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‘Coach, put me in!’

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Our workplace has forever changed. No surprise. A two-year global pandemic has a way of doing that.

Yet it’s also spawned an opportunity for employers to re-examine their workplace culture – namely how teams are functioning in these changing times, say local coaching experts.

“Almost every team that we work with have been disrupted in some way, whether the team has grown or contracted, the leader is not the same or individuals have been switched out,” says Christine Dagenais, founder, CEO and certified executive coach with Bright Wire, a Calgary-based professional coaching and leadership development company that works with organizations around the world.

“What that’s done is create a beautiful platform to engage people differently. We’ve always known the value of something like team coaching, but there’s nothing like a global pandemic to highlight the need to effectively develop your people. It’s created a strong visceral entrance point and need for the support of a professional in this space.”

Dagenais explains a team coach as someone who works with a group of individuals to help them achieve greater alignment in how they accomplish their objectives.

A team can be a group of individuals who work together within a business unit and report to the same leader, or it could be a group of individuals across the horizontal of a business that have similar roles but not the same leader.

“In either case, the coach works with them formally through a series of professionally facilitated conversations to help uncover what is working well with a focus on strengths and identification, what isn’t working well along with opportunities for an evolution and enhancement and what they will do to achieve greater performance together,” says Dagenais.

“The premise of team coaching is how you do what you do… The how is the enabler to the what, and is arguably the most important.”

Steve Shrout, a Calgary-based executive leadership performance coach, has seen the demand for team coaching skyrocket recently. He notes many organizations are discovering the things that are important to employees today are a lot different than they were two years ago.

And it’s meant employers are re-thinking everything from how they look at work to the way they expect staff to do that work.

“I’ve also been through situations where, as a result of change, teams have moved from functionality to friction,” he says. “Most recently I was brought into an organization to assess the friction and identify it in order to get back to function.”

It’s an issue facing organizations around the world. In EY’s recently released 2022 Work Reimagined Survey, respondents noted a significant mismatch between employer perceptions and employee aspirations on numerous issues, from face-to-face meetings to travel and professional development to wellbeing.

“Work has been reimagined by employees and employers, but their visions don’t always align,” concluded the study, which interviewed 1,575 organizations from 22 countries and 26 industries.

When looking for that alignment, many companies are bringing in outside professionals to help with team coaching – and there are many benefits to doing so, says Shrout. For example, he points to sectors such as tech that experiencing such fast-paced growth that many young professionals are being immediately thrown into the deep end of managing often large teams.

“There are so many new and young leaders in organizations today. We have 20-somethings at C-Suite levels,” says Shrout.

“Oftentimes, these organizations are not going to have a lot of traditional leaders in place to help with that development, so there’s a need to look outside for supporting in helping to develop their leadership skills. There’s just generally a mass desire to provide them with the training and development that allows them to best hone their skills.”

Shrout adds talent development takes time, which many leaders don’t have much of these days.

“Senior leaders are so caught up in so many things that have changed – the strategy, trying to be innovative, retool the workplace. To focus on leadership development and make sure their staff is ready for the future, they can’t dedicate a lot of time to that. Bringing in a coach allows that individual to focus on that,” he says.

The benefit to going outside an organization for a team coach also removes the potential for bias, adds Wendy Giuffre, president and principal consultant with Wendy Ellen Inc., a Calgary-based full-service HR consulting company.

“The personalities, the relationships, those can play a role. That’s why a lot of people go external,” says Giuffre, who company works with small to mid-size business across sectors such as oil and gas, high tech, non-profit, construction, retail and hospitality

“It’s going to be more unbiased. An external team coach won’t focus on the baggage. They will focus on how they can get a team to work better together.”

So how do you pick the right team coach? Giuffre says it starts with fit.

“Go through a number of interviews to see if you’ll work well together. It’s apparent pretty quickly if it’s not the right fit,” she says.

Dagenais, meanwhile, points to experience and credentials as key indicators.

“A lot of professionals might be able to coach an individual, but when you’re responsible for coaching eight people at once, the experience and credential requirements should evolve and change,” she says.

“So, I’d suggest companies look for the person’s experience. And not only previous team coaching engagement, but also having led teams themselves. It’s very difficult to understand a team dynamic if you’ve never been on a team or led one.”

Companies should also pay close attention to team coaching credentials. At Bright Wire, for example, all coaches have International Coaching Federation (ICF) credentials.

“The ICF is the gold standard of professional coaching,” says Dagenais, noting Bright Wire looks for a minimum of a PCC credential, which requires more than 125 of training and 500 hours of coaching experience.

Shrout adds employers should look at the tools potential team coaches will be using. He says not all programs are created equal.

“A lot of coaches will be certified with specific assessment tools. I use Gallup and its assessment tools. But there’s so many other ones out there, whether that be DISC, Myers-Briggs or Enneagram,” he says. “So, when hiring a coach, ask what program they are representing. And are they proven? Can they be verified by data?”

Lastly, Dagenais suggests organizations look for team coaches that are strong facilitators. She notes as much as it’s about using team coaching skills, it’s also about being able to facilitate effective discussions with, often, very large groups of people.

“You can be an exceptional coach who uses the team coaching toolkit and asks highly engaging questions and actively listens, but if you’re not able to facilitate dialogue, team coaching just feels like one-on-one,” she says.

Giuffre says putting an ROI behind team coaching is possible, but tricky.

“You’d have to put some very calculated KPIs in place at the beginning – for example, productivity or retention,” she says. “But most often, it would be more softer benefits, such as a healthy workplace culture.”

Shrout adds hiring a team coach should not come down to quick timelines or a budget figure.

“It has to come down to quality,” he says. “Otherwise, it becomes a tick box. Yes, you have to hire at a value you’re comfortable with, but also at a quality that’s going to give you what you expect in return.

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