Monday, April 29, 2019

Enhancing the Team Coaching Conversation

Enhancing the Team Coaching Conversation

Using assessment tools to accelerate team coaching

This article was written by Phillip Sandahl, MCC, CTPC, CPCC, ORSCC and originally appeared in choice, the magazine of professional coaching.

Fundamentally, our work as coaches takes place in the context of conversation. That’s true for one-on-one coaching, and true for teams as well. With teams, the conversation will have multiple voices, and a more complex network of relationships, but basically, the process of coaching is the same. The question here is, how can assessment tools enhance that conversation so that clients – in our case, teams – improve their ability to achieve the goals they set?


In simplest terms, the goal of team coaching is improved team results. As team coaches, we understand that our role in that process is to create the conditions for engaged, open, productive conversation that leads to action, learning, and results. Because those results depend on the ability of the team to collaborate effectively, our focus tends to be on the dynamics of how teams work together. What the team is working on is less important than how they do their work.

The habits, routines and patterns of how the team works together are largely invisible to the team. The team is not aware that it operates as a system with unspoken rules of behavior. Those rules either support team effectiveness or undermine it. Much of our work as team coaches is to raise awareness so teams can see the behavior, evaluate the impact, and make new choices.


The purpose of a team assessment is to sharpen the focus of the team conversation in ways that are relevant to team behavior. Every assessment comes with a lens; that lens illuminates a way to see and understand the interaction patterns that lead to team results. There are dozens of assessment tools available to coaches – an abundant toolkit of different ways to leverage the conversation.


Many team coaches use individual assessment tools as a way to give team members insight into their personal preferences and their personal wiring for how they communicate with others, how they make decisions, how they handle conflict, and more. A team view is then created from the individual profiles so that the interrelationships are visible.

This approach helps team members understand the impact of style differences and has the ability to reveal the unspoken assumptions and expectations that are the natural result of those differences. Some individual assessments give a broad picture of style, preference, and personality and there are assessment tools that focus on more specific aspects of team-related interaction, such as communication styles, decision-making styles, different approaches to handling conflict, leadership qualities, etc.

Tips & Traps with Team Assessments

A review of those individual profiles in a team debrief or one of the ongoing coaching sessions is one way to explore a particular aspect of the team’s work together. As team members become more aware of their own ways of operating and learn about their team members’ ways, there is an opportunity to design better working relationships. This is a process that could be incorporated into the initial discovery process with the team or included later in the course of the ongoing coaching as the need and usefulness appear.


A second option is the assessment designed to reveal a picture of the team from the whole team’s perspective: a team selfie. This is the system view of the team with a focus on the whole, versus the individual personalities or the dynamics between pairs of relationships.

With a team assessment there is an underlying shift in the conversation from “me and you” to what “we create” together and the underlying conditions that impact team performance. An easy way to think about this is to recall your own experience of a really great team you were on. Ask yourself, what were the qualities of that team that stand out; what were the attributes that contributed to an exceptional team experience?

Below are 14 qualities we have identified, based on extensive review of available research and our experience working with the TCI Team DiagnosticTM assessment over many years, with data from thousands of teams.

Other team assessments use other criteria; you might have your own set of team dynamic conditions for team effectiveness.


One advantage of a team assessment is that it focuses directly on qualities that can lead to team improvement.

Competencies Necessary for Team Effectiveness

It is an ideal tool for a coaching methodology that supports change over time. In a basic coaching model, the initial team assessment becomes a key to discovery; it sets a baseline, “We are here.” The scores from the assessment provide a way for teams to discuss the team behavior that the scores represent.

For example, imagine a team score of 6.5 on Trust or Decision-making, out of a possible 10. There could be a thousand teams that score it the same, but every team will have a different story to tell of why that is so. This is the opening for team coaching. The obvious question: “The score is just a number. What’s happening on this team that accounts for that score?” Then the follow-up coaching questions, “How is that working for you?” and “What would be another way?”


This is classic coaching. The discussion about what’s working and what’s not working leads to an action plan for ongoing coaching. Teams are held accountable for that action and learn from the action they take. This leads to new action, learning and improved team results.

With a team assessment tool, you also have the ability to show measurable results over time, comparing the baseline scores – where the team started – and the follow-up scores.

Individual assessments can make a valuable contribution to team improvement but the profiles will not show team improvement. The individual profiles will be the same six months later as they were at the start. Improvement in team competency is not what they measure.

It has been said before, “The action of coaching takes place in the everyday life of the client – in our case the team – and not in the coaching session.” Our goal as team coaches is to maximize that short time available with teams to get the most out of the conversation, help the team get into action and to propel the team towards its goals. Assessment tools have the ability to sharpen the focus of the team conversation and accelerate the coaching process so teams move more effectively from point A to point B and it shows in the results they achieve.

What team coaching assessments do you prefer? 

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