Continuing my series of articles on team coaching I would like to explore in this post some of the issues around members within a team developing together and where resistance to the coaching process may originate.
Team members developing together
In an article by Manfred Kets de Vries he refers to the extra leverage that can be applied to the learning process when individuals are learning together. He describes a team coaching case study in which the coach uses a 360º feedback tool to encourage the team members to open up with one another about their problems and development needs within the team. This includes sharing feedback from close family members as well as colleagues and he uses this information to encourage discussion related to family systems theory. He comments ‘they recognised that, just as they had taken on a particular role in their own family while growing up, they now frequently occupied a parallel role in the workplace. They identified such roles as martyr, scapegoat, cheerleader, peacemaker, hero and clown.’ He then describes how the dialogue helps to build trust amongst the team members to the point where one of them comments “in the past our meetings were get-togethers where some said what we didn’t really think, while others didn’t say what we really did think!” This breakthrough gives the team members ‘permission’ to feed back directly to one another in the day to day work environment, with individuals no longer being willing to let destructive behaviours slip by. So the coach who originates the development process ‘is eventually assisted by a number of ‘assistant coaches’ who help each other stay on the right track.’ This is not only a great way to accelerate development but also greatly reduces the risk of individuals reverting to their previously ineffective behaviour patterns.
Team coaching potentially increases the sensitivities and issues that may arise around resistance to coaching. This stems initially from who makes the decision to engage a coach(es) and what their objectives are. For example is it the Chief Executive or another senior manager, possibly the HR Manager who instigates the process and persuades the other team members to take part, or is there a wider sense of collective buy-in to the process? Whatever the background to the decision there is nonetheless still likely to be some resistance to the coaching process which could be generated from the factors listed below: -
- People feeling that they have to go along with the idea because they would be seen as negative or defensive if they expressed reluctance.
- People being worried that a weakness may be exposed by the process, so agreeing to go along with the idea but starting with a very defensiveness mindset.
- People feeling they are doing just fine at the moment and therefore having no need of a coach.
- People experiencing concerns over hidden agendas and issues around confidentiality.
- People feeling they are too busy getting on with the job to waste time sitting talking to a coach.
This is not in any way intended to be a definitive list, just some of the more frequent issues that I have observed in my experience of coaching teams and the reading I have done on the subject. The sources of potential issues around resistance obviously track back to the sections above on confidentiality, defining the client and setting objectives, which reinforces the fact that all these areas are closely interlinked. For example if a coach takes on a team coaching project in which the organisational culture is defined by blame and suspicion, raising questions over how information is going to be used, where the objective of the Chief Executive is to ‘sort out’ the management team and the coachees have no voice in the scoping of the project it is almost guaranteed that the coach will encounter deep seated resistance to the process.
In my experience gender issues can also impact on the likelihood of resistance being encountered. On a recent team coaching Programme I was the only male coach in a coaching team of four, working with 24 senior managers in a health care organisation. The Programme Leader decided to allocate coachees on the basis of gender so I was asked to work with the 6 male participants of the Programme and my colleagues all worked exclusively with female coachees. The organisation is seen to be very successful with a consistent record of effective change management and I found that with 5 of the 6 men I was working, overcoming resistance to, or scepticism of, the value of coaching was a significant factor. The way this was typically presented could be paraphrased as either ‘I don’t need help’ or ‘I don’t have any problems to work on’. In supervision sessions with my colleagues on the Programme they reported much less resistance from their exclusively female coachees. The source of this resistance from my male coachees may have its roots in the male drive to compete and not to admit weakness. Allocating the male coachees a male coach could well have exacerbated this situation as it could have reinforced the sense of competition in the relationship, and the male coachees may have been more inclined to open up earlier if they had been allocated a female coach.
This is just one dimension of several possible sources of resistance to coaching and choices around allocation of coaches is simply a judgement call; in the above example a different approach to the allocation of coaches would have thrown up a completely new set of dynamics, not better or worse, just different.
The key message is that coaches should be aware that the issues around resistance are likely to be more subtle and complex than in one to one coaching relationships and therefore the client should be informed of the work that needs to be done at the front end of the Programme to minimise resistance. The main issues to concentrate on are involvement and communication. The more individuals feel they have had a genuine role in defining what the coaching Programme is going to look like and are kept fully informed of content, structure, timetables etc the less likely resistance will be a problem. Getting this right can have a major impact on the effectiveness of the coaching process. For example if the coaching Programme is built around 4 sessions and the whole of the first session is spent helping the coachee to reach a point at which they are ready to learn, 25% of the potential development time has already been lost.