How to build a coaching culture in work teams

Teodora BlanariuBlog

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5 ground rules for embedding coaching within work teams

1. If you are going to change the system, you have to change the whole system.

Change one part and the system will resist. Change the whole and you have a high chance of making the change stick. In the team context, it is critically important to engage the whole team – manager and all his or her direct reports – in understanding and supporting the change to a coaching culture. An analogy with just training the line manager is ball-room dancing. If only one partner knows how to tango, a couple is not going to do well! In a team with a coaching culture, everyone understands the basics of coaching and can coach everyone else. (That includes, on occasion, the line manager being coached by a direct report!) Equally, everyone needs to know how to be coached, so they can help the coach help them.

2. Acquiring the coaching mindset takes time.

Coaching is both a mindset and a skill set. A concentrated workshop can provide basic knowledge, skills and some opportunities to practice in a safe environment outside the team. But the impact of coaching typically happens between coaching conversations, when the learner reflects on insights, ideas, issues and intentions. It seems that learning to coach and be coached is most effective when broken up into relatively small chunks, with sufficient space (at least a couple of weeks) to reflect, absorb and practice using what has been learned.

3. The line manager and the team need to have clear expectations of each other.

Research identifies a long list of potential barriers to effective coaching by line managers, from being seen to have their own agenda, to finding it hard break out of parent-child behaviours. All of these can be overcome, if the line manager and the team have clear expectations about the nature and purpose of coaching. One of the big mindshifts needed is from the assumption that the line manager will do coaching to team members, to the recognition that their role is to create the environment, where coaching happens. (The coach may be another team member or someone from outside, as well as the manager.)

4. The change process needs to be supported.

Within the team, developing an environment of psychological safety is closely correlated with speed of acquiring a coaching culture. At the same time, teams progress more confidently if they feel that their learning journey is supported from outside, for example, by senior management. External support may take the form of a specialist team coach or facilitator – an outsider with the skills to help the team deal with issues such as unsurfaced conflict, or clarifying the team purpose.

5. Learning needs to be related to current issues for the team.

Teams focused on delivering demanding targets don’t have a lot of time for the abstract and theoretical. They do want to know what the benefits of achieving a coaching culture will be (both individually and collectively), but, for the most part, they want to see how what they are learning can be applied to practical and relatively immediate issues the team faces in delivering what is expected of it.

© David Clutterbuck, 2015. Excerpt from How to build a coaching culture in work teams

You can learn more about Team Coaching directly from Prof. David Clutterbuck by joining our exclusive Master Class: Team Coaching for Agile Organisations, on 11-12 May, Online. For registration details click here: