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Team Effectiveness Coaching:
An Innovative Approach for Supporting Teams in Complex Systems
by Steve Goldberg

Challenges of Working in Complex Systems
Increased global business uncertainty, complexity and competition, as well as decreases in personnel and support budgets are becoming more of a reality in today's corporate climate. With this business climate, the question of how to effectively implement and sustain change is a core challenge for corporations. In collaboration with one of our major clients, a unique service has been created that is making a difference in how people and teams work to most effectively accomplish business results.
Creation of Team Effectiveness Coaching

Confronted with the need to create and innovate under severe financial and time constraints in the client's matrixed organizational structure, the conventional wisdom grows out of the value on what can be measured and described; that people can weather the storm if only they could focus more time and expertise on technical issues and devise an ideal set of "metrics" to manage subordinates' activities.

The Team Effectiveness Coaching group held a different assumption about how teams could maximize performance. Their belief was that it is frequently the intangibles of human interaction processes that separates average performance from outstanding execution: unless teams could improve their interpersonal, team and organizational effectiveness, their technical achievements would not get them to the level of execution necessary.

"We seem to say everyday, every minute that our problems are related to the product and designing parts but they are not. It's with dealing with people and helping them understand what they have to do, communicating with them and establishing strong bonds in the group. Here I see the very powerful effect of the Team Effectiveness Coach in the team" said one Product Development Leader.

The Team Effectiveness Coaching Service was created to assist Product Development Teams in enhancing their effectiveness through real time, practical, action learning that generates immediate and cumulative results.

Team Effectiveness Coaches (TEC) partner with a product development team who requests the service, and works at all levels of the system simultaneously. This includes individuals, sub-teams within the larger team, the product development team as an organizational whole, and even at the Enterprise level as the coaches can act as an intelligence network that supports cross-team and cross-function learning.

The focus of the work is to help teams and their leaders develop and sustain individual and team behaviors, team operating structures and interpersonal relationships to achieved desired business outcomes.

A Cost Savings Intervention

A Quality and Cost Savings Intervention

A dramatic example of the benefit afforded the company by the TEC service occurred in the recent effort to root out inefficiencies in new product development Teams of cross-functional employees were charged with identifying areas of inefficiency in Product Development and developing action plans for improvement. Beginning with an immediate and urgent need to get feedback from the working level engineer, the Team Effectiveness Coaches were asked to pool their knowledge and efforts for more than three weeks developing an interview protocol and questionnaire, collecting data through shadowing and interviews, coding the data, summarizing and feeding back the findings to the teams.

Without their intimate prior knowledge of the systemic workings of the organization and the trust they had built up with individual engineers at all levels, the speed, accuracy and usefulness of the data would have been comparatively anemic. Certainly no external consulting firm could have delivered this information with the same efficacy, quantity and quality within such a short period of time. And given the current economic constraints, the Team Effectiveness Coaches were able to deliver this service for a correspondingly and dramatically lower cost.

How Team Effectiveness Coaching Works

On a day-to-day level, a Team Effectiveness Coach is present at team interactions of all kinds at all levels wherever and whenever seems of highest leverage. These situations can vary from: a strategic thinking session with the leader of the product development team; a two-person interchange between executives in a hallway; weekly staff meetings; ad hoc planning sessions. The TEC is then able to identify patterns in interpersonal and team behaviors and structures that are inhibiting or promoting desired business outcomes.

Once a TEC has developed a sense of these patterns s/he begins to intervene in real time at the individual, group or organizational level as critical incidents occur. This immediate feedback gives individuals and teams the collaborative change skills that empower them to monitor their own progress toward "best practices," and continual learning. With this evolving knowledge, individuals and teams successfully re-align their own organizational structures and working relationships in response to unexpected changes in business and customer demands and thereby meet and exceed company goals.

How Team Effectiveness Coaching Differs From Other Models

Given the array of modalities an executive or leadership team might choose from when hiring outside help for executive, team or organizational development, what differentiates Team Effectiveness Coaching from training, executive coaching or traditional project-oriented OD work? While it can and does include these modalities, the mindset and approach are essentially integrative and thus distinct from any one of the other approaches.

Like a trainer, a TEC does teach concepts and engage clients in interpersonal skill-building activities. But the benefits of training - the transfer of knowledge and skills - can be short-lived when there is no follow-on plan or structure to support the employees applying their training on the job. What makes a TEC most unlike a trainer is that a TEC is "on the spot" and the skill building activities are immediately invoked in the actual setting when needed. The lessons conveyed are specific to the situation.

Unlike training alone, the TEC role builds in on-going coaching at an individual and team level that promotes true assimilation of new concepts and behaviors. However, team effectiveness coaching in no way excludes the use and value of other types of interventions such as training. In fact, their integrated use can provide yet another synergy for the client who wants to accelerate the development of the team.

The hallmark of the TEC work is ongoing and continuous learning, whether it is in the service of improvement, adaptation or change.

A primary element of uniqueness is the model for working with teams. Team Effectiveness Coaches are only placed on teams where there is a commitment and pull from the customer - the customer wants the service and is willing to pay it.

The TEC lives full-time, on-site with the team so they are best able to identify emergent patterns and intervene "in the moment" to assist teams in resolving issues in real time.

"The most significant contribution of the coach is the constant timely input for reflection of what we have been doing, what we need to do next, how we are functioning as a group. I find the TEC to be very valuable in the sense that they are looking at it from a different lens and have their receptors out there in a different way.

This allows us to address things in a timely way so that we can effectively move and take advantage of an opportunity or side step an impending disaster." Product Development Leader.

Team Effectiveness Coaching work focuses on the integration of the elements illustrated in the following model, proposed by Daniel Kim at MIT's Sloan School Of Management: Quality of Relationships, Quality of Thinking, Quality of Action and Quality of Results.

Other areas of uniqueness is the core methodologies that drive the work of the Team Effectiveness Coaches at Ford Motor Company:

  • Building customer capacity so they are able to sustain their own learning process;
  • Establishing a strong customer partnership based on confidentiality, ownership and accountability;
  • Using a data driven approach to drive interventions.
Working at the Individual, Team and Enterprise Level

The Team Effectiveness Coaching Service is integrative and involves work at the individual, team and the enterprise level as described earlier in the article, referencing the quality and cost savings intervention.

At the individual level, the TEC-Customer partnership addresses issues of personal, professional and leadership development and effectiveness. While this work is observable with the individual, the context and driver for the one-on-one coaching lies in enhancing the effectiveness of the team as a whole.

Because the TEC has intimate knowledge of and interaction with the whole system, s/he is immersed in the leader's context and challenges and can truly serve the leader as a strategic thinking partner.

"The real problem is not the technicals, it's learning how to deal with people, deal with my emotions, how to use those characteristics to do battle, to be a better leader and to help the team," one Chief Engineer acknowledged recently.

Some examples of working at the individual level include:

  • Coaching a team member on the impact of their current leadership behaviors, helping them identify alternatives and build an action plan for improvement;
  • Building the individual's coaching competencies;
  • Coaching individuals on how to effectively bridge multicultural differences with colleagues.

At the team level, the coach focuses on optimizing team collaboration, learning and effectiveness and helps the team build an effective team operating system. Some examples of this work include:

  • Guiding the team in exposing, confronting and resolving conflicts and hidden agendas;
  • Identifying and challenging team norms, assumptions, behaviors and work culture traditions that inhibit team effectiveness;
  • Helping the team align team structures, operating norms and group processes to accomplish team goals.

"With the help of the coach, we were able to put together a new approach of managing the program with much higher performance . The single, most important contribution the coach has made has been helping us come to a better engineered learning structure and communication process." Product Development Leader.

Is Team Coaching a Fit in Your Organization?

The emphasis on intervening in "real time" in on-going relationships at multiple levels is a distinguishing feature of Team Effectiveness Coaching that offers benefits across multiple dimensions. The benefits include:

  • Enhancing the Team's ability to manage the changes created during a drastic re-structuring;
  • Maximizing human and knowledge capital;
  • Thinking more strategically and contextually;
  • Developing new leaders;
  • Improving the decision-making ability of product development teams and thereby enhancing their ability to adjust effectively to changing conditions;
  • Improving the capacity to deal with complexity;
  • Improving relationships with cross functional stakeholders and suppliers;
  • Delivering team effectiveness lessons learned within and between teams;
  • Sharing systemic patterns with key enterprise stakeholders to help them identify ways of leveraging effective patterns and shifting limiting patterns;
  • Internalizing organizational learning in ways that insure that many mistakes will not be repeated.

This integrative and systemic approach may not be for every organization. But for those companies whose leaders and teams are committed to ongoing learning, continuous improvement and maximizing their human/knowledge capital, Team Effectiveness Coaching is a unique service to consider for helping teams be more effective in accomplishing their business outcomes.


The Author


Steve Goldberg specializes in executive and team effectiveness coaching. Steve brings over 20 years of experience in Coaching, Leadership and Organizational Development to his work with executives, teams and organizations. He is a masterful coach who specializes in improving group decision-making, communication, meeting effectiveness, and strategy development. He has worked around the globe in coaching and organizational effectiveness assignments with organizations including Ford Motor Company, Forest Industrial Relations Association, Lockheed Martin, British Columbia Gas and Electric, Arctic College , Northwest Territories , the US Agency International Development with extensive work with the Governments of Mexico, Ecuador, St Lucia , Zimbabwe and Zambia. Contact Steve by telephone: 734 330-8346 or by e-mail: .

Many more articles in Coaching in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2002 by Steve Goldberg. All rights reserved.

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