Tips for coaching teams

Working in teams, whether virtual or face to face, can be a real challenge. Matt Somers explains the three stages of team development, and how coaching can help you get to successful cooperation. 

What is it that prevents otherwise bright and intelligent people from uniting as a team to achieve a common goal? I’ve been in the world of work a long time and have heard the cry of ‘we must come together as a team on this’ throughout that time, but ways of making that happen seem as elusive as ever. 

Finding ways to successfully work together has never been more critical:

  • Working from home – which has exploded since Covid19 and the lockdown – and other flexible working patterns, make it difficult for many teams to come together physically
  • The increasing use of teams for short-term projects has seen the timescales in which people are expected to come together and perform well shrink drastically
  • Even before coronavirus, teams these days are not always housed in the same building, let alone the same city or country

A coaching style of leadership provides an antidote to these issues and more besides. Not least because coaching provides the best means of quickly moving a team through its development stages.

A team is fluid and dynamic and changes over time. Perhaps the best known tool for tracking and understanding this movement is Bruce Tuckman’s team-development model, which sets out the four stages of ‘forming, storming, norming and performing’. But I prefer the late Sir John Whitmore’s somewhat simplified three stage model:


The team’s performance – which we might measure through fundraising targets or project deadlines – is likely to be at its best at the cooperation stage. Here the team’s individual and combined energies are likely to be focused on outcomes, rather than each other, and their relationships will be interdependent, each member knowing his or her unique contribution. The third column relates to Abraham Maslow’s theory of needs and recognises that motivation applies to teams as well as individuals.

Let’s examine how team members are likely to feel at each of these stages and how we can coach for progress towards cooperation.

How do people feel at the inclusion stage?
Team members might feel terrified, anxious, confused, distracted, challenged, excited, lost, or isolated, and ask themselves:

“Where do I belong?”
“What is going on?”
“Will I be liked/accepted?”
“Do I want to be here?”
“How can I fit in?”

Tips for coaching at the inclusion stage

  • Give people clear and precise information (written and unwritten rules)
  • Allow them to ask questions
  • Consider 1:1 meetings
  • Consider a buddy/mentor arrangement (for people that are new to the job as well as new to the organisation)
  • Remember, even the most senior people benefit from a structured induction or onboarding programme

What’s going on at the assertion stage?
Team members at this stage are: 

  • Clarifying roles and responsibilities
  • Sorting out friends and enemies
  • Seeking recognition
  • Establishing a ‘pecking order’
  • Forming subgroups (cliques)
  • Competing internally
  • Dealing with conflict

Tips for coaching at the assertion stage
Try these team building exercises

Exercise one: Prioritising team qualities
In this exercise, you ask the team to agree on five or six crucial qualities and then to give the team a score out of 10 as per this example:

This is a real example and I carried the exercise out with my own team a while ago. After we put in the numbers, we had constructive discussions around:

  • Why Leanne didn’t experience the same feeling of trust as everyone else
  • Why Lesley felt the team lacked focus

Top tip: Don’t let this kind of analysis get bogged down in the negative. Remember to highlight and celebrate success.

Exercise two: Exploring interference
This is a simple discussion around identifying the things that get in the way of the team performing at its best, whether it’s internal or external factors. For example:

How do you recognise when you’ve reached the cooperation stage?

There is likely to be:

  • A common, agreed goal
  • A shared vision
  • Open and honest communication
  • Mutual respect
  • Commitment
  • Trust
  • Humour
  • Diverse membership

Tips for coaching at the cooperation stage

  • Discuss and agree team goals
  • Socialise together as a team
  • Learn a skill together
  • Create a unique set of ground rules

Coaching is likely to be the only leadership style that will be effective at this stage as the team is now far too independent to respond to ‘command and control’ (except, perhaps, in a crisis).

Of course, just because we coach a team to co-operation doesn’t mean it will stay there. A change in long term goals or team membership can be disruptive and return everyone to the assertion stage. Good coaching will enable you to take these changes in your stride.

About Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the founder and Managing Director of Coaching Skills Training, a specialist training consultancy focused on the idea of the manager as coach. It operates throughout the UK and beyond, working in partnership with clients to ensure that what is intended is achieved. It has a wide and varied client list including the likes of HSBC and Citigroup. 

As advocates of the coaching approach Matt works hard to make sure clients are able to continue developing the skills learned long after any initial project has finished. He is a leading voice on training and coaching in the UK publishing Coaching at Work in 2006 and Coaching in a Week in 2016. He holds an MSc in Human Resource Development and is a Fellow of the CIPD.


’10 reasons why charities should use eLearning’

There are hundreds of reasons of why charities should use eLearning but we’ve whittled it down to 10. 

Whether you’re making the case to start your eLearning journey or are looking to enhance the investment you’ve already made, these are the benefits of eLearning that will deliver significant results. 

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