Coaching for Team Performance

Improving Productivity by Improving Relationships

Building great teamwork.

© iStockphoto

Teams are the force that drives most organizations.

Whether it's a functional team, a team of managers, or a project team, people get most done when they work together effectively.

So when members of a team don't work well together, performance and productivity can suffer.

That's not good for anyone.

Have you seen hostility, conflicting goals, and unclear expectations within your teams? These are symptoms of an unhealthy team. To avoid these harmful effects, you need be proactive about improving team performance. And even when a team is meeting its objectives, there's often room for improvement.

So how can you help your team improve? With good team coaching (as distinct from individual coaching) you can take your team to the next level. It's a valuable activity, and it's an essential management and leadership tool.

Team Coaching

Team coaching helps people understand how to work better with others. It's an effective method for showing teams how to reduce conflict and improve their working relationships. The team can then focus on its real work, and achieve its objectives.

To coach your team, focus on interpersonal skills and interactions instead of on individual development (as you tend to do with individually-focused coaching). The way people act with their teammates, and the way they communicate with one another – these are important drivers of effective team performance. After all, you can put a lot of high-performing individuals on a team and still have performance problems.

People must learn to work together and understand how to relate to one another – otherwise the team's output will be less than it could be.

Note:

We're assuming here that your team has a well-defined direction as well as the resources and support needed to achieve its goals. If these needs are not met, then you should build a solid team foundation before you start coaching for improved performance.

Understand Team Dynamics

A great place to start team coaching is by understanding the dynamics of the team. This is the process of figuring out how team members relate to one another. We all have different styles of working and communicating, and when we encounter a person with a style that's different from our own, we can often get frustrated with that person, and fail to recognize his or her unique strengths.

Some people can be "pushier" than others. A pushy person may think everything is going great – however, her teammates might have a different perspective. If one person walks away from conflict, and another speaks his mind and doesn't back down from an argument, this can lead to poor decision-making and unproductive work.

Personality and behavior assessments are great tools for improving a team's understanding of its own dynamics, and they give team members a better understanding of why they react to their colleagues in certain ways. This new understanding helps them think about how they can relate to one another more effectively, at the same time that it breeds tolerance by helping people understand that different approaches may be valid in different situations.

Myers-Briggs   is an excellent tool for uncovering individual patterns in things such as communication and conflict resolution. You can also use 360-degree feedback   to help people better understand themselves.

As a coach, your role is to bring team members together to discuss their individual profiles and help them find ways to work together. For example, if Sally knows that George is shy, she'll have a better appreciation for why he prefers to do tasks independently. Rather than assume he's just not interested in working with her, Sally can focus instead on finding ways to relate to George on his terms. Likewise, when George realizes that social acceptance is important to Sally, he can make an effort to be more friendly and interested in what she's doing.

With a greater level of understanding, team members begin to see one another differently. This allows them to adjust their own behavior for better results, and they're able to interpret others' behavior with more insight and empathy.

Establish Behavior Expectations

Understanding other people's perspectives is a great way to improve relationships with them. However, teams still need to follow ground rules so they can accomplish their goals. For example, you may know that Harold prefers to avoid conflict, however, you can't really accept that from him if you also expect him to provide expert opinions that may not match the general consensus.

This is why developing a clear set of behavior and communication expectations is an important aspect of team coaching. The expectations help to build empathy and understanding, and ensure that individual preferences aren't given more importance than team objectives.

A great way to formalize these expectations is with a team charter  . In a charter or "contract," you outline a set of behavior rules that everyone is expected to follow and support. Treating everyone with respect, offering opinions when needed, and talking directly to a person when you feel wronged – these are all examples of ground rules that a team can use.

Taking this one step further, you can also define processes for team members to follow to meet the expectations. For example, a conflict resolution process would define the steps to take when one team member feels offended by another. Typically, the process would state that the offended person first speaks with the offender before going to a supervisor.

Likewise, if expressing opinions is an issue, then you might use the Stepladder Technique   to encourage individual participation. These types of rules and processes help build trust among colleagues and create a more unified team.

Evaluate Reward and Recognition Systems

Quite often, people have competing values, and these create a major obstacle to team unity and effectiveness. For example, it's not uncommon for an organization to promote teamwork, but still reward individual behavior. When this happens, you can naturally expect problems with team members who give personal reward a higher priority than team performance.

With cross-functional teams, departmental or business unit loyalties often get in the way of effective teamwork. When team members have personal goals that don't match team goals, this can lead to "secret," hidden behavior. As a team leader and coach, your role is to identify the sources of competing values – and find ways to fix them.

For details on structuring reward systems that align individual performance with strategic objectives, see Performance Management and KPIs   and Management by Objectives  .

Support Individual Development

Finally, be supportive of individual development. Team members may need help to learn new skills, so that they can meet team expectations and follow supporting processes. Each person has a different level of readiness to take the steps necessary to change. As a team coach, be sensitive to those differences, and find resources to support each person's development goals.

In addition to arranging individual coaching where possible, find ways in everyday work situations to coach people. Give feedback regularly, help set individual performance goals, follow up with training opportunities, and model great team behaviors yourself.

Key Points

Coaching to improve team performance can need different approaches for different teams and different people. What works for one team may not necessarily work for another.

Effective working relationships are built by understanding team members' needs, preferences, and styles of work. By helping people understand their own styles and appreciate the different styles of others, you can work with them to change their behaviors and use everyone's strengths.

The process of improving team performance takes time, and it may involve looking deeper than team processes. Organizational systems – such as reward and recognition, performance management, and training – may need to be addressed as well.

However, the end result of this work is usually well worth it; improved collaboration and communication will benefit the organization as whole.

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