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Core Business Team Coaching Skills
by Cynder Niemela


The goal of team coaching is to help a group of people with a common purpose identify and meet business goals and simultaneously enjoy the journey as a team. A masterful coach uses the following skills to clarify the discovered outcomes, develop a plan of action, and overcome the barriers along the way.


Accountability is having people be responsible to themselves and to others for what they say they are going to do. A coach asks people to account for the results of the intended action and if need be, define new actions to be taken. Accountability is determined by posing three questions: What are you going to do? When will you do this? How will I know?


Acknowledgement is a way to recognize something that occurred or that represents who the person is or how they have grown. When they have done well or made a shift in their thinking, point out specifically what you see. When you give constructive feedback about behavior, the focus is on the behavior. Conversely, when you acknowledge someone, the focus is on who he or she is and what he or she accomplishes. People need and appreciate acknowledgement.


Challenging means pressing team members to stretch far beyond their self-imposed limits. A team coach collaboratively develops challenging coaching plans with team members that include specific goals and time frames. Together they review progress on a regular basis.

Listening for Context

Coaches learn how to listen without judgement to everything, whether spoken or not. We hear pauses, changes in tone, or emotions that don't match spoken words. Contextual listening is necessary to quickly understand an individual's frame of reference, wants, needs and concerns within the issues they bring to the coaching session. When a coach listens well, team members feel heard, respected and understood. In this way, the coach fosters an environment of trust that allows for rapid growth and problem solving. For example, a coach might say, "Let me tell you what I heard underneath all of this. Tell me if this rings true for you."

Preparing for Change

Changes in the business environment require greater self-responsibility for adopting new ways of communicating, behaving and achieving extraordinary results. Coaches condition people for change by first helping them understand the individual process of change. By understanding and appreciating how change impacts us, in time we will discover new possibilities for ways of being and acting. Thus, exploring possibilities leads to commitment, which leads to change. Your coaching helps people complete the cycle of change. For example, a coach might ask, "How would it look to you if you did x instead of y?" Or "What might break or what might happen if you continue as you have been?"

Creative Language

Creative language, including stories, metaphors, and models is an alternative to directive communication. In telling stories, we can create strong messages and make points without being directive. Team coaches use creative language to illustrate ideas and paint verbal pictures for team members. For example, in our previous articles and in describing this approach to team coaching, we use many nautical metaphors. To become a masterful coach, begin collecting stories, metaphors and analogies to add to your repertoire.

Discovery Questioning

Discovery Questioning is a systematic process of asking sharply focused questions to help individuals discover how they are feeling and thinking. The team coach asks provocative questions that draw out personal understanding, or that evoke clarity, action, discovery, insight or commitment. When the coach is good at promoting discovery (that is, asking questions that create or enhance possibility, new learning or clearer vision), people discover powerful answers for themselves more quickly.


A skilled coach learns how to effectively sharpen the delivery of key information to create an environment where paradigm shifts and resultant action can occur. In this context, informing is a way of delivering a truthful message that is timely, personally relevant and succinct. For example, suppose you are coaching a leader who wants to delegate more responsibility. Over several weeks she reports on her frustrations and the inability of others to take responsibility. You may reply with: “The actions you are taking are not producing the results you want. It’s time to look at other approaches.”

Telling the Truth

Essentially, this skill entails saying what you intuit, feel or sense to be true about the situation. Telling the truth effectively first requires you to be deeply aware of your own agendas and to take responsibility for whatever you are feeling and thinking. For example, “Listen, John, you know it’s my job to say everything that I sense and see, and this is one of those times…” or, “Stephen, I have another perspective on that one. May I tell you what it looks like to me?”


Transformation is more than a simple change in behavior; simple changes in behavior are only temporary. Transformation is a fundamental shift or reorientation of who you are, what you see and how you approach life. The essential distinction that masterful coaching provides is a shifting of who the person is versus what the person does. In this way, a team member can better effect lasting change in behavior. A possible question to evoke a shift is: “Jim, who would you have to be in order to shift your leadership style from autocratic to collaborative?”


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 2004 by Cynder Niemela. All rights reserved.

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