Whatever you do, odds are you work in some sort of team, and how your team perform will make the difference between success and failure in your endeavours. But when we all have our own individual roles and responsibilities within a business, it can be easy to forget about the team around you and often we underestimate the importance of effective teamwork, whilst simultaneously complaining about the negative impact that a disjointed team effort has on our personal objectives.
In the past, efforts to help bring a team into alignment have often focussed on providing individual members with development opportunities, looking at helping to build communication and team working skills. However, whilst having the skills to blend seamlessly into any team and become an effective member is highly valuable, when it comes to creating greater cohesion between an established team, the individualistic approach isn’t always the best way. Internal struggles within a team are not uncommon, and it can happen if people with highly different personalities are thrown together. A team often starts good intentions and with one mindset, cracks can appear further down the line as roles, responsibilities and assignments change and evolve. When this occurs it can lead to serious strain which then has a knock-on effect on productivity, engagement, employee satisfaction and outcomes. It is therefore vital that ineffective teams are offered the proper support to enable them to regain their footing and reach their potential, both individually and as a whole, and team coaching could be the ideal solution.
What makes a great team?
Even the most cohesive team is made up of individuals, all with different perceptions, motivations and ideas. It is how the individual and their team mates use this information that makes a team truly effective, and the only way to use that information is to uncover it. Thus somewhat ironically, team coaching will often start by investigating issues on the individual level. This serves several purposes including helping the individual to clarify their own position, opinions and drivers, and allowing them to freely and safely express their views of the team’s current condition, helping the consequential team discussions to start from a place of openness and personal clarity. It also allows the coach or facilitator to better understand the people they are working with, allowing them to appreciate the overarching dynamic of the team and enabling them to facilitate the process more effectively.
One thing that sets effective teams apart is having a common goal to strive for; even if these exist to begin with, over time they can be forgotten or altered both individually and at team level. Thus one of the most important aspects of team coaching is exploring the goals, aims and visions of the team. Having a compelling and achievable goal is an extremely powerful motivator, and when several people share that goal it helps to create instant unity and camaraderie that is hard to foster otherwise. Often the individual goals within a team will differ slightly due to variances in each person’s role and directives, but ultimately they should all be driving towards the same thing in terms of the bigger picture. If this isn’t the case it goes a long way to explaining why a team is struggling to reach their potential, and finding a way to fix it, either by reframing or changing the goal can have a hugely positive impact on outcomes.
Understanding How the Team Works
It is no secret that different people have different ways of working, and in a team environment this can be a real bone of contention if not addressed properly, not to mention causing considerable inefficiencies in working practices. By working together in a team coaching environment, it allows people to identify their working methods, question the methods of others, and work together to find the most effective solution. One thing that has to be acknowledged is that often individuals will struggle to alter the way they fundamentally work, thus the aim is not to all adopt one method of working, but to discuss and test out ways of using each person’s preferences to support the experience of the whole team. Sometimes simply finding out the preferences and rationale for co-worker’s actions is enough to lead to understanding, reduce conflict and improve performance; other times more extensive exploration and discussion may need to occur.
Dealing with Conflict
In an ineffective team there are almost always conflicts to deal with, they may be big or small, explicit or concealed, but the only way to reduce the negative impact of any conflict is to bring it out in the open, discuss it and try to resolve it. Conflict resolution is a key part of team coaching, and one that makes the presence of a trained facilitator vital; it is important that individuals feel they can speak openly about their experiences and that the entire team feel supported in finding a suitable resolution to the problem, one that everyone agrees with.
Appreciating Each Other’s Role
The roles each person plays within a team and how it connects with the roles of their team mates is an essential element to uncover and understand to help achieve team harmony. Confusion or conflict is often due to people misunderstanding what others are responsible or accountable for, and by creating greater clarity around these issues it helps ensure that more effective processes can be implemented, and that unreasonable requests or demands are not made. When everyone knows their role and their part in the bigger picture it makes coming together and working more effectively much simpler, and more enjoyable.
Awareness of Organisational Culture
Oftentimes poor team work is assumed to be a problem confined to that team i.e. the individuals in a specific team don’t work well together. But sometimes ineffective team work is actually part of a wider problem, namely the organisational culture. There are many organisations that pontificate about the need for teamwork whilst actively pitting individuals against each other for the top spot. This approach will never contribute to harmony in an organisation or within smaller teams, and can lead to disengagement, frustration and hostility instead. Team coaching can therefore be a galvanising force to allow individuals to speak openly about the issues of the wider organisation that may consequently be impacting the team. It may not be something that can be addressed via the coaching sessions, but does allow for individuals to better appreciate the frustrations of their team members, and help foster empathy and compassion, which is certainly no bad thing.
Team coaching isn’t about telling people how to work together; the focus is on providing an environment where people can better understand the people they work with, find solutions to problems they are facing and make the most of the best resources they have – their colleagues. Real teamwork isn’t about everyone being involved all the time, it’s about making sure everyone is supported to do the best job they can, and appreciated for the effort they put in – if this can be achieved, so can long term success.
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