Improving manager performance: why do teams need a coach?

September 21, 2021

cartoon characters chatting at work

As you might have guessed at Saberr, we’re huge fans of the prospect of using technology to improve team performance.

Specifically leadership development and performance management for entry level and mid level managers.

But before we get excited by the prospect of artificial intelligence supporting coaching there’s a more fundamental question.

Why do teams need a coach?

Individual coaching is well established and common in many workplaces.

There’s a host of celebrity advocates including the likes of Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt who famously agree that “everyone needs a coach


According to Schmidt — every famous athlete and performer has a coach…someone who can watch what they’re doing and ask is that what you really meant? To give them perspective and help them see themselves as other see them.

It’s useful to have someone to help you reflect on your performance, ask the questions you might not ask yourself and to help you continually develop and improve.

So it’s easy to see why the coaching market is booming — according to PWC there are over 64,000 coaches worldwide.

Primarily these coaching services help clients set and achieve personal goals. But having a coach is also a great way to answer questions like:

  • how to manage a difficult employee or how to deal with conflict
  • how to be a good team leader or how to be a good manager
  • how to manage a remote team
  • how to have a good 1-1 meeting etc

So what about team coaching?

Often teamwork fails to feature on the coaching agenda, but performance is nearly always top. There’s strong evidence that good teamwork means good performance, therefore teamwork should be at the heart of the agenda.‍

Research shows that individual performance is dependent on the team environment and high individual performance doesn’t necessarily lead to high performance overall.

According to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology “groups of size three, four, and five outperformed the best individuals and attribute this performance to the ability of people to work together to generate and adopt correct responses, reject erroneous responses, and effectively process information.”

“The challenges within organisations are not in the the parts or the people — but in the connections” Dr Peter Hawkins, Professor of Leadership at Henley Business School.

This is even more important to consider in today’s workplace as the more and more work requires collaboration.

The good news is that most people want to collaborate at work, but becoming a ‘high performing team’ doesn’t happen overnight.

We all know about the challenges that come with teamwork, from building relationships, to achieving our goals and being clear on how our roles fit together.

This is where team coaching can help.

Designed to help teams improve their performance, the coaching process helps teams understand dynamics within the team to build effective relationships.

Coaches help teams agree on shared behaviours and how to reach their goals. They nudge teams in the right direction by asking the right questions to keep teams moving.

Team coach David Clutterbuck explains that the best coaching aims to “help people have the conversations they need to have, rather than debate argument, it creates genuine dialogue between team members.”

Working through the coaching process as a team means everyone understands the need for these conversations. You avoid the situation of just one or two team members being really motivated to work on teamwork or set goals.

If the whole team are educated on what’s going to help them improve performance, you’ll get more buy in to shared goals or exercises to improve team dynamics increases.

We get asked a lot if ‘team coach’ should be part of the managers role. And to some extent yes, we encourage managers to have forward looking coaching conversations with their team.

We also recommend that managers think of themselves as part of the team, and this is where external coaches can be useful.

Not everyone in the team will feel confident in sharing how they really feel about working in the team with their manager, especially if it’s a new team or the manager is part of the problem.

Building trust is difficult and opening up about the ‘elephants in the room’ without careful facilitation could cause more harm relationships in the team.

Human coaches are particularly skilled in helping teams build trust over time.

However, for some teams it’s difficult to spare the time and budget for team coaching.

This is where digital coaching becomes favourable.

Not only is it much more cost effective and time efficient compared to human coaching, studies show that humans often feel more comfortable engaging with a bot than a human.

A bot cannot judge, but it can learn, so the more teams it coaches and the more scenarios it experiences the more effective it becomes in helping teams work well together.

Individual and team, it’s not one or the other

Whether you decide that manager, human or digital coach led coaching is for your team, it’s important to consider that the first step is for team members to understand themselves.

If they know what motivates them, how they react to feedback and what they like or don’t like about their roles, it gives them a strong basis for for team coaching.

Imagine that you were Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger, if they were told — you can only coach the individual or the team. Would they have been as successful?‍ Get Your Manager's Guide to Building High-Performing Teams

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