Understanding the potential of systemic team coaching

It’s the C Suite that’s in most need of team coaching, says Helen Battersby.

Reading time: 5 minutes.

High performing teams make around 20% more money for their organisations and recent International Coaching Federation (ICF) research shows that although the strong team cohesion needed to deliver high performance can be an issue at all levels, it is least likely to be found right at the top of organisations.

More specifically, the ICF research showed that teams in more directly customer facing roles are less likely to be coasting and most likely to be moving upwards in their performance. 37% of teams in customer facing roles were moving in an upwards direction, compared with 25% in non customer facing roles, 33% of whom were classified as coasting.

That is worrying. People in customer facing roles tend not to be the ones setting the organisational strategy. They tend to be lower down in an organisation. Whatever happened to leading from the top and setting a good example?

If these senior teams are not high performing but coasting along, how can the rest of the organisation expect high performance and the success it brings?

Collaboration is key to performance

Corporate life is now more collaborative, faster paced and riskier than ever before, plus the idea of a ‘high-performance team’ has never been more relevant. Every senior team needs to consider a multitude of stakeholders and this is key to their effectiveness in the wider organisation.

Without a clear mission and sense of common goals, a team is simply a group of people who work together.

As Patrick Lencioni famously said, “if you can get everyone in the organisation going in the same direction, you can potentially dominate any industry and market, against any company and at any time.” 

This is even more true for the C-suite. Although individual leadership remains as important as ever, it prioritises working in a ‘vertical’, hierarchical way, whereas organisations today are horizontal. Senior management and C-suite teams need the skills to lead not just from the top, but across their organisations.

Traditional hero leaders, with an answer for everything and ability to solve any issue, are no longer as prevalent. Top teams now have to collaborate to achieve their corporate objectives.

Team coaching growth outperforms the rest

According to ICF research, team coaching is currently the fastest growing area within coaching as a whole. 70% of leading organisations say they intend to invest in team coaching over the next two years and at all levels.

Dr Peter Hawkins, professor of leadership at Henley Business School, writes that one factor behind this rise is due to what he describes as the ‘unholy trinity of challenges’ that companies now face. These are: increasing demands from stakeholders as a whole, greater expectations of quality and the diminishing availability of resources. 

Customers, whether they are B2B or B2C, want the best possible value wherever they chose to invest their money into goods and services. And if they don’t get it, they won’t remain loyal. Clearly, team coaching is becoming an essential complement to existing one-to-one coaching for top executives.


Why take a systemic approach?

However, when talking working within a team, it is important to appreciate the difference between traditional and systemic team coaching. Most of the team coaching taking place within organisations focuses exclusively on a given team’s internal ways of working and their inter-relationships as a distinct unit.

Systemic team coaching does this too, but it also looks more broadly at the influences outside of the team group that may be impacting and should be influencing performance. The result of this approach is development of the skills and self-awareness to work at depth across the whole organisation, with a more collaborative, stakeholder-orientated focus.

By bringing the whole organisation into the framework when coaching systemically, teams also develop a much greater understanding of their overriding purpose. What is their goal in being a team? Who do they need to serve? Who are their stakeholders?

The more teams can be encouraged to broaden their immediate vision, the more effective they can be in delivering whatever it is they are expected to achieve.

Reflective performance

This ability to map out stakeholders and accurately articulate what these groups – employees, customers, investors, community groups, etc. – actually want is an important aspect of coaching systemically. It involves looking from the outside in and not navel gazing as a team, but understanding how effectively they are connecting with important stakeholders to serve a collective purpose.

The systemic approach also enables the team to understand why certain behaviours manifest inside their group and to interpret them as a sign of things happening in the wider organisational system, which is a microcosm of what is happening externally outside.

By thinking systemically and gaining a deeper understanding of how the wider organisational system may be influencing team attitudes and behaviours, coaching interventions are felt more widely and deeply, resulting in a much greater return on investment.

The systemic approach will highlight impacts and stakeholders that team members may not have acknowledged to be significant previously. Described by Peter Hawkins as the ‘13th fairy’, these are stakeholder groups that may turn up late to a project and potentially make a lot of trouble – because they were forgotten in the first place.

When these important connections are not made, the ensuing situations are magnified. In some instances, the 13th fairy may also be an organisational team that is itself in need of coaching. Taking a systemic approach with teams elsewhere in the organisation will highlight this too.

Above all, a systemic approach reinforces the team’s primary purpose and clarifies what they are together to achieve. This is ultimately what defines a team, but it can too easily be lost, as pressures and deadlines mount. 

Without a clear mission and sense of common goals, a team is simply a group of people who work together. The role of the coach is to help the team build their connectedness between each other and within the wider system, and learn how to work effectively together to deliver their purpose.


About the author

Helen Battersby is executive team coach at Aziz Corporate



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