As those of you who have attended my programmes will know, I consider the development of high-performing, work-based teams to be coaching’s greatest challenge. The doubts, fears and confusions around which we coach individuals are magnified and multiplied in teams by the nature of the relationships amongst its members.
There is more to coaching in teams than I could (or should) ever cover in a short article, so for now let’s just highlight some of the common pitfalls.
Creating ambiguous goals
Some team members will be concerned with quality: doing the best job possible. Other team members will be concerned with output: getting the job done at speed. Some team members will simply be concerned with outdoing another team and some team members will not be concerned with anything.
It’s hard to reconcile these differing views in terms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ but we must use coaching to find out individual drivers and motivations and then to get agreement to a common set of team goals. It may be impossible to get consensus on what the goals should be, but individuals will subordinate their individual views in favour of team goals if they can see the rationale.
Failing to deal with moving goal posts
It is naive in the extreme to think that goals won’t change. Shifting goal posts is as much a part of working life as dodgy coffee and pointless meetings. The job of the team coach is to acknowledge the frustration that changing goal posts causes and then to refocus the team on processes as quickly as possible. Let me explain. Whether the goal is to sell one hundered widgets or two hundred it can only be achieved through the process of good client relations and product knowledge. Whether the goal is to deliver the project by the end of June or end of March, it’s about the processes of planning, monitoring risks and dependencies, securing sign-off and so on.
I participated in countless staff surveys in my corporate life and there was never a time when the results didn’t indicate dissatisfaction with communication. The management response to this was invariably to do more communicating; more memos and emails, more meetings and quality groups, more pamphlets and brochures. This usually was counter productive because what was needed was not more communication but better communication.
This means enough communication to get the message across and then leaving people to get on with it. Too much communication creates ‘white noise’, It also creates confusion and sees the team wasting energy explaining it all to each other.
Dealing poorly with changes in team membership
Most people know Tuckman’s model of team development and its four stages of Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. Less well known is the fifth stage of Mourning. In other words dealing properly with the upset even the best performing teams experience when the make up changes. People can quite literally ‘mourn’ the previous set up. Ironically, where our team coaching has been successful and we have created a close-knit, high performing team, such losses can be felt most keenly.
Where possible I recommend that people be allowed to move on from a team gradually rather than suddenly. This gives everyone a chance to adjust and enables the knowledge of the departing member to be disseminated to those that remain. A similarly careful approach is needed when inducting new team members so everyone can forge new relationships and move on from “It’s not the same now that Johnny isn’t here”.
Not valuing diversity
Talk of diversity these days tends to focus on age, gender, race and the whole equal opportunities agenda. But here I mean the diversity that comes from having a team made up of people with different strengths and weaknesses. A team with a wide range of talents and abilities that can come to the fore when facing different challenges. A team of University graduates will face every problem like….University graduates. A team with as many GCSEs in woodwork as PHDs in Engineering is likely to be more flexible, creative and innovative.
Most work teams achieve their targets with some degree of success or they would be disbanded, but they fail to really achieve their potential because they are not coached beyond the Storming and Norming stages where so many teams get stuck.