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Rapid-fire Inspiration for Leaders
- High Impact Teaming

by Cynder Niemela


A High Impact Team in the Making

Following is a story about a team leader that sought out team coaching, intent on developing a high impact team.

Harry, a leader of a regional consulting team in a global multi-billion dollar consulting firm, called us to find out more about Team Coaching and if it could help him. He had a team of 12 professionals and was responsible for developing their technical expertise and leadership skills. Harry was feeling that although his team met in person occasionally and conducted effective meetings, they were missing the opportunity to experience the benefits of being on a real team. They focused more on client results, which was great, but if energy was expended on developing team cohesion, the work would be more enjoyable and the clients would be even better served.

In the initial contracting conversation, we helped Harry clarify his three objectives for coaching:

  1. Develop the leadership talents of each team member.
  2. Inspire the team to work towards becoming a high impact team.
  3. Enhance team productivity in a workplace with constant change and chaos.

Our agreement was called The 13-Session Journey and we conducted 13 2-hour teleconferences with the team and Harry. After initial conversations with each team member and completion of the High Impact Team Assessment, we found there was little agreement on the statements. In the feedback session, we discussed the areas where the team was strong: Clear Roles and Responsibilities and Enhanced Team Competency, and where the team had the lowest average: Collaboration and Innovation, Shared Leadership, and Active Sponsorship. The team was not at all surprised with the findings. After this discussion, it was time to empower the team to set its own objectives, which were:

  1. Establish a shared purpose and vision.
  2. Develop our individual leadership skills.
  3. Raise the level of trust on the team.

From these we could recommend topics for our monthly coaching sessions. Because they were involved in analyzing the team's performance and selecting their objectives, they were committed to meeting their goals. Harry was delighted that their objectives matched his and that the team was excited about the opportunity to work with a coach.

When is a Coach Not a Coach?

In the flood of team activities, an enthusiastic coach can sometimes overstep his or her role. If this happens, the crossover of roles diminishes the impact of the coaching. The coach approach distinguishes and integrates the roles of all three - the coach, the team leader and team members - in a way that maximizes the effectiveness of all.

A colleague of mine was once coaching a team. She found herself agreeing to take meeting notes for the team. She was good at this, filled a need on the team and in doing so, felt included in the work of the team. However, she became increasingly frustrated because her attempts to share observations or make coaching inquiries were met with little response by team members. Coaching sessions with the leader became less focused.

Her role as coach had blurred with the work of the team. I coached her to step back into the role of coach and away from the work of the team. To make this transition she told the team leader what had happened: that she had stepped into a role as a team member. She supported the team by having a team member take notes, and in time, her coaching became much more effective.

Here are some signs that indicate that the boundaries of your roles have become blurred:

  • If you’re the coach and you’ve started recording the minutes of the meeting, you’re not coaching. Record keeping is the work of the team.
  • If you’re preparing communications to the organization about the team’s proposed organizational changes, you’re not coaching. Communication is the team’s responsibility.
  • If you are talking more than listening, then you’re not coaching. You might be leading or directing the team.
  • If you find yourself delegating and overseeing the tasks of the team, you are not coaching the team. You are managing it.
  • If you are researching business information for the team’s initiative, you are not coaching. You have joined the crew.
  • If you need to be credited for the results the team has produced, you have lost sight of your role as coach. Credit for the results of the team is due to the team.
  • If you are happy to be acknowledged for the impact that your coaching has on the team, then you’re right on track.

The Concept of Shared Leadership

The term “shared leadership”contrasts with the “command and control” style of leadership in which control and authority rest exclusively with those at the top of the organizational ladder. High impact teams share leadership. In other words, team members assume decision-maiking authority and responsibility for the team’s results. By instilling the notion that every team member is responsible for the team’s success, you develop leadership within the team.

The idea of shared leadership is based on mutual respect and caring for all team members. Intentionally modeling leadership competencies has the effect of distributing leadership throughout the team. Far from diminishing the leader’s influence on the team, distributing responsibility throughout the team highlights the leader’s significance while bringing out the best in others. In the traditional command and control model, the leader’s trust of the abilities of others is low. Hence leaders command of employees in what to do and then control how they do their work. Minimal effort is expended in utilizing the intelligence of the team to improve its culture and performance. In turn, creativity, willingness to take initiative, and active ownership for results by team members is suppressed.

Leading a high impact team, on the other hand, requires the leader to be much more competent at listening, and at constellating a wide variety of tasks and individual needs. It is far more difficult to motivate a talented group of people to complete a coordinated cluster of tasks well than it does to order someone to comply. Generation X and Y, for example, will not tolerate command and control leadership. They commit their time and expertise when there is a personal connection, and not merely because someone commands it. The benefits of practicing shared leadership include attracting and retaining the best talent.

Capable leaders find that coaching helps them implement a shared leadership approach while focusing the team’s momentum on results. Since the team leader is still ultimately accountable for the team’s results, the leader must manage the paradox between giving away responsibility and retaining accountability.


The Author

Leading High Impact Teams

Cynder Niemela coaches executives and business teams to Peak Performance. Her book, Leading High Impact Teams: The Coach Approach to Peak Performance was voted one of the Best Business Books for 2001 by The CEO Refresher.

For additional information email: or visit .

Many more articles in Coaching and High Perfomance Teams in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2005 by Cynder Niemela. All rights reserved.

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