blog for more about the Language of Appreciation.)
  4. Ask Powerful Questions – Serving as an expert has a place in coaching when it is time to teach.  Becoming a mentor and walking hand in hand with people also has a place, but true coaching involves taking on a different role of allowing people to enter a place of self discovery.  Asking powerful questions is an art that helps to facilitate this discovery process.  Asking powerful questions can help people move outside the box of their normal thinking.  Questions help them to develop their own conclusions and solve their own problems which means that they actually take ownership of the solutions and plans they make for their future.  When people design their own futures instead of having those plans handed to them they are more likely to succeed at accomplishing the goals they set because they are motivated by their own ideas and empowered to make changes along the way to reach what they define as success.
  5. Treat each team as individual and allow them to have their own culture/don’t create a mirror image of yourself – Every team we coach has a different group of individuals in the makeup and should be encouraged to develop a culture based upon the individuals on the team.  Even if the teams have a similar purpose they should have their own characteristics that are developed from within the team.  I often view the multiple teams I coach like I view my multiple children.  Each of them has their own unique character, strengths, and weaknesses.  Each of them must be coached differently in order to become high performing.  Each team must be assessed individually and the proper techniques must be applied that will help them grow.  Making the mistake that we can duplicate the exact same methods, techniques, and cookie cutter process to every team we coach is harmful.  We cannot expect that every team will look the same or to look like us – in fact, I dare say that if they do this is the sign of an immature coach.  When I enter organizations and see teams that are identical I immediately think about the cargo culting phenomenon where people do things that they see others doing because they think they will get some set of results.  However, since they don’t really understand the underlying reasons why the first person took those actions the repeat of the behavior adds no value.
  6. Don’t get in the middle of conflict – force them to storm instead – Teams need to have constructive and healthy conflict.  Sometimes the conflict turns unhealthy and people don’t want to deal with it properly.  There is a very real temptation to try to solve the problems of the team by getting in the middle and handling it for them.  Bad idea.  As a coach it is our job to teach people healthy ways to resolve conflict so it is better to help individuals form a plan for confronting and dealing with conflict or to create a way to surface the conflict with the team.  In order for teams to become high performing they must first go through the process of forming, storming, and norming.  Unfortunately, too many teams never really storm because they never learn to have healthy conflict.  The elephant stays in the room and everyone just walks around him.  Teaching individuals and teams to address the elephant together using appropriate and safe communication styles, healthy conflict resolution techniques, and problem solving skills serves a better longer term purpose than getting in the middle as a go between to make today more peaceful.


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