February 23

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Four reasons why you need a leadership team coach

In previous articles we’ve looked at the example of Google and started to think about coaching the team, as a team, as a way to help the whole team reimagine success and collectively identify the patterns and roadblocks currently limiting its performance.

The question then becomes: can I do this myself as the team leader, or should I engage outside support and use a professional system team coach?

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Here are four reasons why you need a leadership team coach - why bringing in external support is likely to create more value than attempting to develop your team in-house. They may not all apply to your situation, but I offer them up to stimulate your own thinking.

#1. There are conversations you need to be having, but aren’t


The first reason to use an external team coach is to create a different set of discussions from the ones that are happening already.

Most leadership teams are running at maximum speed and delivering on a number of initiatives, projects and operational concerns. There’s very little margin for anything else.

But…

…it’s hard to shift gear when your foot is jammed on the accelerator.

Progress is likely to come not from having better answers, but by asking better questions and engaging in different conversations.

Most teams are focused on task-focused and “inside-out thinking” - namely variants of “what do we need to do now?”

However, teams often don’t create the space and the structure to engage in more reflective conversations that, ultimately, shift the nature of the game that the team is playing.

Questions like:

  • How are the needs of our stakeholders shifting?
  • How are our stakeholders’ perceptions of us shifting?
  • Is this organisation succeeding because or us or despite us? How would we know?
  • What’s the bottleneck right now in how we deliver results as a team?
  • What does ‘next level success’ look this for this team?
  • Who do we need to become to lead this organisation at a higher level?
  • What are we not paying attention to, that we should?
  • How are we going to get better at getting better?

Of course, you can definitely ask better questions and engage the team in higher-value discussions without hiring an external leadership team coach - and hopefully this series has got you thinking about what questions you can be asking.

However, it’s probable that you’ll benefit from having a trained leadership team coach lead the conversation and ask questions that might currently be off your radar.

…it’s hard to shift gear when your foot is jammed on the accelerator.

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#2. It’s hard to unlock the system when you’re a part of the system

The second reason to use an external team coach is to unlock fresh perspective.

As the fish said:

Leadership Team Coach

It’s basic human nature to become blind to the environment in which we find ourselves. We become unable to spot the influences, pressures and feedback loops that keep the status quo in place.

And yet, breakthroughs occur when we find a new perspective and see things in a new way. When teams are able to collectively experience this “aha moment” they are suddenly able to engage differently with stakeholders and “unlock the system” that’s been holding them in a holding pattern.

Often it’s the curiosity and questioning of somebody outside the team’s context who will help the team understand the systems in which it operates, and provoke the perspective shifts that will open up more productive strategies.

An external leadership team coach trained in systems-thinking is an ideal candidate for this role.

Here’s an example of thinking with increasing sophistication about a “tired team” who’s no longer meeting expectations:

  • Linear, first-order response: “These people are complacent. The leader needs to get tough with them.”
  • Systemic, second-order response: “What about this team’s relationship to the wider system is encouraging it to behave in this way? What conversation does the team leader need to have to move them from a group to a team?”
  • Complex adaptive systemic response: “What conversation needs to happen so the team engages with the needs of the wider system? What changes in the wider system would require the team members to either change or leave? How can the team leader engage with the wider system so that it encourages the team to change?”

(Credit to David Clutterbuck for inspiring these questions)

#3. You need a ‘forcing function’

The third reason to bring in paid external support is to pre-commit to a process to ensure follow up and sustained improvement over time.

After all - it’s easy to decide to go to the gym regularly. But it’s even easier to wake up six months later and find that life got in the way and you never really stuck with the process to truly get fitter.

Likewise, it’s easy for teams to make commitments to work differently - when they’re at their team away-day.

But it becomes even easier to forget or postpone that commitment when business pressure increases, when workload rises, and when time is at a premium.

The result? A gap that opens up between what the team said, and what the team does. This is a recipe for cynicism and apathy. I covered this some while ago in an article entitled “why leadership development doesn’t work”.

Just like hiring a personal trainer creates a ‘forcing function’ to pretty much ensure that you exercise regularly and hit your fitness goals, hiring a systemic team coach creates a forcing function to ensure your team works on its development and hits its own goals.

In other words, you make the decision once and install accountability and a clear schedule, instead of continually relying on your willpower to make progress. You also harness an expert (a trained leadership team coach) to drive the process.

Pre-committing as a team to a team coaching process allows the group to maintain focus and accountability and see meaningful progress despite the whirlwind of operational pressure.

#4. You’ve bought the Ferrari but forgot the engine oil

The fourth reason to engage in a team coaching process is, quite frankly, that you’re leaving money on the table if you don’t.

Leadership Team Coach

Teams are an investment. Consider an executive team of, say, eight people. You’ll need to do the maths for your own organisation, but it’s likely this team costs several million each year (think of headhunter costs, salary, bonuses, benefits, stock - plus travel, equipment, overheads…).

The opportunity is huge. Now consider the impact of this team - presumably the desired impact is many times the direct cost of the people involved. Impact will show itself in:

  • the projects the team itself manages to deliver
  • the business results generated by all the indirect reports of the team.

No organisation can be healthier than its #1 team, and when we work on the top team, we create impact that ripples across the reporting lines.

The machine needs some oil. The point is: you’ve invested in the Ferrari, but have you put any oil in the system? You have an expensive machine, but it working smoothly? It will get you from A to B right now, but if you tune it up it will win races and break records.

The tune-up is a fraction of the investment of the Ferrari, but it takes it from - well - good to great.

And when you engage professional support (in this case, with a leadership team coach), then the odds of achieving a sustainable and significant performance gain suddenly shoot up.

Conclusion


You can definitely coach your team yourself, but using a third party leadership team coach will bring a degree of expertise, of independence, of fresh perspective and of accountability to make the process a success.

This is core speciality of Xquadrant. If you have a ‘Ferrari’ - a leadership team where the stakes are high - and you want to tune it up to top performance, then feel free to contact us.


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