Dear Coach Alan,

 To maximize a team’s performance, does a leader manage a team by leading the group or manage each individual on the team? Can you motivate a team in its entirety? Or does coaching take place on the individual level in order to have a motivated team?

Jim C

Your question goes right to the heart of leadership, Jim.  I will begin by differentiating between two very important leadership interventions.  The first is team building.  The goal of the leader of a team is to find a common purpose and to align team members toward goal accomplishment.  I like to call this an investment in “the 3Cs”: communication, coordination, and collaboration. These are the processes that enable a team to become cohesive–armed and dangerous to the competition. The second intervention is individual coaching.  Coaching is about helping individuals aspire to their highest potential through goal setting, creating constructive tension toward accomplishing the goal, leveraging assets, and managing liabilities.  Many methodologies are available for a coach to use to facilitate positive change in a coachee.

This distinction between team building and individual coaching can become a bit murky, however. This is because effective leaders do both.  I view team building and individual coaching as complimentary. And, although the methodologies may be different, there are many similarities. Team building and coaching share several common elements: establishing trust, managing conflict, gaining commitment, focusing on results, leveraging assets, managing liabilities, and holding the group/coachee accountable for achieving results.

When a team shares a common purpose and is aligned, the communication flows freely, team players are coordinated, and the team works in harmony.  In many ways, a cohesive teams acts as if it were a single unit.  At this point, the team can be coached using coaching principles. A leader will still want to conduct individual coaching sessions with team members to help them recognize their role on the team and to reinforce alignment with the team’s purpose.

A word of caution is in order.  While it may be a leader’s ideal to coach a team, if the team does not share a common purpose and alignment, it cannot be effectively coached.  This is because too many personal agendas will be working against the coach.  Do you remember the highly talented 2004 U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team that lost three games and barely won a bronze medal?  Four years later, with practically the same players and coach, the team went undefeated and won the gold medal.  The difference, I believe, is that the 2008 team learned how to play as a team and not as a group of talented players with their own agendas.

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