I often tell people that it’s important to understand that real team coaching is a long-term investment for any business. Given our hectic lifestyle, this notion is rapidly forgotten by executives who mainly seek to increase productivity in the short run.

The easy pitfall when coaching our clients’ teams is that essentially we implement a development process. Too often, the perception is that we’re simply replacing a process with another one, and sometimes people forget to consider the human dimension.

How we address the human dimension depends on the type of team with whom we are working. For instance, sometimes we work with teams mainly made up of consultants. In this specific context, rapidly implementing the development process is the logical option. We want the team to be functional in the best possible way, and there is now reason for the project manager to care for human development within a team made up of people who will not be there on the long run.

We also have to work with teams whose members are all permanent employees. Some of them have been working for the organization for quite a while and are comfortable with their current reality (or, at least, they can put up with it). The challenge with such teams is to suggest to change their way of doing, which will ask them to step out of their comfort zone as well as to deploy efforts to make the change… Not an easy task!

However, we’ve also worked in departments comprising only permanent employees, but team composition changes from one project to another. Even though all employees know one another well, sometimes it’s somewhat difficult to define this group of individuals as a real team.

Of course, we also find ourselves in environments with a healthy mix of permanent and contract employees and other environments where the consultants have been there for so long that they are considered permanent employees or just about…

What is the difference between a group of individuals working together on a project and a real team working on the same project? I suppose that it clearly depends on our definition of what is a “real team”.

If we go for a fairly simple definition, we could without a doubt agree that a real team consists of a group of individuals:

  • who work to achieve the same goal (e.g., execute a project) while sharing responsibility
  • in which there is great collaboration and mutual aid
  • where there is room for vulnerability (e.g., capacity to admit one’s mistakes or to ask for help)
  • who is able to have honest conversations, thus, often difficult ones.

This type of team does not grow on trees! And it is not possible to create it in any kind of environment… Hence, my point that it is truly a company investment in their employees!

Another important characteristic of a real team is that it takes time to become one. Over time, a certain chemistry and familiarity settle between team members. To better understand this, let’s use Bruce Tuckman’s high-level model about team development:

forming performing

When we group people together to create a team, initially there is the forming stage. It’s when team members get to know each other, when everyone is beautiful and nice. At this stage, team members do not have real conversations. This period lasts for a while, and then comes the storming stage, where true personalities begin to emerge and where conflicts arise when team members do not share the same view. These are turbulent times for the team. And for certain dysfunctional ones, it may last for a very long time.

Once the team is done with that turbulent stage and team members has agreed on a common objective, they then begin to take ownership. It is now the norming stage, where everything stabilizes and where team members begin to perform together. When the team is through with this stage and team members are truly united, they reach the performing stage, where they are all committed. The team is competent and can work under minimal supervision.

If we take into account Tuckman’s team development stages, it is easier to understand why constant changes in a team’s composition compromise its development. To a certain degree, the team has to start over each and every time and, depending on personalities, if they are stuck in the storming stage, it makes the situation even more difficult.

Now, let’s address the matter of environment, since it is an important factor determining whether or not the teams may be real ones.

Does “command and control” reign in your environment? In your organization, was there, at some point, or is there still a culture of blame where it is important to find whose fault it is when there is a problem? Is your culture one where focus is always on productivity and measures?

If it is the case, additional work will be required, since your environment is probably not favourable to transparency and vulnerability. Change is possible, but it will require more time and efforts, and it will have to begin with you and the management team.

What I’m saying is not that productivity is not important. However, we must be very careful to what we value most, because it can have adverse effects on the organization. Instead of only focusing on productivity, I invite organizations to have a culture where continuous improvement is valued and encouraged. With this type of culture, the teams’ productivity will naturally increase and it will allow their development.

There are many different ways to begin investing in your teams’ development. A simple one is to invest in personality tests for each member in the team (e.g., Discovery Insights or TRIMA). Then, based on the results obtained, have group discussions or hold group workshops. Another way would be to invest in a discussion workshop in order to bring out the team’s dysfunctions and start building a development plan for them.

However, if you are more interested in a deeper and durable change, the integral coaching approach, which I will address in my next posts, would help your teams to go even further!

To end this post, here are a few questions that may give you food for thoughts:

What do your teams look like in your organization? Are they able to hold real conversations? Are all team members committed and engaged? What are the organization’s values? What results would you expect to obtain to consider team coaching an investment?

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steffan surdek

Steffan is an Agile coach. He is also in charge of the Pyxis Cultures office.
Clients are at the center of his approach and he shares his expertise with them. He is dedicated to their teams and their results. He works with them in order to find Agile solutions that answer their business needs.

Contact him to see how he can help you.

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