I was in a conversation this week about team coaching but before we go any further it might be worth saying what team coaching is and is not. It is not one to one coaching a number of people in the team in parallel. It is not a team building ‘away day’. It is not teaching or leadership training. Team coaching might contain elements of all these things but what defines it is a relationship between the team and the coach(s) that takes place over time with multiple cycles of reflection learning and action in service of improving the effectiveness of the team.
So back to the conversation, my colleague mentioned that she always works as a coaching pair when coaching a team. She mentioned also that she has a long standing ‘dance partner’ that she works with. There was something about the metaphor of a dance partner that got me thinking, what is it about nature of team coaching and why so many of us that do it advocate working in pairs.
There is a complexity perspective at play while Team Coaching. The practice I am most interested in and most familiar with is an emergent one. When working with a team I always have a design for the session and that design is just a starting point, an intention for what might happen, in reality the process is unexpected and unpredictable and most effective when it is emergent. However, maintaining awareness of everything that is happening in a room with a team of up to fifteen people, while at the same holding a design lightly and sensing what might be emerging or part of an underlying systemic pattern can be overwhelming for one coach. This is where working as a pair can be of such value, the coaching load is shared and therefore the coaches can tune in closely to the emergent processes at play
It could be argued that team coaching involves two teams, the team being coached and also the team of coaches. Coaching as a pair is a demonstration in itself of teamwork. Maybe this is why the ‘dance partner’ metaphor resonates. My experience of coaching as a pair is that it can take time to work well, it requires a level of trust, awareness and appreciation and shared leadership. That level of teamwork is rare in my experience but when present in the coaching team it can have a very positive impact on the team being coached.
Coaching as a pair also has other elements of good teams. It is more enjoyable to coach as a pair, to work together with someone you like and get on with is important to most people including coaches. Coaching does not just happen ‘in the room’ with the team, there is preparation work in advance, often travel to meet the team for the coaching session, de-briefing after the event. It can be lonely to do all of that without someone else. Besides fun and companionship there is safety in coaching as a pair. As a team coach you are stepping into the world of the team, if that team have negative patterns then the coach is possibly also going to experience them. Having a partner to make sense and respond well to those situations is of real value.
So, I am left in no doubt that when working with groups, teams and organisations at least two coaches working as a team deliver more than the sum of their parts. And yet, despite this, I think many clients would see team coaching in pairs as a luxury, a nice to have rather than need to have cost. I hope as the practice of Team Coaching emerges and becomes more established coaching in pairs will become a norm but I am far from certain of that outcome.