The Center for Executive Coaching is known for providing practical approaches to solving pressing leadership and organizational issues. Part of our offering includes “instant programs” you can provide to clients.
One such program that has been a big part of my own practice, and that has been proven to get results with coaches at organizations around the world, is a simple approach to working with teams. For instance, one of my favorite engagements involved helping a group of tenured faculty members from a dozen universities create a team to address massive research challenges in their field; they ended up receiving a grant of over $80 million from the National Science Foundation.
Contrary to what some consultants and self-proclaimed team experts will tell you, working with teams is not especially complex. A good starting point is a simple facilitated session, starting with interviews of team members. From there, you can uncover opportunities to continue to support the team via individual and group coaching and further facilitation.
The life cycle of the team can be an important variable. If a team is in start-up mode, you will likely spend more time on clarifying outcomes, establishing agreements, setting roles and accountability, assessing risks, and communicating. If a team is mid-course and facing challenges, you might need to spend more time resolving these challenges, along with addressing communication issues and conflicts that might arise.
Following is a plan for an instant program for working with teams, starting with a facilitated retreat:
One: Conduct assessments and interview team members.
a. Complete a validated assessment for each member of the team and create a single team report (I use the ProfileXT assessment for this exercise). A team assessment exercise places everyone on the team on a single assessment to show similarities and differences by different personality traits, communication styles, and thinking styles. It’s an efficient, effective way for team members to gain insights about strengths, potential blind spots, and strategies to work better together.
b. Interview team members about the team. Conduct a 360-verbal assessment as if the team were an individual. Ask three questions, and drill down from there when appropriate: 1. What are up to 3 things going well with the team? 2. What is the one thing that the team could do better that would have maximum impact on team performance? 3. What other advice do you have for the team? You can also ask about the top issues the team has to resolve to be successful, and what they want to be sure to discuss during the retreat for a successful experience. If the team is completely new, focus more on key issues, success factors, and input about what to cover during the retreat to make sure it is successful.
c. For teams in progress, you might also create an ad hoc assessment in which team members rate themselves on specific criteria and then rate the team as a whole on the same criteria. This will tell you how individuals perceive themselves vs. the team as a whole to get a sense of overall awareness and who is and isn’t pulling their weight.
Two: Synthesize an agenda that moves the team’s business agenda forward and also leaves time to discuss team issues.
It is important to combine work on the team’s business objective(s) with time to help the team improve how it works together. If you focus only on team improvement, some participants will see the meeting as being too soft or fluffy. Issues to work in include:
a. Team assessment results.
b. Top concerns of the team.
c. Opportunity to give individual feedback and make new commitments.
d. Opportunity to discuss any new distinction relative to where the team might be in its life cycle (e.g., setting ground rules, anticipating risks, resolving conflicts and making amends, final push to the finish line, celebrating results, adding new members…).
Three: During the meeting, create opportunities for people to give feedback confidentially.
Following are two simple and impactful examples:
a. Notecard exercise #1: Each person writes down their top 3 concerns about the team on a notecard. You read each notecard while a facilitator writes concerns on a whiteboard/flip chart. The team discusses the top concerns and how to resolve them. One client used this exercise to shift instantly from a list of tactical issues to a much more strategic list of concerns and challenges. The exercise helped participants feel comfortable discussing the real issues that they wouldn’t have shared otherwise.
b. Notecard exercise #2: Each person has one notecard for each person on the team, with a specific person’s name on the card. On the front they write up to three things they appreciate that that person’s contribution. On the back they write one request that would help the person be an even better team member. Each person then receives their cards, reviews them, and stands up to make new commitments to the group based on the feedback they received. This exercise has enabled teams filled with alpha personalities to be willing to open up, be a bit vulnerable, and make new commitments.
Four: Provide individual coaching as appropriate.
A common outcome of these retreats is that the team leader will request that you coach them (if you aren’t already doing so), as well as other team members as needed. This coaching often evolves from coaching about the individual’s team performance to much broader leadership coaching.
Five: Provide follow up sessions as appropriate.
A second common outcome of a facilitated retreat like the one described above is that you and the team agree to meet regularly to continue to work on issues and improve.
The above program is simple to implement, and provides great value to clients and their fellow team members. Again, it is one small sample of the types of content you receive when you join the Center for Executive Coaching.