July 29, 2019

Teams: Coaching's Next Frontier and the Implications for Executive Coaches

Coaching continues to increase in popularity in corporations.  There are multiple reasons, but the bottom line is that there continues to be a big need for skill development for people in leadership positions and coaching has proved to be an effective element of the development equation.

As effective as the 1-1 work has been, my belief is that it is about to dawn on corporate leadership that helping teams perform more effectively is a higher leverage use of their development dollars than one-to-one coaching.

Here's some logic for that conclusion. First, the reason there is more leverage working with teams vs. individuals is simple math. An eight person team has more raw outputs than any one individual. If we can make that eight-person team 10% more efficient and sure-footed in their execution, that could have a significantly higher return for the corporation than making one individual even twice as effective. ROI is a critical variable for most companies, and while it may take them awhile, they are pretty good at sniffing out higher returns at lower costs. Sooner or later, they are going to apply Sutton's Law, named after the apocryphal story of Willie Sutton, who said he robbed banks because "that's where the money is."

A second reason organizations should be thinking about putting more focus on making the team more effective is that individual work does not always translate into relationship and group effectiveness. Here are just a few examples:

  1. If a couple is having relationship difficulty, one of them going to therapy and learning how to adjust his/her approach does not always translate into reduced conflict and harmony for the couple.
  2. Martial artists who think that only doing katas (pre-arranged solo fighting movements) is going to prepare them for a real fight are in for a rude awakening in a physical confrontation with another person.
  3. My friend and slide guitarist extraordinaire, Dave Tronzo, says there are three kinds of "chops": those you can pull off at home, those you can pull off with your bandmates in rehearsal, and those you can pull off on stage in front of an audience. As an amateur musician, I have repeatedly run into the reality of this, watching perfect, lyrical living room solos descend into aimless, aimless "noodling" on stage.
  4. It is not uncommon for meditators go off on three-month retreats and develop profound insights into themselves and Life only to regress into childlike behavior at the first relational conflict they encounter.
  5. Finally, in sports, no team coach would ever believe that players perfecting their individual skills will translate into championships. No matter how good you become at corner kicks, three-point shots or stick handling, the ability of the team to work together to produce offense and defense may not necessarily improve. The individual skills are necessary but the key to team offense and defense is learning how to read the situation and react in ways the rest of the team knows and expects.
But I think a shift to working with teams is inevitable and coming soon to a theater near all of us. I also believe the need is huge and therefore so is the opportunity.

The final point is more anecdotal. When I worked for Intuit, I got the benefit of being coached periodically by the late Bill Campbell. In the book Trillion Dollar Coach, the authors highlight something Campbell told me: he pays more attention to the quality of the team solving the problem than the problem itself. By "quality of the team," Bill meant the skills, experience, level of candor, ability to work through conflicts, resources to solve the problem, good will, ability to balance stakeholder needs, etc that existed on the team. This is a powerful lens, and given the popularity of that book, it could be another indication that team effectiveness is an idea whose time is coming.

If I am right about this, the implications for coaches are significant because working with a team is distinctly different than working with an individual. Here are just a few examples.

Right out of the gate, there are more dynamics to manage. You might decide to intervene with one person or a pair of people who are in conflict, but you have to "feel" what is happening for the rest of the group and think about how to keep them involved and learning so that one person's "work" becomes everyone's work.

Second, after a few choruses of "let's play nice" and "your end of the boat is sinking," something is likely to emerge that will range between garden variety conflict over business decisions to a where-the-hell-did-that-come-from, cat's-outta-the-bag explosion of frustration and acrimony from unspoken feelings and long-standing hurts. Coaches who get to a crossroads like this are going to need two things: 1) an ability to stand in the fire of tensions and conflict and not panic, and 2) the confidence and experience to know that once they open Pandora's Box, they will be able to make it better and not worse.

Finally some coaches, who have learned to successfully manage the group dynamics and work through some significant conflicts with a team, start feeling pretty good about how the team is interacting, but then become nonplussed when they watch the team fall short of its objectives and potential. While trust, courage, and candor are necessary ingredients, they are not sufficient. It takes more ingredients to bake this cake.

The team simply can't be successful if the leader and team and by extension the coach don't have a model of what it takes to win and how to intervene to get the missing building blocks in place.  I use the Rocket Model in my work with teams. It is empirically derived, validated, and has been benchmarked on thousands of teams. There are certainly others. A coach deciding to wade into these waters is going to need a model of some kind to guide their work with the team.

Look, the 1-1 work is not going away: there will always be a place for it. But I think a shift to working with teams is inevitable and coming soon to a theater near all of us. I also believe the need is huge and therefore, so is the opportunity.

Coaches wanting to follow the market might have to tear a page out of the standard coaching playbook: assess their skills and come up with a development plan to close the gaps, including training and perhaps even getting a coach of their own.

Learn more about consultant, coach, and facilitator Dennis Adsit at www.adsuminsights.com


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