Peopling 101: What is systems coaching?

Systems, or team coaching is a process where a team will engage with the systems coach when there are issues present, or when a team would like to align themselves around particular goals.

Photo by  Muyuan Ma

Photo by Muyuan Ma


What is team coaching?

Team coaching is a process where a team will engage with the systems coach when there are issues present. For example when a team might want to align around particular goals. There might be changes happening within the organization. It is a journey that the team takes. Very often the systems coach will accompany the team over a period of months to ensure that the behaviors that are identified within the team coaching situation are supported over that period of time and then embedded into the workplace.

When would team coaching be used?

The situation might be painful for the team, so very often things like change initiatives and projects, mergers and acquisitions, when there is a silo mentality in the departments or within one section, if there are political games that are being played, if there are toxic behaviors, toxic communication where individuals are not able to align around certain goals, where there's a lack of safety, a lack of trust…team coaching is very effective.

What does a team experience during the team coaching process?

Team coaching is very experiential so no writing. It's about the coach engaging with the team at the level that the team is and the coach stimulates powerful conversations to happen by creating a safe environment and encouraging and fostering trust. A team can expect to be moving around in various exercises, to be asked many questions, but also to speak to each other in a very honest and open way. Sometimes many teams feel quite vulnerable in the process. If they are willing to go to that place then magic happens because the team feels closer afterward.

What is a team coach?

Also called a systems coach. A systems coach does not focus on individuals but looks at the team as a whole (system). They focus on the relationships that are formed between those individuals in order to maximize the team's potential. They hold a system perspective and have various principles that support that perspective.

For example, they don't engage one-on-one with individuals. They don't view conflict as something that is wrong. They view it as a signal for something trying to happen. When they see conflict happening between the individuals in the team, they move away from who’s doing what to whom and take a helicopter perspective to look at what's trying to happen for that system. They also work with them with the belief that every voice that is voiced in the team belongs to the individual but also is a voice of that system and therefore needs to be honored and respected, even those voices that are unpopular and so very often marginalized. That there's the systems coach will work to bring all of those voices into the forefront so that the team may readjust itself.

What does team coaching process look like?

It’s different every time a coach engages with a team but at its core, a coach would meet with the team, assist the teams and needs first, what their goals and objectives are what their strengths are and areas for development. The assessment very often is a face to face a series of questions along with questionnaires (ie, the 360). After the assessment, the coach determines a coaching plan and very often they’ll meet with the team on a one- or two-day workshop that kick-starts the program. Then there's a follow-up process. After that the coach will meet with the team every 4 to 6 weeks for a period of time depending on the level of dysfunction and the team's ability depending on what the team's issues were.

Common coaching outcomes.

Each team will have unique goals and outcomes. However there are some general outcomes like alignment around goals, a much more positive sense of team, the team members really identify with the team's identity, there's much better communication, people feel a lot more trusting towards each other, they feel safer to share when they've made mistakes, they hold each other and themselves accountable, change is dealt with in a much more smoother way because people feel empowered during times of change, and team members don’t view conflict as something bad, but they do a conflict or something needing to happen at that moment and they are much more skillful at dealing with it.

The ultimate goal of a team coach is to work themselves out of a role.

Related tools:

-          Waterline Model, STRUCTURE (roles, goals, norms, decision style)

-          Tuckman Model for Team dynamics: group process