Coaching Leadership Teams

By: Pygmalion  11-11-2011
Keywords: Leadership

What is a “Successful Team”?

As a point of departure, our model of the dimensions of a team (see below), provides an initial frame of reference to facilitate the conversation that the team needs to have on 'what do we need to talk about".

The dimensions are completely interrelated and interdependent, and are “joined together” by the relevant and appropriate leadership practices. You cannot think about the team’s purpose (what is our intent and ambition), without understanding "who we are" as well as ensuring that “how we work together” supports our expectations and our intent

There are many models and theories about what makes a successful team.  Such models or frameworks inform the approach that one might adopt when asked to assist a client in a team development process:  be this in the establishment of a team (e.g., often when the team context, structure or composition has changed) or the improvement of an existing team (e.g., where the team is experiencing difficulties). 

Research indicates (Ref Centre for Creative Leadership) that there tend to be two key performance indicators that would help us recognise whether a team is successful or not:  team results (the task delivery dynamic) and team cohesion (the social or interpersonal dynamic).   This implies that when we coach a team, our definition of success takes into account a need to pay attention to both the task of the team (clarity of vision, mission, strategy and business objectives, how it is organised, etc.) as well as the teamwork that will be required (interpersonal dynamics, levels of affinity, individual and collective capabilities required, ways of working & appreciation of interdependencies, etc).

The Pygmalion Team Effectiveness model provides us with a frame of reference that would support any Team Coaching Programme, and this is outlined below.  The model concerns itself with what practices would enable a team to be effective in order to achieve success.  However, we recognise that models are merely metaphors or images that provide a point of departure, so the model offered below does so as a tentative 1st step in helping shape a mutual understanding of the client’s intent.

“Purpose” is all about the team’s alignment with business vision, mission & objectives and how these support longer strategic priorities.

This means that an effective team is: clear about its ambition and how this plan has been translated into effective delivery; has a shared understanding of context issues (internal and external) that inform and continue to influence such plans; is able to work within the structure that defines both roles as well as work processes; and is always paying attention to key performance drivers and indicators.

“People” is all about assisting the team with realising the value contribution that each team member brings to the team in terms of their unique contribution (that is a combination of skills, experience, personality and networks).

This means that an effective team is able to leverage the diversity of talent and work styles that is in the team; is able to deal with conflict and disagreement as well as celebrate cooperation and achievement; can collaborate and accommodate personal and functional (role) requirements; understands and grows each other abilities as leaders to be effective contributors to the team and the business.

“Processes” is all about ensuring that how the team works together has a direct impact on the performance of the team (i.e., you get what you set out to achieve) and the mutual sense of identification and belonging to the team.

This means that an effective team is able to retain focus on what is important; is able to have productive conversations (meetings) relating to operational and strategic issues; has discovered the most efficient way of co-ordinating effort and execution; is flexible in its approach to emerging realities and the changing landscape; and makes the best possible use of resources to get the job done

Coaching a Team – A structured yet dynamic process

It is clear that successful teams work hard on both team cohesion and team results.  ‘Working hard’ tends to involve a combination of activities that are well planned and facilitated so that there are early success experiences that mobilise & sustain the team to achieve long term deliverables.   We think of the Team Coaching Programme as consisting of a series of structured and well planned interventions and ‘practice development sessions’ in support of the game that each one of you need to play in collaboration with each other in order to achieve your collective ambition.  Ideally, the process is co-created with the team members from the out-set, so that the process itself is a project that is owned by the team rather than imposed on the team.  In reality, however, a generic process is presented to the team based on an initial brief by the organisation or team leader him/herself.  What follows is a brief outline of a typical team coaching process:

.Initial Engagement with the team (to provide introduction, outline of generic process, guiding principles, etc)

..Baseline surveys, 180˚/360˚ feedback tools, and psychometric assessment (where/when individual profiling would help ‘fast track’ team cohesion and/or individual leadership development requirements).  These includes individual coaching feedback sessions to assist team members with interpreting & understanding the feedback and prepare to present their ‘winning edge’ posters to their peers (i.e., my unique contribution, my growth potential, what informs my approach and work style).

..Team Practice Development Workshop(s) (PDWs).  This is usually one of at least two “team coaching” sessions that are typically to be off-site to ensure an appropriate balance between formal practice sessions and informal interaction.  The first would be on creating mutual understanding, alignment and commitment to the development process, establishing a common language and/or frame of reference, facilitating team member introductions and surfacing issues impacting on team cohesion and then, of course, considering the team tasks (alignment to organisational vision, mission, strategic agenda and business objectives, and implications for team deliverables).  The session also assists the team in setting their own development agenda going forward that would inform the focus of follow-up team PDWs.  The duration thereof can range from half-day to 3 days, usually on-site

The process then includes follow-up leadership coaching and on going review of team performance through on-site face to face sessions with team members, sitting in on team meetings/relevant forums to observe and provide feedback on team progress against the development plan, facilitating specific work sessions where indicated and providing regular reports to key stakeholders.

Why ‘practice development’ to support Team Coaching Programmes?

The Pygmalion approach to team development is rooted in the understanding that management teams rarely find the time for “practice” – they are “in the game”, on the field, and focussed on delivery most of the time.  In South Africa, the approach of once-off, ad hoc or annual ‘team building’ sessions has not delivered on the promises made – people go back to work and revert back into a business as usual approach to their operational demands.  We need an alternative approach to such short term interventions. 

Our concept of ‘practice development sessions’ is based on the emerging notion of the value of cultivating “communities of practice”.  The concept of a Community of Practice (or CoP) was pioneered by Etienne Wenger who, in his own words, explains that CoP, in a nutshell, “…are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”. Pygmalion has had extensive experience in adapting this approach to the development of management and leadership teams over the past few years.  Establishing and nurturing a community of practice (or CoP) is increasingly recognized as the most effective way for organizations to address the knowledge challenges they face.  This means that the focus is on learning together and the sharing of relevant knowledge, theory and practice in support of the work that defines ‘the game that you need to play’. 

The practice development workshops will provide a unique space for team members to focus on developing our individual and shared practice (i.e., knowledge, skills and approach) in support of the objectives that we are working towards; to provide each other with feedback that will improve how we relate to each other and those whom we lead; and to improve how we are playing the game in terms of teamwork. In short: to engage ourselves and each other to improve our performance(s)!

Keywords: Leadership

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