Team Coaching
Team Coaching

Team Coaching

Seeing education from an organisational design (OD) perspective is a relatively recent shift in my leadership thinking. Add coaching to that mix and you can see how I myself at this fascinating junction.

Coaching and mentoring for education has been my area of professional learning for approaching a year now. After reading Dr Peter Hawkins Creating a Coaching Culture and team coaching being discussed on the course, I went in search of more information. That brought me to TeamCoachingZone podcast. From there, Kriter Lowe highlighted the Team Diagnostic Survey (TDS) and his collaboration with Ruth Wageman and Pauline Willis.

It was Ruth Wageman comment (15 min 48) that, if the six conditions are in places, “it accounts for 80% of the variance of team effectiveness,” – that peaked my interest. Given that schools are relatively consistent in their hierarchical and pyramidal, common chain of command organisational design and that they are most commonly a team of teams, knowing more about the TDS seem worthy investigation.

Stack the deck

In reflection, I realised that I had relatively limited empirical knowledge about how teams functions and based most of my leadership approaches with teams on past experience, participation and observation. So here is what I learnt from a handle of interview, webinars and articles. Here is how we can stack the deck in our favour.

The Six Conditions for Team Effectiveness

If you do not have these three essential in place – you may be better off not having a team at all.

Ruth Wageman


First and foremost, you must have a ‘real team.’ A bounded unit, with stability of membership, that requires interdepence to accomplish collective purposes. Whereas the converse inhibits team effectiveness. Blurred boundaries, “who is in this team and who is not,” in fact teams often don’t actually know who is in the team. No real requirement for interdependence, who is accountable versus who is peripheral. Or people coming in and out of the team too frequently, are common place threats.

How can any team, learn to be an effective team, if we don’t know who we are?

Ruth Wageman

Second, the team needs a compelling purpose, it is consequential, to complete meaningful work. Knowing what success would look like and actually achieve it.

Using a 2×2 grid, (ends and means) – Wageman explains that when the “ends are specified, but the team leader leaves plenty of room for the team to figure out how to get there, the means,” the results in self-managing, goal directed teamwork. Regrettably, therefore, there are three ways to inhibit the team, leading to either wasted human resource, fragmentation or the team “turns off.”

Leaders are advised to use their authority to provide a clear, challenging and consequential (and compelling) purpose. Where team leaders use their authority to do this, they generate team member motivation, strategic orientation and elicit team member capability.

Third, you have to invite the right people (driven by the purpose). People with the task capabilities, range of knowledge, and basic teamwork skills to be able to work together effectively. (Especially true of senior leadership teams and problem solving teams).

Be wary of titles or positions and rather focus on what the individuals can contribute to the team purpose. Wagman also highlights “excessive inclusiveness.” Yes, teams need adequate cognitive diversity and mix of perspectives, however it is not necessarily true, that every area of an organisation must be included on a team. The consequence is that excessive inclusiveness can often lead to bloated or inefficient teams. Leaders often overlook the importance of team working capabilities and fail to handle the emotional challenge of removing someone from the team.

Real teams. A compelling purpose. The right people.

You can not coaching a team to greatness that doesn’t have a basic good design in the first place.

Ruth Wageman


The second set of three components, the enablers, accelerate the performance of the team.

First, there needs to be a sound structure. Is team the right size (5+/-2)? Is the team as small as it can possible be and  large enough to have the full complement of skills and resources that it needs to be successful. Wageman recommends “think single digit teams.” Next she highlights the importance of meaningful tasks. Do teams get to use their initiative and judgement? Lastly, that the team works to specified, maintained and clear norms of conduct

Certainly outstanding teams have very clear team structures. But it is clear norms that truly differentiate out those that are successful from those that struggle

Supportive context (rewards, information, development) – all teams operate in some kind of larger context. A context that can either support or inhibit the effectiveness of the team. Wageman reviews the consequences of rewards, information and education. Are rewards team or individually focused? Do the team have access to the information they need to be successful? Is there support or consultation to overcome skills or knowledge gaps? And lastly, is there sufficient material resources, time and space to meet.

At this point it is worth noting that the majority of these points highlighted, are not under the direct control or authority of the person or person(s) that convene these teams itself. Hence the team leader needs to be able to exercise influence upwards and outwards,to remove road blocks, or to create better opportunities, or secure the required resource, that enables the team to be effective.

Team Coaching – hands on developments for team effectiveness. Someone, inside or outside the team, Who can intervene skillfully in the team Processes to help the team promote the best use of collective resources to complete the work. It does not have to be the team leader, or a coach, an outside consultant, a team member, would be appropriate.

The reason coaching is last factor, why team coaching has the smallest impact on team effectiveness, is that whilst coaching greatly helps well-designed teams it has little influence over poorly designed teams.

Sound structure. Supportive Context. Team Coaching.

Panning for gold

Well designed teams are robust and their performance is accelerated by good coaching and not inhibited by poor coaching. Where has poorly designed teams are inhibited by bad coaching

Timing and sequencing – get the essentials right first, then followed by the enables. Only well designed teams can truly benefit from team coaching.

Team leadership is taking the action to get these six conditions in place and keeping them in place over time.

Attention to the larger systems: information and resources

Responsibility for managing the interconnections among teams and good hands-on coaching by leaders

Wageman, R. (2001). How Leaders Foster Self-Managing Team Effectiveness: Design Choices Versus Hands-on Coaching. Organization Science, 12(5), pp.559-577.

Wageman, R. (2001). How Leaders Foster Self-Managing Team Effectiveness. Organization Science, 12(5), pp.559-577.

Lastly – two book recommendations from Krister Lowe, MA, PhD.

I would recommend you check out the book “Team of Teams” and the follow-on book “One Mission: How leaders cans build a team of teams.

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