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What is Team Coaching?

February 1, 2009 by Ruth Gmehlin, Partner, Trillium Teams Inc

I recently attended an event which promised to transform my life in one day. This tagline is a reflection of our expectations today, whether we are talking about a diet, a new piece of technology or our work - immediate results. The thinking goes something like this: If we hire this new person, they will turn things around. If we buy this new software, we will be successful. If we have a team building event, it will solve our communication differences and everyone can then focus on achieving better results.

In this time of instant gratification, did we forget the basic lesson we all know to be true? There is no instant just-add-water quick fix solution when it comes to solving the puzzle of successful human relationships. We are complex beings and communicating positively and effectively with each other is one of the most difficult tasks we face. To achieve better team dynamics and ultimately increase business productivity, it requires time and commitment from each person on the team. To be able to affect real change and tangible hard results, from something as soft and intangible as team dynamics, requires more than a one day event. It is a process which invites and involves everyone to take part, be open, and take ownership of their piece in the puzzle; this process is called team coaching.

Team Coaching

Every team is a collection of individuals who bring their own unique blend of experience, background, education, values, and styles; to blend together to form a unique team dynamic. Every team dynamic is different, and there is no one ready-made formula, it requires customization.

Team coaching is a three step process to help teams identify and address their challenges. As an alternative to the traditional off-the-shelf team building program, the team coaching process is customized to deal with specific team needs allowing time to affect real change and obtain lasting tangible results.

Whether a team is coming together for the first time or if it is facing changing team dynamics with new members or a new manager, or ongoing team conflict, this process allows the team to discover, clarify and own their problem, develop an applicable plan of action to overcome the barriers and be held accountable for the results.

The Team Facilitator

A team facilitator is the person responsible for guiding a team through the team coaching process. Their role is to take everyone on a team through the team coaching three step process. This involves:

Step 1: Personal Development Time

In this step, the team facilitator spends time with each person on the team, discussing their work and communication style using assessment tools as the catalyst for discussion. This step is invaluable, as it allows each participant time to think about their style and set personal goals for the workshop. Equally important, it enables the facilitator to identify the team challenges and customize the team workshop in order to address the current and real issues.

Step 2: Team Workshop

This second step involves two half-day workshops which again allows time for the team to digest and truly own the material and the results. The facilitator first helps the team to recognize their accomplishments and their challenges, and then introduces the team to the differing working styles, relating what this means for their dynamics and productivity. The second session is spent addressing the specific team challenges.

Step 3: Follow up with Manager and Team

The final step of the process is follow up, in order to ensure that each person on the team is accountable for making real change. The facilitator will meet with the manager shortly post workshop to give them strategies for tailoring their style to suit the needs of their employees. Lastly, the team facilitator will meet again with the team within three months post workshop to ensure accountability and follow through in terms of addressing their specific challenges.

Time and Commitment

Transforming a team to address their team challenges takes time and commitment. Transformation is not just a simple change in behaviour; simple changes in behaviour are only temporary. Transformation is a fundamental shift or reorientation of who you are, what you see and how you approach life. The essential distinction that team coaching provides is a shift of how team members view themselves and each other. In this way, a team member can better effect lasting change in behaviour.

The entire team coaching process requires commitment from everyone on the team and is administered over a two month period. In addition to addressing specific team challenges, the team coaching process can also help a team:

  • Gain greater understanding of team dynamics and culture
  • Rebuild during times of change
  • Communicate more effectively
  • Integrate new members to an established team
  • Improve the capacity of the team to overcome conflict and solve problems
  • Learn to see the world through the eyes of on another
  • See the strengths that each person brings to the team and how that benefits the team

Any Team Will Benefit

All types of teams benefit from the team coaching process – executive teams, functional and cross functional teams, as well as project based teams coming together for a specific function. The team coaching process is beneficial for both managers and team members directly, as it is used to educate members about the nature of teams, elements of a good team, impediments to good teamwork and how to overcome these. The team lives with their particular challenges on a daily basis, and the team must take ownership for helping to solve their challenges as they ultimately have to live with the outcome. It is the job of the team facilitator to provide a framework, a process and strategies, but it is up to the team to identify how these processes will work for their particular situation. After all, the claim to transform your team dynamics in one day is not what this process is about.

What Are Your Team Challenges?

January 1, 2009 by Jill Geddes, Partner, Trillium Teams Inc

Every team has them - team challenges - and if not addressed, they will affect team success to various degrees, as they wear down morale and interfere with getting the job done. No two teams are exactly alike, and there is no one formula to help a team through their particular challenges. So, how does a team begin the process of diagnosing and addressing their challenges? To get started, it requires having honest conversations involving everyone on the team in order to gain a more holistic picture and understanding of the problem. Taking ownership of the challenges will empower the team to create a plan to tackle them.

Common Team Challenges

One of the greatest challenges for teams is the struggle and resulting tension that arises from a group of individuals coming together to work as a team towards a common purpose. Each person has their own skills, values, biases, interests and style of communicating and working; which they then have to set aside, to a certain extent, in order to work together as a group. Being part of a team requires members to involve others in making important decisions, to share critical information openly and at times, to sacrifice personal agendas for the good of the team.

With the merging of individuals working together, it is natural to come up against challenges that will hinder team progress. Here are some examples of typical issues that stem from the joining of a group of individuals:

  • Interpersonal differences leading to misunderstandings
  • Power struggles and competing agendas
  • Members who appear to reject new ideas and bring a constant sense of negativity
  • Team that agrees on everything too quickly just to avoid conflict
  • Lack of adequate support and resources
  • Ineffective leadership
  • Members resistant to change or a new way of working
  • Not enough complimentary skills on the team

Starting the Conversation

Addressing team problems, first and foremost, requires having the conversation, on an individual and team basis. For everyone involved, the value comes from the process of having the conversation, from people sharing their fears, concerns, and expectations for the team. Honesty, integrity, and time - these words do not always go hand in hand with office and team politics, but this is what is required to move a team forward towards high performance.

Diagnosing the Problem

Understanding the challenges that exist on a team and recognizing the biggest obstacles to success may be difficult to assess without the aid of an outside perspective. When team managers are asked to evaluate how well their teams are doing with respect to both progress towards goals and satisfaction among members, surprisingly many managers have very little intuitive sense of what their team is experiencing. Frequently managers are taken aback to find out the challenges that the team feels they are experiencing are quite different from their assessment of the situation. In other cases, the manager has made an accurate assessment of the team challenges but they are at a loss of how to begin to address them.

To begin the process of solving team challenges, it requires asking difficult questions. As a follow through, it requires having the tools and procedures in place to deal with the answers to those questions. Some examples of questions to start this process off include the following:

  • What is the biggest struggle this team is facing at the moment?
  • What fears and concerns do people have about moving this team forward?
  • What can be done to help this team perform at a higher level?
  • What does this team need to stop, start and continue doing?

Addressing the Challenges

When a team has been actively involved in diagnosing the team problem, they have a stake in developing and implementing a solution. It is as important for a team to develop a plan for how they will work together and address their challenges, as it is for the team to have a work plan. This team agreement should be a living document that is revisited on an ongoing basis as the team evolves and changes. Taking ownership of the challenges and holding each other accountable will empower members to achieve their goals and increase satisfaction.

Helping Teams Through a Reorganization

November 1, 2008 by Ruth Gmehlin, Partner, Trillium Teams Inc

Acquisitions, downsizings, mergers, restructuring and other major changes requiring reorganization are commonplace today as companies try to survive and grow. These changes present new challenges and demands for all teams across the organization, and if the reorganization is badly managed it will lead to issues such as unplanned turnover, demoralization, decreased cooperation, and increased levels of stress, anxiety, and absenteeism.

Members of executive, functional and cross-functional teams must all learn to cope and adjust in the best way possible. The following is a few simple tips for managers to keep in mind in order to help keep their teams on track and productive during and after a reorganization.

Know Your Team

Each person on a team handles change differently. It is important for a manager to be aware of how receptive each team member will be to a major change, such as a reorganization, and to communicate the change in their style for the least impact moving forward. For example, some people need established routines, to feel secure and familiar with their responsibilities. Uncertainties stemming from reorganization can be extremely stressful for them and so it would be important for their manager to address issues such as job security, future of the team, and their new role when communicating upcoming changes.

How does a manager get to know how receptive their employees will be to change? There are numerous ways from having a facilitated team building session, to using assessment reports and simply taking the time to have more in-depth conversations with employees. Open communication between manager and employee is one of the simplest, rewarding and difficult tasks, especially during times of upheaval.

Be Sympathetic

Reorganizations can bring new opportunities for personal growth, accomplishment, and organizational success, but it also causes normal responses of sadness, loss, and anxiety about the future. Through promotion or layoffs, inevitably roles and reporting structures change causing teams and organizational relationships to shift. With these changes, it is inevitable that a managers and team members will have to deal with feelings ranging from anger to sadness as the new demands and responsibilities suddenly appear. One of the worst reactions is to pretend everything is just fine, even if the necessities of these changes are understood intellectually - emotionally there may still be some negative reactions to deal with.

Expressing or even acknowledging negative feelings in business culture today is considered inappropriate and employees may feel pressure to be positive and team players all the time. While this is a laudable goal, there needs to be room for people to express heart-felt negativity as well. Progressive organizations acknowledge this and during times of significant change actively solicit negative feelings from employees through forums and facilitated discussions, with the understanding that suppressing the expression of these feelings will only make things worse.

Discuss Realistic Expectations

Unfortunately, when organizations undergo restructuring, a host of unhealthy and unreasonable expectations can arise. For example, upper management may expect that productivity will resume as usual, even though the work force has been seriously reduced. Managers may need to assign the work of two or three to one person, or conversely employees are left with nothing to do while final roles and responsibilities are being flushed out.

Employees, on the other hand, might expect that management should act in a more compassionate manner, with more sensitivity to their feelings and needs, or more respect for their health, well-being, and family responsibilities. Lack of communication and vital information from company leaders will heighten the confusion and decrease motivation.

Good employer-employee relationships and good manager employee relationships are challenging to remain steady during a time of upheaval such as a reorganization; and one must recognize that unrealistic expectations can easily arise leading to disappointment, resentment, and low morale. Therefore, it is especially important for managers to take the time out with their team to discuss realistic expectations in terms of new goals, roles, and priorities, and reaffirm that the lines of communication are open.

Shifting Relationship Structure

At the root of any negative feelings which occur during a reorganization are fear and uncertainty. Lack of understanding, lack of information, lack of communication and simply the fact that at the end of the day managers do not take the time to look their employees in the eye and ask the question: How are you dealing with this? are all contributing factors. Recognizing that the entire relationship structure within the workplace shifts during a reorganization, and realizing it is up to everyone personally to rise to the challenge is the key to moving forward with success. Managers and team members need to be involved, and learn from each others' mistakes and successful solutions.

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