Team coaching is a respectable profession. Many are great team coaches without being aware of it, while others are actively trying to improve. Some are naturally good team coaches, but most people learn it with trial and error. Here are seven habits or qualities that I think a good team coach should have.
1. Overcome your fear of the group – Everyone feels tension standing in front of a group. And even if you have learned to control your fears, then you can still imagine something bad to happen. A worst case scenario. Preventing this is what controls your behaviour, consciously or – likely – subconsciously. Better be aware of your weaknesses and pitfalls. Recognise your red buttons. Understand your responses when the group turns against you. Would you counter-attack? Panic? Or would you prefer to escape? Prepare for your reaction should you be overcome by fear. There is always an elegant way to get out unscathed. You have nothing, absolutely nothing to lose except your ego and your dignity. And maybe a customer.
2. If the group ain’t keen, then you are neither – And there is no compromise for this. If the team is closed or aloof, and reluctant to talk about problems (even if they clearly exist), you may want to confront a little more and be patient. But you can’t – and shouldn’t – do anything if the group rejects your help. Only start when there is support, a “psychological” contract for your coaching. Try not to be offended if the group is not keen, but do ask yourself what you can still offer. If you keep pushing: fine, but then you’re no coach anyway.
3. Approach the group like a system – Consider all individuals separately, but see them as parts of a whole. The system has its own dynamics, its own patterns and needs. If you want to develop, consider the group as an organism aimed at conservation (homeostasis, conservative). Resistance to change is not a sign of obstinacy, but a normal habit, a natural reflex. What people say they want to change is sometimes, unwittingly, contradicted by the system. Avoid thinking in terms of simple cause and effect but in circles of causality: this will help you to stay away from the idea of pinpointing someone as “the cause” of a problem.
4. Bring a toolbox with models – A good coach has a number of concepts ready to be put on a flip-chart. At least 10, ideally 30. Don’t rely on a single paradigm, but of course you don’t need to know everything. Just pick one approach, then dare to vary and add some intuition. Science about group behavior has limited value, often based on isolated situations (e.g. behavior on an oil rig) and there are too many variables. Each group is unique, and you will learn the patterns. A model can provide clarity.
5. Work with group dynamics – Always work at the group process level. Read between the lines, hear the message behind the facts, see the interrelational patterns. But keep an eye on the content, as it remains relevant. The group dynamics are not a goal in itself, so don’t get engulfed by it. My motto is: bring to the surface what is essential, let everything else rest.
6. Never lose your independence – Be involved and attentive, but avoid owning the team problem. Once you go into solving mode you deprive the team of a learning opportunity. Many teams will try to pull you into their reality, originating from a desire to feel equality and togetherness. They’ll try convincing you of their viewpoints, or become overly personal. Keep guarding your professional limits. Be interested in the truth of the team but don’t blindly accept it. It is their own construction of reality, one in which their problems arose. Lastly: do not depend on the team in your desire to be loved and acknowledged.
7. Try to love everyone (a little) – That troublemaker, that problem case, that moody sorehead; he is only the valve of the system. Be honest … you surely have your preferences, which is human but not very professional. Give everyone a chance. You are the role model to help bridge differences and promote group cohesion. Remember that people smell rejection instantly. Oh yes: also love yourself. You are allowed to make mistakes. And don’t let a team walk all over you, intimidate you or offend you. Ever. It damages you, and the team learns that disrespect is acceptable.