Context is king in team coaching

© Massimiliano Leban 2008

© Massimiliano Leban 2008

It’s accepted that organisations will perform to a higher level when their leaders work effectively as a team. Good teamwork creates synergy, where the combined effort of the team is greater than the sum of each individual’s effort. An effective leadership team utilise their different perspectives, experience and skills to solve the increasingly complex problems facing today’s organisations. They create new solutions and in collaboration, deliver way beyond a collection of the most brilliant individuals working independently.

To quote Ruth Wageman, “Senior leadership teams, like other teams, need expert help in learning how to become better at working together over time.” Team coaching is one of the three enablers for leadership team performance that she and her colleagues outline in the book ‘Senior Leadership Teams’ which builds on decades of research.

As a leader of a team or as an external team coach, where is the best place to start with a leadership team?

My gut has always told me to go for purpose. After all, if you’re not clear of your purpose as a team you are effectively lost. How can you work well towards goals that are unclear? I’m not alone in my instinct telling me to start with purpose. Speaking with highly respected coach and prolific author, Professor David Clutterbuck, he shared that his ‘go to’ start point for teams (if under time pressure) is also purpose.  

One of the reasons that purpose is so powerful is that, aside from having something to align the team to, it gives meaning. There is little motivation without meaning. Purpose is indeed critical so it’s tempting to start there, but this is the time to take a step back. The phrase “There is no context without meaning” resonates. What’s the context within which the team is working and is the team purpose right for that particular context?

We need to ask some key questions:

  • Does the team share a common understanding of its key customers, stakeholders, and influencers? When’s the last time this was reviewed in your team?
  • If you’re clear on those internal and external stakeholders, is there agreement on which of these parties are the most important?
  • Critically, how sure are the team of these stakeholders’ expectations?

Without the answers to these questions, the team cannot agree on the challenges that face them. Ipso facto, any purpose agreed upon is unlikely to be unfit for the task.  Stephen Covey, celebrated author of ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ tells the story of a team busy chopping down trees when one of them decides to climb the tallest tree nearby. On looking out on this wider perspective he calls down to his team-mates “Wrong Forest!”.

So as you move forward with your team remember to be asking who your customers, stakeholders and influencers are, and how clear is your team on their expectations? How does your team’s mission and purpose meet their needs? How true is your true North?