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Coaching Work Teams

Updated on August 13, 2015

The Difference between a Group and a Team

This Hub was created as part of an assignment for my coach training with CoachU


What is a work team, really?

A work team is a department, division, or other group of two or more people oriented around a common result.


Group versus Team

A group is multiple people with something in common. A team is a group oriented around a common result. A group does not have a common focus, and each member is usually primarily concerned with their own agenda. A team holds each other accountable.

The above video gives a great example of this distinction. A Group walks onto an elevator and becomes a team when the elevator breaks down. Well, let's hope they do. Otherwise, they're likely to be stuck in the elevator a lot longer and be a lot more miserable. That's what can happen when a work team is dysfunctional. The work slows down and everyone is unhappy.

Group Coaching versus Coaching a Work Team

Group coaching is any time that more than one person is coached simultaneously. Not all work team coaching is done as a group. Often, each team member will be individually coached, as well as coaching the team together, depending on the needs of that team.

Power versus Control

Members of a team may feel like they have no control over their work. While being a team and not a group does mean that everyone is oriented around a single common agenda, everyone has the power to make choices. Feeling controlled is likely to lead to frustration, so it's important to be aware of one's power within a team. "Power is a choice even when control eludes us." (Quote from the CoachU Personal and Corporate Coach Training Handbook)

At their best, a work team is positive and empowering. They encourage open communication, asking for feedback always, and giving each other full disclosure to avoid any blind spots. Holding each other accountable to their agreed upon outcome is essential in a strong and successful team.

Common Work Team Challenges

  1. General communication
  2. Frustration with limited resources/budget constraints/deadlines
  3. Power struggles
  4. Lack of clarity about what they contribute to the team and what the value of their work is to other team members
  5. Adaptation to changes in the business
  6. Not feeling heard, appreciated, or included in the team

Frustrated Worker
Frustrated Worker | Source

Case Study

Now that we've gotten clear on what a work team is and some of their common challenges, let's explore this further with a case study. This is a completely fictitious case study, meant only to demonstrate coaching in these situations.

  • Mariah comes to coaching saying that she feels like people on her team just talk over her and don't respect her input. She's frustrated and feels like she's expected to just do what she's told and not think, like a robot. She speaks passionately about some opportunities that she sees to improve the results of the team. She even thanks her coach because it's the first time she's been able to say these things out loud.
  • Josh is a leader on this team. He expresses that the team is always pulling in different directions. He says he has told them the direction they need to go, and he doesn't understand why they can't just follow his lead. He feels like they don't think he knows what he's doing.
  • Sally has been with the company the longest, and is frustrated that Josh has this leadership role and she was never even asked. She trained Josh. Because of this, she has trouble taking Josh seriously in his role.
  • Robert says he knows this team is a mess, so he just comes in, does his job and goes home. As long as he's doing his job, he can put blinders on to what everyone else is doing. And, he uses the phrase "that's not my job" a lot.

As you can probably see right away, there are a lot of communication problems and power struggles with this team.

How would you begin to coach the team in this case study?

See results

Coaching Tips

  • Be extraordinarily interested in who each team member is and the unique qualities that they bring to the team
  • Keep discussions focused on the team and their common goals
  • Keep discussions focused on the future
  • Find what support each team member needs to provide the greatest contribution to the team
  • Get very clear on what common result they are focused around
  • Be very direct. Help the team to see what someone else sees who doesn't have the vested interest and emotional filters that they have
  • Work on foundations that will strengthen the team. For example: zapping tolerations, defining boundaries, raising standards, and building trust
  • If appropriate, consider sharing the Johari Window (below)

The Johari Window

Johari Window
Johari Window | Source

The Johari Window is a visual representation of situational awareness. In the area sometimes referred to as the Arena, everything is in the open and all team members share the same knowledge and awareness of the situation.

When the leader knows something that the other parties do not, the other parties are in the hidden area, sometimes called the Façade, where they don’t have access to information unless the leader openly shares it.

When the other team members know something that the leader does not know, the leader is in a blind spot unless he is open, receptive, curious, and inquisitive, asking the team members to share relevant knowledge with everyone.

And lastly, there is often a huge pool of knowledge that no one has yet discovered, sometimes called Potential or Unknown.

The Importance of Trust

It's all about trust! You can't begin to work on promoting full disclosure and asking for feedback until there is trust in place to open those channels of communication. Trust building exercises cannot be oversold!

Common Coaching Shifts

Here are some of the common shifts that occur in work team coaching. Are there any others that you have to share? Please comment below!

"It's not my job", not holding themselves or each other accountable
Holding themselves and others accountable. Appreciating how their actions affect others, and how others affect them
Dictating, commanding leadership; not being open to others' input
Collaborative, leading by example; asking for feedback and giving full disclosure
Negative, disempowering environment; focus on controling situations
Positive and empowering; focus on influencing situations
Multiple agendas
Oriented around one common agenda
Overwhelmed; unclear path
Clear and managable path to desired outcome

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    • Matthew Ryczko profile image

      Matthew Ryczko 2 years ago from Ohio

      One more great tool to help with communication and team cohesiveness is the DISC assessment. I have not personally worked with these, so I chose not to cover them above. But, you may interested in learning more about them.

      DISC profiles were created by industrial psychologists to improve understanding of different personality types in the workplace. DISC stands for Dominance, Inducement, Submission and Compliance.

      The combination of these 4 traits creates 15 unique worker profiles:









      Objective Thinker