Coaching a team through ‘Assertion’

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

Coaching a team through 'Assertion'

Coaching a team through ‘Assertion’

I think it reasonable to suggest that few teams are ever stuck at the Inclusion stage and that either by virtue of a structured induction process or by simple passage of time, inclusion needs are met and we move on.

At the Assertion stage people’s energy turns towards other team members and they begin to focus on the nature of team relationships. This will include sizing up rivals for promotion or deciding who to side with in the event of things going wrong. In larger teams of more than say, twelve people, cliques can form. A clique is not useful for team development as it encourages a ‘them and us’ mentality. On the other hand a sub-group which perhaps forms around pockets of particular expertise in a team can be useful provided it is aligned to the overall team goals.

Your coaching style can now afford to become less directive and you should find a wealth of ideas and contributions emerge as you adopt a more consultative approach to team communication.

If you feel your team is at this stage, I recommend that you work together on the following two exercises as part of any team development activity.

Get the team together and ask everybody to list the qualities they think will be most crucial to the challenges ahead. Then get them to whittle the items down to a list of about 6-10 which you can put in priority order if you like. Ask each person to rate the team against each quality and plot the results as per the table in the case study below. The high and low scores can be quite revealing and good discussion material for resolving issues. If you like you can take this to the extreme by asking team members to rate each other individually, but this needs careful handling.

A Case Example

In my own firm, we regularly get together and run through the team qualities exercise. Here’s one of our own charts:

Matt

Carol

Leanne

Lesley

Average

Trust

9

8

4

6

6.75

Support

8

7

8

6

7.25

Fun

7

5

5

7

6

Integrity

9

7

8

9

7.5

Focus

7

7

8

4

6.5

Learning

6

6

6

7

6.25

Looking at this I can conclude that while I personally perceive high levels of trust, I need to understand why Leanne may not be having the same experience.

Similarly I should talk to Lesley to understand why she feels the team lacks focus.

Such conversations are not always comfortable, particularly if there are poor levels of trust, but we cannot move forward while such issues are unresolved and they won’t go away by themselves. Hope is not a strategy!

The Assertion stage is as far as many teams ever get, but you can still get some pretty good results from people who are only competing to outdo each other inside the team. In some organizations, where internal competition is seen as a panacea for performance problems and a universal motivating force, it is almost impossible for teams to develop beyond the Assertion stage. However such teams are usually pretty uncomfortable groups to work in and have a tendency to crack when they come under real pressure. This is because team members have not learnt to trust each other and do not how to work with and for each other. They get ‘beaten’ by teams who have reached the next stage and have learnt how to produce genuine, sustainable team performance.

In coaching a team through this stage we must recognise that team members are looking for different things. Some want power and status in the team; others are looking for recognition and a sense of achievement. Coaching conversations will unveil where the balance lies. Look for ways of delegating some power and of giving some praise and recognition and remember that this is something that all members of the team can contribute to.

About 

Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His coaching skills training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people.

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