Transforming Teams: Discover the Power of Executive Team Coaching for Unparalleled Business Success
An Interview with Jacqui Ferris of PerformanceHQ
Welcome to CEO Today’s exclusive interview with Jacqui Ferris, the coaching professional leading PerformanceHQ (PHQ) – https://www.performancehq.com.au/. As you’ll know, executive and leadership coaching has revolutionised the world of business, over the last twenty years, empowering leaders to cultivate their skills and grow in their roles. But what if coaching was extended to teams? This is exactly what PHQ has been forging under the leadership of Ferris.
In today’s conversation, we are going to delve into the concept of Team Coaching, exploring the role of a coach in a team setting, and learning how this approach can address and resolve issues that may be inhibiting a team from reaching its full potential. We will also discuss PHQ’s unique approach to Team Coaching, with Ferris giving us insight into how the company crafts bespoke team development programs tailored to each client’s needs.
Many of our readers are already acquainted with the notion of Executive and Leadership coaching on a personal basis. Yet, PHQ has built upon traditional leader development programs and individual coaching approaches to provide Team Coaching programs as well. Jacqui, could you give our readers an insight into how team coaching works and how PHQ has developed the concept?
Whilst definitions of team coaching are evolving, PHQ defines it as when ‘the coach is a ‘thinking partner’ with an intact team and its leader – supporting them in raising and resolving the issues that may be getting in the way of their optimal growth and output as a collective.
The key word phrase there is: ‘as a collective’.
This is different to traditional leader development programs – where the focus has been on the individual leader, developing at their pace, relative to their goals and the aspirations the organisation has for them within their current business.
For senior people, it often involves a program overseas with a blue-chip university, where they meet global colleagues, build networks and better understand the different markets in which their organisation and sector moves. Useful on a number of levels, and good recognition for the leader, but in terms of development, it has limitations.
When the achievement of organisational goals requires collaboration, shared discussions between team members, fast and quality decision-making it is likely that teams will do this better than one lone individual CEO/leader, providing certain things are in play.
Strong leaders today, create the space and the environment that allows and encourages their people to learn together and flourish. Sounds simple, but with day-to-day pressures it can be hard for leaders to achieve this, that’s where the team coach can step in.
So where do you start when embarking on a Team Coaching Engagement?
A team coach will be curious about the team’s purpose – its WHY. i.e., why is the team formed as it is, who is it there to serve, what is it that they must do together that they cannot do apart.
We ask this in service of the team, its growth and what it’s there to achieve, not to judge and not because we know better – we don’t. But coaching requires confidence in their ability to sit with the response – whatever that may be, and a little bravery, to ask these and other questions that an outsider typically doesn’t ask.
That’s because the team won’t typically ask themselves these questions.
How has PHQ developed the concept of Team Coaching for its clients?
Clients typically approach us to discuss a team development program when things could be better within the team – something’s not functioning as well as it could be, or they’ve acquired some employee feedback or data that the team’s way of operating is negatively impacting in some way.
We spend time sharing our approach to designing bespoke team programs – that will typically include some or all of the components below.
Figure 1 – The Components of Team Development. Adapted from
Mastering the Art of Team Coaching; G. Woudstra, 2021.
Where we start depends where the team is at, in terms of its maturity and what is important for them and the organisation to focus on and team member confidence to have the necessary conversations without fear or favour. Then, based on what they’re aiming to achieve as a team, sharing the themes from the Discovery, we ask the team where they think they need to start, rather than us telling them where we think they should start.
At the same time, we always share that we aspire for teams to move towards the right-hand bar [the ‘purest’ area of team coaching], which shifts the power base from the facilitator to the team – , which is where it should be in our view. It’s our job to move ourselves out of a job, if you will!
What’s the role of the leader in Team Coaching?
The CEO/Team Leader role is key to the success of team coaching: They set the scene and reinforce the importance of collective learning as well as the work they want the team to do together.
That’s why we say, “Boss goes first”.
In this way the leader can demonstrate their own commitment to the learning, by their actions, not just their words.
This includes accountability for the learning and agreed collective actions between sessions. In addition, and ideally, they will resist the dialling down of team coaching when the normal pressures of work or deadlines kick in, making convenient excuses for their team. When we see this happening, we encourage the CEO into conversation. Instead they’ll use the team coaching forums to help the team prioritise, obtain support from each other so they can cope better with the new pressures.
If the CEO/Team Leader is seen not to be committed, not making it a priority, the team will gradually follow suit. Given time, old habits may return.
The moment the leader de-prioritises collective learning and supporting the work the team has achieved to that point, is when progress can stall and the focus and effort can quickly fall away.
We see it in individual coaching as well. The difference is, it’s a whole lot more obvious and impactful with a team . When the leader backs off, the team backs off, often returning to their silos and their comfort zone – getting directed ‘by the boss’. Everyone gets comfortable and growth stops.
That doesn’t mean to say the team themselves, can’t pick the baton up and continue – it is possible, but it typically requires some effort from someone in the team, to take the lead.
Team coaching shines a light on how the team and its leader are showing up – this means it’s not always a comfortable place for people – this is about ‘readiness’. A team’s development is also not linear or smooth sailing, there are lumps and bumps along the way. The team coach’s job is to bring this normal human being response to change, to the attention of the team, without judgement, and to put it back to them, as to what they want to do next.
What’s the future of Team Coaching:
ICF [ the International Coach Federation https://coachingfederation.org/credentials-and-standards/team-coaching/competencies] indicates that team coaching is one of the biggest growth areas in the sector. This is due to the pace at which organisations are needing to move, change and make decisions. This in turn, means they must find ways to distribute daily decision-making away from the CEO/Team Leader. There’s a growing need for teams that are more cohesive, more collaborative, less individually motivated, effective, and able to adapt quickly to new challenges.
Unlike individual coaching, which focuses on developing the skills and capabilities of a single person, team coaching works with the entire team as a unit. PHQ has developed its programs for Leadership Team Coaching by integrating principles from executive coaching, organisational development, strategy, team dynamics/ group process and overlaying all of this with a systemic lens – adopting an ‘outside in/future back’ approach [Professor Peter Hawkins].
What this looks like is posing a couple of questions to the team early on in the discovery process, like:
“What do your customers and stakeholders need from this team now, so you can deliver on your stated promises into the future? Think leadership behaviours as opposed to technical/operational competence”.
To help the team understand how they may be ‘showing up’ in this regard, we ‘bring’ their customers and key stakeholders; [Board, partners, staff, vendors, suppliers etc] into the room during conversations.
Most teams, given the right context, set up and with a bit of courage, will happily focus on their internal dynamics – i.e., what works/doesn’t work between themselves, relationship-wise, as a cohort by saying things like:
“We need to hold ourselves accountable to each other more.”
“We need to follow through more on what we say we’ll do”:
“We need to be firmer on performance management than we are.” etc.
But they rarely focus on why they need to do these things, what’s at stake and what are the consequences if they don’t
This is what team coaching aims to support. Helping teams to have conversations with each other, that rarely if ever occur in corporate life, in service of what is expected of them by stakeholders, to deliver on their promises.
What makes a good Team Coach:
Working as a team coach brings into full view the skill, maturity, wisdom and idiosyncrasies of the coach, as well as their own under evolved areas as a human being in progress. Their willingness and ability to be vulnerable is important and they’ll model this with the team as they build connectivity and relationship trust.
Some of my best learning as a coach in the last 15 years, has been to understand more fully who I am as a person, my purpose as a coach, what I stand for – my gifts and my challenges as a human being and practitioner.
It comes down to the work I’ve done on myself. Team coaching more than any of the work I do, brings this into full focus. If anything is going to bring out your insecurities as a practitioner, coaching teams will! Yet I do this work, not because it’s easy – it absolutely isn’t, but because its important work. Some of us are lucky to remember a great team experience we’ve had. The majority of us however, are more likely to remember the misery of being in a dysfunctional one.
What role does supervision play?
Increasingly, there has been much more focus on supervision for coaches in general, for the reasons above, and you can times that by 20, when you coach teams!
Supervision – generally thought of as a ‘nice to have’ by most coach colleagues in the past, in our view has become mandatory, when coaching teams. We build this into our fees and routinely share the importance of it with our clients, as we work with teams dealing with ever changing complexity.
In today’s organisations and with the pace at which organisations change and evolve, all team members have a role to play in the organisation achieving collective outcomes and/or solving challenging problems of growth, divestment, innovation and often for its survival.
This requires good listening – listening to views that are different to yours, with genuine curiosity and courage, to arrive at the best solution for the organisation – for now. This means some team members will need to compromise and not hold it against others when they do!
Traditional leader development programs, off sites etc, whilst helpful for setting strategy, goals, analysing data, deciding priorities and for bonding over dinner and activities – will rarely if ever get to this point. Team Coaching doesn’t ‘mess around’ it gets there quickly – providing certain things are in place.
What about collegiality and collaboration between peer teams:
Leaders are rarely taught how to be collegiate with peers, nor to have robust conversations where they openly share differing views, and where they learn to compromise without taking things personally, when decisions don’t go their way.
Team members need to learn this with colleagues – this doesn’t mean free for all by the way! It’s about developing strong listening ability, giving themselves enough space away from their own need to be seen as performing, to consider another colleagues’ perspective fully. It’s also about recognising one’s biases and the behaviours that are getting in the way of the collaboration required to achieve the organisation’s overall goals and agenda .
We’re often asked what gets in the way of collaboration and team effectiveness?
We see the following show up when we’re working with teams, where we believe Team Coaching can play a role.
When the culture is one of polite respect, team members learn to nod and agree. They will elect not to share their views and fall away passively, because the louder voice steps in [as always!], which is different to feeling they can fully self-express/share a different view, then compromise for the greater good.
Or if the organisation or team is headed by a very strong, directive leader, team members learn how to not oppose them directly, instead they go via the back door, vie for attention and obtain kudos for being a good lieutenant, before they can then get their own way.
The most challenging is when we see people who have learned to ‘go along to get along’ because it’s not the done thing to say how we really feel about that new idea or mandate sent down from on high.
The ways leaders operate in teams to survive are many and varied, as well as very subtle – it’s part of being human. People are rarely conscious of it. It’s not easy leading teams in the 2020’s nor is it easy being a team member.
The team coach’s role is not to judge, be directive, set the agenda or lead. Our role is to invite the team to examine it’s subtle and more obvious traits, in a non-judgemental way, offering up an opportunity for the team to examine these and work out how well it’s working for them and their stakeholders – or not.
What’s happening right now with Team Coaching?
At the time of writing, Team Coaching is still a relatively new form of development for teams. It builds on the traditional team development modalities that people would be familiar with, but is still being defined by the training and credentialing houses and indeed, the practitioners that offer it.
If you think about where the coaching sector was 20 years ago – when it first arrived as an offering for leaders – compared to where it is now, it has evolved and ‘professionalised’ itself greatly. This is due to a greater understanding and more discerned purchasing from the procurers of coaching, increased maturity in the sector and expectations being placed on credentials and training for coaches etc.
All this means that Team Coaching is where Individual Executive Coaching was 20 years ago.
It is predicted to evolve and grow in the coming decades, but much faster than individual coaching did. Organisations are much more informed and sophisticated about what they want/need for their leaders.
This means Team Coaches, the trainers and those that award accreditations will need to be ‘on their game’ a lot faster than they’ve perhaps had the luxury of being in the last 20 years.
How does team coaching differ from the more commonly known team building, team development/facilitation and/ or team consulting?
We regard all of those modalities as part of the team development continuum. We see consulting at one end of that continuum and team coaching at the other end.
Figure 2 – The Components of Team Development.
Adapted from Mastering the Art of Team Coaching; G. Woudstra, 2021.
They are all valid components of team development, and we are very experienced in all.
What is really relevant for team coaching to be successful, is ‘team readiness’ – that the team is in the right space to take on being coached as a team.
The challenge is many teams and leaders are not ready, team coaching would not be successful. So, we regard it as a journey where we will help the team through the various stages of team development, to a point where they are ready and accepting of the possibility of team coaching.
Even then, we may dip in and out of team coaching, with the agreement and acknowledgement of the team, because it may be appropriate at the time.
What are some typical expectations and outcomes of those involved in a team coaching program?
Probably the greatest expectation is that the team will be more ‘effective’ whatever that might mean. We also hear the desire for more connectedness, better and more frequent communication, more vulnerability and more transparency.
Words like collaboration, accountability, and integrity appear on most company value statements – displayed on foyer walls and on the bottom of email signatures. But on close inspection, the congruent behaviours can be very hard to find.
The issue is that typically, the organisation will look directly at their leaders to get a read on what’s acceptable, what’s rewarded and what accountability looks like.
We will often work with leaders and teams to help them bring their values to life, to make them part of the organisational DNA and develop structures and strategies to help them flourish and ensure longevity.
The outcome then looks like being invited back every few months to pulse-check progress.
How do you ensure that each individual in a team is engaged in the process, particularly when you have strong personalities in the group?
The short answer is that we can’t!
The team coach shouldn’t try to ‘ensure’ an outcome for the team. This is actually what makes it so challenging for practioners, particularly like me, when they’ve come from professional services environments where you’re paid to get outcomes for your client. Moreover, the Team Coach shares what they notice when the different personalities either pervade the conversation in meetings or sit back more passively. We offer these observations up, invite their comments and thoughts, stay as curious and ‘present’ to the situation as we can but can’t be attached, whether the team ‘gets it’ or not.
This is why I work with a co-coach. We can support each other and check in with each other in relation to our own biases and perspectives.
In your Blog on ‘What is Team Coaching?’ you state the team coach is there by permission/invitation. How does this manifest, and how are objectives met or the session kept on track?
It’s like being invited into someone’s house for dinner. You don’t go into the kitchen and start critiquing the host on what they’re doing and not doing with their cooking. We might be capable of doing so – but you’d likely not be asked back! It’s the same with our teams.
We enter the team space as a guest, and ‘contract’ with them at the outset and regularly throughout any meeting, on how they would like us to participate and engage with them, what they want us to hone in on and bring to their attention etc.
So, everyone is clear and agreed on the roles and what may happen. If there is something worth bringing to the team’s attention, for example, where they have spent 45 minutes of a 1-hour meeting, talking circuitously without progress.That is especially pertinent if they’ve asked us to help them with their self-described inability to reach timely decisions. We would ask their permission to share that observation. They decide whether that happens or not.
The answer is affirmative much of the time, that’s why we’re there. But not always and not always at the time we raise it. The team is the client – they decide. If they are acting incongruently with their stated development objectives, our job is to raise that into their collective consciousness, and inquire as to their thoughts about that observation. That can bring forth rich discussion in and of itself
For a company that’s considering team coaching for the first time, what advice would you give them?
As you would with a consultant, select a team coach based on reputation, referral, and their experience in the area of all things leader development. It is less important that a team coach understands your organisation or industry. The team is the expert in that. The coach is there to help you uncover barriers to collective success and to encourage collective involvement to address. That’s their gift, their skill.
Find out what qualifications and training they’ve had in team coaching and working with teams in general.
Are they engaged in regular supervision – a big one.
Be transparent – have the team engage in an initial discussion with a team coach to see if they sense there is a fit.
They will be doing the same with you!
Be prepared to shift out of your comfort zone – because the discomfort zone is the learning zone.
Discuss your team’s ‘readiness’ with the prospective coach. Let them help you establish that. That in itself, can be a worthwhile conversation.
Ensure the coach knows how to create a space for dialogue.
Team Coaching is designed to fit in with the normal rhythm of team meetings, so step in and try it out.
Experiencing it is the best test.
For more information on PerformanceHQ’s range of coaching and leadership services please visit – https://www.performancehq.com.au/