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Leadership Team Coaching for a “Better Normal”

Building Trust to Achieve Results

Most people are familiar with the benefits of individual coaching, but few understand the intrinsic value of Team Coaching in organisations. Aren’t Leadership Teams supposed to be already high performing? Why do they need Team Coaching, some may ask? If individual leaders are lacking in terms of certain capabilities or leadership behaviours, wouldn’t Individual Coaching help? These are valid questions, both individual and team coaching offer different and complimentary value to the sponsoring organisation.  Over my many years of client engagements, I count my blessings to be able to work with extremely bright and experienced individuals and yet, it does not baffle me that when these individuals come together as a team, they fail to harness the collective wisdom and often fall short of what’s expected of them. Allow me to illustrate the value of Team Coaching through the following sharing:

Peter, the CEO of my client organisation presented to the Board Chairman on plans to restructure the organisation, moving from a functional structure to one that’s based on value-chain (or what they now call from “Pipes to Platforms”). It was initially met with an uncomfortable silence.  Then the Chairman took a deep breath, looked into the eyes of the CEO and responded in no uncertain terms:  “You asked for restructuring to address the silo behaviours and lack of accountability within the organisation; know what, over my dead body would I allow that unless all of you, referring specifically to the senior leadership team, get your acts right”.

The first thing I did after I got engaged as a Team Coach, supported by both the Chairman and the CEO, was to have one-to-one conversations with each of the Senior Leaders in the team. Many of them felt that they were making little headway in terms of achieving the collective goals of the organisation. Working with one another was “excruciatingly painful” and thus they felt it was “better” to focus on their own KPIs and domain areas. Behaviours reflecting silo mentality, conflict avoidance, lack of ownership of corporate goals cascaded throughout the organisation. When it was suggested that they avail themselves as a team, to share and dialogue on how they feel, many expressed cynicisms: “Vincent, we have done this before; trust me, it won’t work”. It was evident that trust has broken down within the team and they were not prepared to talk about their vulnerabilities…

In Patrick Lencioni’s book on “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, which was subsequently repackaged as “The 5 Behaviours of Cohesive Teams”, it talks about achievement of organisation-wide results through purposeful team interventions, built on a foundation of 5 Behaviours, in the following order:

  • Trust One Another
    When team members are genuinely transparent and honest with one another, it forms a safe environment that creates and builds vulnerability-based trust

  • Engage in Conflict Around Ideas
    With trust, team members can engage in unfiltered, constructive debate of ideas

  • Commit to Decisions
    When team members can offer opinions and debate ideas, they feel heard and respected, and will be more likely to commit to decisions

  • Hold One Another Accountable
    Once everyone is committed to a clear plan of action, they will be more willing to hold one another accountable

  • Focus on Achieving Collective Results
    By implementing the model’s principles of Trust, Conflict, Commitment, and Accountability


Depending on where the trust level of the team is and in the case of my client organisation, it was plunging, a Team Coach might be the best person to turn to for help. I recall my first team coaching session was planned to start at 9 a.m. and end at 6 p.m. for 1-day, followed by another 1-day engagement session with their next-level leaders the following day. It was not an easy start to the morning as they were apprehensive and cynical about how the day would pan out. The breakthrough came when Tom, who had been with the company for 15 years, started to share how he felt about the state of matters within the team and his individual fears and concerns. One by one, the rest of members expressed how they felt about their vulnerabilities and the conversation flowed and instead of ending at 6 p.m., they spoke till 9 p.m., ending the day off with quick-bites and red wine. Yet they were not contented with their “renewed connections” and requested for the following day’s engagement session with the next-level leaders to be postponed, so they could continue to talk. That was the breakthrough. At the end of the 2-day session, one of the commitments that they set for themselves was to have a monthly team coaching session for the next 6 months, whereby the key agenda was to work on and track their progress as a leadership team.  Desirable and undesirable team behaviours were identified for team follow-up.

We spent the next 2 team coaching sessions getting team members to dialogue and share individual perspectives on the team journey; it was indeed heartening to hear feedback from their direct reports (through separate sessions facilitated by me) on how they had observed positive interactions between senior leaders and that eventually resulted in less stress across the entire organisation. These were quick-wins, and they invested time to celebrate and reinforce the positive behaviours.

Subsequent coaching sessions were focussed:

  • Alignment of organisation success outcomes and key thrusts

  • Development and tracking of results

  • Collaboration and role expectations

  • On-going review of team journey

  • Communications and engagement of staff

A year and half later, the Board finally approved the restructuring of the organisation and journey of transformation took off; I also partnered the leaders to engage their respective teams during the transition. Overall organisation culture has improved and people across the organisation are now more open to try new things, share information and call out behaviours that are inconsistent to achievement of corporate goals. The result of their renewed focus was positive, not just from a financial but also from a human capital perspective, measured regularly at the leadership team level and across the organisation.

 

To end off my sharing, some leaders still look at vulnerabilities as a weakness. As leaders, we can no longer pretend to be expert in all areas. A crisis will quickly expose our leadership team’s flaws. If we continue to pretend to have all the answers, not admit mistakes and avoid asking for help, others in the organisation will certainly adopt this same worldview. As a business owner or CEO, are you prepared to start the conversation with your team?

This article was first published in Business Times on 10 July 2020.

Author: Vincent Ho, Director, aAdvantage Consulting

Vincent has led business transformations, customer experience and corporate structuring projects across diverse industries such as government services, telecommunications and media, healthcare, education, hospitality, manufacturing services, financial services, property development and consultancy, security services, distribution and retail.

He is also an experienced business facilitator and has facilitated many senior and staff workshops in areas of Vision, Mission and Values, Strategic Planning, Customer Experience, Work-planning and High Performance Team Development.

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