Until recently, teaching was primarily considered a one-on-one practice. But no matter how effective employees are on their own, they can only contribute to the true power of the collective when their managers give them coaching as a group. In this practice, which the authors call team coaching, a leader’s role is to support the team as an organic unit, provide guidance, create routines and practices, and create frequent opportunities for in group learning. In this article, the authors describe three of the tools and techniques of team coaching that they have found to be the most important for promoting rapid learning and successful results.
Teams are the engine of the corporate engine. They combine different skill sets to solve problems, change, and implement strategy. They are also where the work experience is shaped, and where culture is experienced in real time. Groups create opportunities for newer employees to learn and help solve problems, and for more senior employees to share their knowledge and use their experience.
Despite all this, most management systems continue to focus on individual employees. This is especially true of coaching, which until recently was considered primarily a one-on-one practice designed to improve individual performance and job satisfaction. There is nothing wrong with that – good individual coaching is an extremely valuable management skill and, when done well, has increased the performance of many individuals. But no matter how effective employees are on their own, they can only contribute to the true power of the collective if their managers provide them with quality support and coaching as a team.
A Team-Based Approach
Leaders can close this gap by embracing the practice of team coaching, which shifts the focus from individual performance to collective impact. In this environment, the role of a leader is to support the team as an organic unit, provide support and guidance, create routines and practices, and create frequent opportunities for group learning.
The team coaching approach encourages team members to go beyond their roles and understand each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations. Members are encouraged to build stronger relationships with themselves, not just one-on-one with their manager. They are also challenged to sharpen their teamwork skills, to improve their ability to collectively own and solve business challenges, and to address any team-related issues that may arise. The approach creates an environment of agency and accountability, with a healthy balance between challenges and support.
In our work as educators and practitioners, we study, lead, and work with teams using the tools and techniques of team coaching. Below are the three we have found to be most important for promoting rapid learning and successful outcomes.
There is a natural instinct in team leaders to step in and take over as problems and challenges arise. But in a team-coaching environment, leaders treat problems and challenges as opportunities for real-world learning and growth that all team members can — and should — take advantage of.
One area where this approach has been used effectively is the Osler Internal Medicine Training program at Johns Hopkins, where, from day one, first-year physicians are expected to “own the patient experience” as they -ikot, with more experienced doctors in the team serving as their guides and coaches. This is a mandatory arrangement: With a first-year doctor at the “point of the wedge,” everyone discusses and assesses the situation, gives views, and suggests solutions. The most senior doctor on the team listens, finds out what the team members know and asks – and, of course, makes sure that all assumptions and decisions are good. Although this method requires a little more time and energy up front than having an old doctor to work to solve problems, the long-term benefits – facilitate learning, more confidence, spirit of team, a collective investment in work – big.
Coach, don’t tell.
A second and related leadership method is based on the Socratic-method of teaching: Team leaders use questions, not answers, to invite and shape how team members understand situations and solve problems. problems. It takes discipline and practice to learn how to create questions that prompt insights and shift thinking, but when leaders master this skill, it can be a powerful management technique.
When using this method, it can be useful for leaders to create a list of questions to ask. For example: “What have you tried so far?” “What job? What’s not?” “Is there another way to frame the problem?” “Do you have all the data?” “What assumptions do you bring to the problem?” “Who is good at this? What will he do?”
When team members answer these questions, leaders often get quick and valuable insights into how well their teams understand their work, and where more support is needed. We have worked with many client organizations and executive leadership teams that have successfully used this approach. “Not only does practicing this method deepen the team’s learning around specific customer challenges,” a manager at a leading professional services firm told us after using the method, “it focuses on entire team to explore issues better, which may uncover previously overlooked errors and false assumptions.”
Treat successes and failures as learning opportunities.
This approach changes the work dynamic. When team members understand that successes and failures are both considered learning opportunities in a non-blame environment, they will be more willing to test the boundaries of what is possible, to challenge those guess, and admit when things are wrong. It facilitates learning and pivoting from mistakes, enabling faster and cheaper failures, and bigger successes.
In order for this approach to work for groups, all members must be given the opportunity to contribute, as some are likely to notice details and patterns of behavior that others are blind to. It can take time to uncover the details and patterns, as they can be buried at many levels in an organization’s entrenched thinking and behavior. So another key to this message is to encourage everyone to repeatedly ask the question “Why?”
US Special Forces have successfully adopted this approach. After each mission, they conduct an after-action review (AAR), where team members are invited to give their perspective on everything that went right and wrong, without regret, and then before their next mission. they conduct a pre-action review (PAR), where they consider how what they learned in previous AARs can be applied to the new mission. (For more on AARs, see “A Better Review After Action,” by Angus Fletcher, Preston B. Cline, and Matthew Hoffman.)
Today’s teams must learn how to deliver results in shorter cycles with fewer resources. They need leaders who can help them learn from their successes and failures, optimize their performance, and quickly adapt to changing demands. Leaders who adopt the team coaching methods we outline in this article are well positioned to achieve this, and thus can successfully differentiate their businesses by harnessing the unique power of the collective.