If you were asked what allows the different systems and appendages of your body to operate in a coordinated manner, you would respond, “the brain.” Of course you would be right. If you were asked what allows the different divisions and departments of an organization to operate in a coordinated manner, you might have a more difficult time in finding a response. Organizations do not have brains. But organizations do have the need to coordinate their different functions.
I use the above metaphor (one of my assets) to underscore the importance of coordination in organizations. Even deeper, it exposes what many organizations lack: a team of executives who are proactively engaged in communication, coordination, and cooperation. Such a team would constitute the “brain” that organizations need to function effectively.
Sometimes it is necessary to work not just with a senior executive but with the whole team. This was the case of Bill, who was the CEO of a mid-sized insurance company. Bill held a staff meeting every Wednesday morning at 8:30 sharp. The stated purpose of these meetings was to review strategic initiatives and communicate how each executive was performing on his or her goals. Unfortunately, what was really happening at these meetings was a freestyle critique of team members, who blamed each other for failing to reach stated goals. The meetings were tense and frustrating for Bill.
After the meetings ended, executives were known to continue talking about each other and critiquing what was said or not said at the meeting. Not surprising, low morale was permeating the organization. Following an organization-wide survey that revealed a high level of dissatisfaction among associates, Bill decided to confront this issue head on. He shared the situation with his coach and asked for help to open up communication and develop ground rules for more effective meetings. After several meetings in which executives engaged in open conversation about their group process, they committed to a better process that embraced healthy conflict. Discussions were not personal but, instead, constructive and focused toward goal attainment. They even agreed to help each other on overlapping projects. All participants agreed not to complain about the meeting after it ended. With a few exceptions, the team embraced this new process and showed progress in meeting their individual and organizational goals.
The role of the coach in this case was twofold. He was the coach for Bill, helping him address a dysfunctional executive team. He was also a coach/facilitator to the executive team, helping them engage in open dialogue about their need to create the process that allowed for more open communication and coordination of important initiatives.
Bill continued to work with his coach to develop better communication with each executive on his team. He responded well to tailoring his communication methods based on the individual styles of each team member. Most of all, Bill engaged in active listening, helping him develop a deeper understanding of his executives. Many of Bill’s sessions with his coach involved reflections of situations, allowing Bill to continually monitor his communication and team leadership. Not surprisingly, two of the most critical members of his team left the organization–in part, due to their lack of effectiveness as team players. The latest organizational survey of his associates showed a marked improvement in satisfaction and morale. The company revenues and bottom line also showed significant improvement.
This case serves as a good example of why coaches need to be knowledgeable in the challenges that confront the coachee. Bill needed help in an area in which he did not have expertise. A coach should have enough knowledge of team development to help an executive like Bill develop an effective methodology that can lead to improved teamwork. Whether or not a coach facilitates the team development depends on the coach’s facilitation skills and experience in team building. A different team facilitator could have accomplished similar results. In this case, the coach was an experienced team facilitator.
One final point: whenever possible, a coach should help the coachee to be a coach with his or her associates. Coaching may start at the top, but it is far more effective when it cascades throughout the organization.