When is a team not a team? When it is given no training, no trust, no time to develop and no one to help them find their way – no teacher. Alone, a ‘team’ will eventually muddle through, but having picked up bad habits and bruised egos along the way. Coached, they can achieve more effective results more efficiently…

Facilitator vs Coach

Sometimes used interchangeably, there is one subtle but significant difference between the roles of facilitator and team coach:

  • a facilitator focuses on mechanics –
    ie ensuring the team goes through the process
  • the coach focuses on development –
    ie making sure the team grows through the process
    (see also ‘facilitating teams’ in this series)

The Real McCoy

The fundamentals for any team coach:

The starting point is to make sure the team members know precisely what is expected of them, specifically:

  • their mission –
    why the unit exists, and how the team fits in
  • their goals –
    what specific objectives the team has to meet
  • the plans –
    how they are to meet their objectives
  • the deadlines –
    by when they are to complete their task


  • be aware of and prepared for the different stages of group dynamics to be able to steer the team through; for example, the coach will need to help them understand and iron out their differences, establish their rules
  • release responsibility incrementally – as the team becomes ready to take on more
  • ensure their training is a combination of:
  • explicit, skills-based eg by training them in specific analytical tools, or teaching them how to read a balance sheet
  • implicit, interaction-based eg by focusing them on how to relate to each other
  • instil a climate of continual challenge – do not under-stretch them; give them what you know they can comfortably achieve, plus a little more – they may have to work harder, think smarter to close the gap, but once closed they will have grown and developed


  • make the team accountable from the outset for the planning, meeting and scheduling processes eg setting their own milestones and critical path; this will boost their confidence as they see the concrete results of what they have achieved
  • don’t spoon-feed them with instructions – while it may speed things up initially, they may fall into the habit of expecting you to tell them what to do, and it will be harder to have them stand alone later

Some misplaced management approaches to team coaching:

  • the autocrat –
    who gives instructions without soliciting the team’s views – this will result in hostility and frustration from a team who positively seek more responsibility, or an attitude of over-dependence from a team already lacking in confidence
  • the lifeguard –
    who jumps in at the first sign that the team may be out of their depth; a more subtle way to ‘keep an eye on them’ is to request frequent progress reports and updates
  • the perfectionist –
    who outlaws mistakes, leaving the team reluctant to take any risks or decisions at all for fear of the consequence; in reality you may even have to let them make mistakes (within reason) if you consider that the lesson to be learned is more important than the mistake
  • the poker player –
    who keeps ‘sensitive ‘ information to themselves, unable to appreciate that the team may need some confidential data to better understand the context, aim and importance of their work; be prepared to disclose

Of course, if you’re the teacher, you can also give them homework and make them stay after hours …