In increasingly dynamic, complex business environments, helping people develop their strengths, build new competencies, and work collaboratively to deliver results has become a business imperative. In response, many organizations make significant investments in executive-level coaching. This coaching is typically provided by external groups focused on developing behaviors to improve senior level teams and individual career prospects. While important, this top-focused approach leaves the fate of the coaching that occurs between hundreds of thousands of employees and their managers or team leaders to the occasional training workshop or webinar. That is not enough to ensure that first-level and mid-level leaders get the strategies and tools that they need to build effective, engaged teams with committed team members that the organization needs to thrive.
Meeting the Challenges of Today’s Team Leaders
The shift away from hierarchy and “hero” leaders to flatter, team-centric organizations and shared leadership have significant implications for today’s team leaders. Along with the pressure to deliver business results, they must become adept at leading continual change and developing engaged, highly-effective teams that are often partially or entirely virtual. For most team leaders, this is an unstructured process with few best practice benchmarks or feedback on the quality and effectiveness of their coaching efforts beyond short-term outcomes.
There is an opportunity for organizations to turn team coaching at all levels into a more structured developmental process that inspires improvement and enhances individual and team effectiveness. This starts with helping team leaders develop a coaching strategy that is simple enough for overloaded managers to implement, yet powerful enough to make a real difference to their team’s performance and well-being. The challenge is ensuring that the good intentions associated with internal team coaching don’t result in the negative relationship experiences often reported by team members.
Team Coaching – Keeping it Simple
While there are many coaching techniques and practices, at a broad level there are two basic approaches used by every team leader or manager: facilitative and pressure-based.
- The facilitative approach frames coaching discussions around success. The emphasis of the discussion is on the alignment between team member aspirations, where they find purpose and meaning in their work and the team’s goals, and how to facilitate both objectives.
- Conversely, pressure-based coaching discussions are framed by failure prevention. The emphasis of a pressure-based coaching discussion is on the consequences of failing to meet expectations. The manager provides direction by applying pressure to get results.
When asked which method they should employ, most team leaders will indicate facilitative coaching as the superior choice. However, many studies indicate that a pressure-based approach is more commonly applied. Given the reality of a business world obsessed with quarterly results and rapid progress, this bias is not surprising. In practice, both approaches can deliver individual-level results in the short-term. The challenge for team leaders is finding the right balance that delivers superior team performance and well-being over the long term.
In a recent study of 714 team leaders and their teams, the impacts of facilitative and pressure-based coaching – as well as team commitment, tension, and effectiveness – were measured over a 4.5-year period (Weer, DiRenzo, and Shipper, 2016). The results showed that over time, facilitative coaching indirectly produced greater commitment among team members, which drove increased team effectiveness. Conversely, over time pressure-based coaching had a direct negative effect on team performance, fostering negative emotions and tensions that resulted in a deterioration of team commitment. Importantly, the results demonstrated that the divergence between the effects of the two approaches occurred over time, and in the short-term pressure-based coaching can be a useful tool for managers. Moreover, the research indicated that there wasn’t a strong negative correlation between the two forms of coaching.
The implications for team leaders is significant. The optimal blend of facilitative and pressure-based approaches can deliver short-term performance gains while developing a team’s long-term effectiveness and well-being. An imbalanced approach can result in the diminishment of team effectiveness, well-being, or both.
Developing Your Coaching Strategy
Every team and team context is different. However, people’s core psychological needs and how they respond to either a facilitative or pressure-based approach to coaching will be consistent. As a team leader, it is critical that you are mindful of the tactics you employ to coach your team and the effect they have on people’s motivation. You can build a highly-effective team and improve individual well-being with a coaching strategy that:
- Focuses on facilitative coaching practices that emphasize aligning individual and team purpose.
- Selectively uses pressure-based coaching as a means to boost individual competencies and drive short-term results.
- Continuously seek feedback on the strength of the relationships between team members, and between team members and the team leader.
Reaching beyond the executive suite to develop coaching capabilities across the organization should be a priority and needn’t be a prohibitively costly investment. It requires giving team leaders at all levels a solid team leadership framework and ensuring that they have a balanced coaching strategy. Then measure the effectiveness of that strategy against both short-term goal achievement and longer-term team effectiveness and well-being. The latter is best measured via regular feedback on the strength of team member relationships.
By calibrating the balance of facilitative and pressure-based coaching, and focusing on developing strong, trusting relationships, team leaders can consistently deliver winning performance and well-being even in the most complex, dynamic environments.
Weer, C. H., DiRenzo, M. S., & Shipper, F. M. (2016). A holistic view of employee coaching: Longitudinal investigation of the impact of facilitative and pressure-based coaching on team effectiveness. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 52(2), 187-214. doi:10.1177/0021886315594007