Dr Amy Climer

Episode 42: Qualities and Skills of Effective Team Coaches

The research is clear: teams are indisputably more powerful than individuals in solving problems. However, teams can sometimes get in their own way due to poor team dynamics or mediocre process. In this episode, Dr. Bill Jacox explains how team coaches can help push a team to a higher level of team performance. Like Olympic athletes, high performing teams have coaches that help them thrive. Learn the top 5 skills and qualities team coaches need and how they can help teams. Interested in being a team coach or do you think your team needs a coach? If so, this episode is for you.

What You’ll Learn

  • What a team coach is, and we are not talking about sport teams here.
  • How team coaches impact teams
  • Top 5 skills and qualities of team coaches

About Bill Jacox

Bill is a seasoned director, facilitator, trainer, manager, and coach with substantive experience both as a practitioner and trainer in the fields of leadership development, staff development, team building, change management, team alignment, culture, engagement, and performance. With 20 years experience influencing others, providing strategic direction, and aligning learning programs to organizational needs, Bill loves to assist organizations and individuals in developing their leadership capacity. He has assessed, developed, and implemented leadership development programs within for-profit, not-for-profit, and higher education organizations. Developing and delivering high quality comprehensive learning strategies and programs to help organizations achieve their performance objectives is an area of professional practice that he is particularly passionate about. He lives in the San Fransisco Bay Area with his family, providing training and organizational development services to Alameda County.

Resources Mentioned in the Episode

The Weekly Challenge

Follow Bill’s advice and spend some time observing another team. What did you notice? What did you learn? Share your experiences below in the comments section.

Transcript

Feel like reading instead of listening? You can read it below. Enjoy!

Amy Climer: Hello Deliberate Creatives. How are you today? Welcome to Episode 42. I am very excited today — I probably say that every week — but I am excited today because I am interviewing Dr. Bill Jacox. Bill is a friend of mine. We have known each for I think 16 years now, and our paths have crossed over and over in interesting ways in the last 16 years. When we first met we were both Master’s degree students at University of New Hampshire in the Outdoor Education program. Bill and I, we were a year apart from each other, so I got to know him then. And since then, about five years ago we were both sailing around the world together with a program called Semester at Sea. I was working on the ship, Bill’s wife was working and Bill was there with his two-year-old son, had an awesome time hanging out together. And then Bill and I both ended up in the same PhD program at Antioch University studying Leadership and Change.

And then we have also done some team building together, some work together throughout the years. He has a background in organizational change, organizational development, team coaching, outdoor education, experiential education, kind of like I do. But he did this really interesting dissertation research on team coaching. This is a newer field, I mean team coaching has been going on for a long time, but as far as an academic research-based field, it is newer. So Bill has contributed some excellent research about the qualities and skills needed for team coaches. So today I am going to talk to him about what is a team coach, who uses team coaches and what are the skills and qualities that team coaches need. This really relates to organizational teams. He uses sports as a metaphor, but we are not talking necessarily about sports teams. So he will get more into that. But if you are a member of a team, I think you will find this a great podcast.

By the way, if you want to access any of the resources that are mentioned in the podcast episode, you can go to the link www.climerconsulting.com/042. If you go to the shownotes you will find a link to Bill’s dissertation, to his LinkedIn profile so you can contact him if you like, as well as some other resources that he has shared with us. So head on over there. If you have not yet subscribed to The Deliberate Creative, do so. You will get a new episode every week about leading creativity and innovation in teams. All right, let’s talk to Dr. Bill Jacox. Here is Bill.

Bill, welcome to The Deliberate Creative podcast. Thanks for being on the show today.

Bill Jacox: Thanks Amy. I am glad to be here.

Amy Climer: Awesome. Can you share a little bit about your background and tell us a little who you are and what you do?

Bill Jacox: Sure. I have been working a lot with teams, probably over the last 20 years or so, but in a variety of contexts. Currently, I work as a training and organizational development specialist for a county here in northern California. And I have worked at universities leading and developing a leadership and team development program there. I have worked in the for-profit industry sort of travelling around the country, working with different teams. I have worked in the non-profit industry. In fact, in my early 20s, I worked for an organization called Outward Bound, kind of leading groups out into the wilderness. I would say, from a professional standpoint, that was really sort of the birth of my passion and fascination of working with teams. So it has been sort of this interesting development of how that has looked for me professionally as I have progressed through my life really. But working with team has always been the theme and leadership has always been the theme for me as well.

Amy Climer: You mentioned Outward Bound, I did an episode, I think it was Episode 12 where I was on an Outward Bound course and I interviewed a bunch of the students. They were all teachers and just talked about their experience of being a part of this Outward Bound team and it was really cool.

Bill Jacox: Yeah, that is great. I am sure they had some awesome things to say because that was a pretty cool experience.

Amy Climer: Yeah, they did. It was an amazing course.

We are going to focus today on teams and leadership, specifically team coaching. This is what you just finished your research dissertation on. Tell us a little bit… what is a team coach? What do they do and what types of teams use them?

What is a Team Coach? [05:19]

Bill Jacox: A team coach is somebody that essentially is brought in, they are not a member of the specific team, but they are somebody that maybe they get brought in partway through the team’s process or maybe there is a team coach that is set up right at the beginning of team and helps the team organize. But, it is basically somebody that is able to offer observations from a little bit on the outside. So they might be metaphorically sort of standing up on the balcony observing this team or they are standing in the corner watching what is going on, but they are not an active member of the team. And their role is to observe the team and essentially offer feedback, ask questions, with the goal of having this team function together better so that they can produce more of whatever it is they are being asked to produce, or they can perform at a higher level doing whatever it is that they have been asked to do.

A lot of times folks when they hear the word team coach, because it is the context that comes, they immediately think of a sports team. So initially I tried to shy away from that metaphorically because I am not talking about sports teams, I am talking about teams within organizations, but then I realized that that metaphor can help people understand the role of the coach. So if you think of — say you are watching basketball or something like that, the coach of that team is not on the field with them, but they are there. They are on the sidelines and they are intently observing what is going on and all of the interactions. And they know the team members, and if they are a good coach, they know the team members individually very well. In fact, they know how those individuals can interact with one another at a level that will increase the performance of the team.

So the coach does not necessarily need to be a great basketball player — if we continue this metaphor — to be a good coach. Sometimes they were, sometimes they were not. But that is not what the role is. The role is not to get out there and play the game, the role is to offer that perspective that the players — because they are on the field — they cannot see it because they are in the middle of it. They are dealing with this, they are dealing with that, they cannot see that perspective. So the coach is able to offer that perspective, and is able to sort of pull them out and say, “Great, let’s pause. What just happened? How do you think the performance is going? What are some areas that you can identify that you can improve upon? Here are some observations that I had.” So it is an opportunity to sort of stop the game, if you will, pull folks out and say, “Let’s review how we are doing and is there any way that we can improve how we are doing.”

Types of Teams that Need a Coach [08:03]

Amy Climer: I love that metaphor. I think it is really helpful, especially when you talk about that the team coach is not a member of the team. When we are thinking more about an organizational context, what type of teams might have a team coach?

Bill Jacox: Really any team. If a team is looking to increase their level of performance wherever they are at in that performance — so another thing that sometimes folks think of is, “Oh, we are a bad team or we are a poor performing so therefore oh, they are going to bring in this person to help us,” and that is not true. In fact, teams that are performing well they could benefit from a team coach as well. Another way to think about it is Olympic athletes or Olympic teams, they are pretty high performers, would you agree?

Amy Climer: Yeah, absolutely. It’s how they got there.

Bill Jacox: Right, so they are some of the high performers in the world at whatever it is that they do, but they all have coaches and those coaches help them perform at an even higher level. So a good coach might make the difference between a silver medal and a gold medal, for example. So it is not dissimilar with organizations. So it is not “the bad teams” that need coaches, it is really all teams could benefit from coaches. Because again, the coach can help that team perform at a higher level wherever it is that they are already performing.

Amy Climer: And I love that visual of thinking of a coach could help a team move from a silver to a gold. It is like silver is pretty dang amazing. That means you are the second best in the world, but you could be number one if you had a team coach who is really helping you get there. So in your research study, what was the big question you were trying to figure out around team coaching?

Bill Jacox: As I was trying to figure out the question for my dissertation, I had been studying research about what makes teams higher performing or what is it about high performing teams that maybe distinguishes them from teams that are not performing so well or what can happen to a team that all of a sudden has them performing at a higher level? So in other words, what are the influences around team performance? Initially it was just occasionally I would find some article about a team coach, about how a team coach can have a pretty big impact on a team’s performance. And then all of a sudden I found more and more and then all of sudden it was just overwhelming the number of articles about — so what I was finding was if you want to have a team improve wherever they are at, they should have a good team coach. So there was this consensus.

So then I was thinking, “Great, so who are these team coaches?” And then I was not finding anything. Then not only who are these team coaches, but what is the difference between a good team coach and a team that maybe is not so good? Because I suspected that there would be a difference in team performance. You cannot just have a coach; you need to have a good team coach who is going to get better results than a coach that maybe is not so good. So I started to look for studies that talked about the team coaches themselves; who are these folks? And what I found was basically zero studies. So then the light bulb went up, “Hey, this might be an area that I can contribute to.” So that effectively led to my question which was; what are the key qualities and skills of an effective team coach?

The Delphi Study Technique [11:34]

Amy Climer: Nice. And the study that you did you used an interesting technique called the Delphi method. Can you explain a bit of what that study looked like and how you conducted it?

Bill Jacox: Sure. So the Delphi method is a way to sort of access what I call collective wisdom. In this case what I wanted to do was essentially ask a bunch of professional team coaches, “Hey, based your experience, based on your sometimes decades of experience being a team coach…” and by the way team coaching is a new field. People have been doing team coaching, of course, for a long time, but in terms of something that people can point to and find information about, it is a pretty new field. So I wanted to find a bunch of team coaches and basically ask them, “what do you think the key qualities and skills are of an effective team coach based on all of your experience as a team coach?” So that was one piece. So logistically, finding a bunch of team coaches and getting them in a room and basically asking them over and over again until they all came to some sort of a consensus about the qualities and skills was just logistically impractical and impossible.

So the Delphi method is a process that allows — the things that distinguishes the Delphi is it is iterative and it is anonymous. So let me tackle the iterative piece. The iterative piece is, I essentially identify a bunch of team coaches, essentially send them a blank sheet of paper and say, “List for me please, for you, what are the key qualities and skills of an effective team coach.” I get all that data back and then the iterative piece is that the second survey is built completely based on the results I get from the first survey. So of course there is some overlap, people’s comments, and so essentially I put together a list based on all of their responses; everybody is putting down maybe 10 to 15 qualities and 10 to 15 skills. By the way, I defined quality as something that maybe is internal or is inside of you, and skill as something that you could learn. So somebody’s character, a strong character would be a quality and the ability to facilitate groups well might be a skill that somebody could learn how to do.

So they came back with all the responses and then I sort of mixed and matched and put things together and essentially sent out a second survey of; here is everything that you all said, that all of these different team coaches said. And by the way, you do not know who any of these other team coaches are — so that is the anonymous piece — you do not know who any of these other team coaches are. And the reason why that is important is if you have ever been part of a team where, say, your boss is on the team or somebody of authority is on a team, often times their opinion holds a little bit more weight and can influence others more so than somebody else’s. So the anonymous piece is important because it is, here are all of these qualities and skills and you are not being influenced because so and so, who is your like mentor and hero, decided that this quality was important, so now you think that is important too. So it is anonymous in that way.

So they get their list of qualities and skills and then I ask them, “Of all of these, basically 60 or something like that, qualities and skills, I want you to start to narrow it down and I want you to start to prioritize based on your feeling.” And the cool thing about it is, person X, who sent me this list, they get this bigger list back with things on there that they had not thought of yet on their own. But now that they see it written down, they think, “You know what, that is a really good point. I had not thought about that initially, but now that I further reflect on my own professional practice as a team coach, that is actually really important. So that one I believe has a higher priority than something that I might have initially suggested.” So this process goes on and on, usually three or four rounds, until essentially everybody that you are interviewing or everybody that you are passing the survey to agrees on this sort of final list of the key qualities and skills. So you come to a consensus, in other words.

Amy Climer: That is so cool, I love that. And I love the iterative and anonymous. That makes a lot of sense. And also just that piece of sometimes if our boss is in the room or our mentor, we are influenced. This is great, I love that approach. So you got this list that everyone agreed on.

Bill Jacox: And Amy, let me add. The other thing that is great about it is I had people from all over the world participating in this study. Because I am just sending an email and they are responding and they are responding at their pace. It takes a week or two to get everybody’s responses back, but I was able to — so the diversity, if you will, of team coaches that I was able to access was much more than if I had done this at a conference and got everybody in a room and something like that.

Amy Climer: I just love technology. I just love like what we can do now that we could not have done 15, 20 years ago.

Bill Jacox: Right.

Top 5 Qualities of Team Coaches [16:48]

Amy Climer: So what were the top five qualities and skills that you found that team — I know you had a much longer list than five, but maybe let’s just stick to the top five.

Bill Jacox: Sure. And they were in order, as well. That is another thing to clarify is, it was not just a list, it was a list that was in order of highest priority to lowest priority, if you will. So the top five qualities were;

  1. Are aware of themselves and their impact on others.
  2. Are attuned to environment and self.
  3. Appreciate differences and engage all members of the team.
  4. Do not jump to conclusions.
  5. Tolerate emotional tension well.

Amy Climer: And those are the qualities?

Bill Jacox: Those are the qualities.

Top 5 Skills of Team Coaches [17:41]

Bill Jacox: So the skills;

  1. Facilitate groups well.
  2. Have a clear and deep understanding of group dynamics.
  3. Hear both explicit and implicit messages.
  4. Connect and establish trust with a variety of personalities.
  5. Draw people in and engage them with the process.

Amy Climer: Wow! That is a lot. I am just trying to process it.

Bill Jacox: It is a lot and it is like okay, so I have this list of five qualities and skills, if I am an aspiring team coach, what do I do now, in other words? And I think maybe the question is, well, here are some things for you to consider. And maybe you could reflect and do some self-assessment or self-reflection and be like how am I on these things? If these things, if there is this consensus of say 20 team coaches out there in the world that said that these were the most important things of a team coach, how do I stack up if indeed I want to get into team coaching or I want to improve my practice at team coaching? So I think there is value in that. It is not like a laundry list of I just need to check these things off because they are reasonably complex things, especially the qualities, right?

Amy Climer: It might be hard to self-assess. And it might be where you need to get the input from maybe you have a coach that is observing you and helping coach you to be a better coach, getting little meta perhaps, but also getting some feedback from the people you are coaching to say like, “Hey, how am I doing on these things? I would love to get some coaching from you to get some feedback.”

Difference Between an Individual Coach and a Team Coach [19:25]

Bill Jacox: I was going to say one of the things that came up, and it came up because I asked for it was, what is the distinction or the difference between a coach and a team coach? In other words, somebody that coaches an individual, a lot of times we hear like oh, executive coaching and a team coach. And I would say most, if not all, of my study participants — and this is probably true with team coaches out there — is they have coached individuals. So part of my question was what is the difference? Is there a different skill set? If you are a great individual coach, can you be a good team coach? And if so, what do you need to do? How is it different?

And an interesting metaphor that came out of — because by the way, I did the Delphi study, but then I also did a follow-up phone interview with a handful of the coaches just to get their reactions and get some more depth in terms of this list of qualities and skills. And an interesting metaphor that came up was as an individual coach, let’s say you are coaching, you are working with one other person, in some ways you are sitting in the front seat of the car with them and you both have your hands on the steering wheel. And the team coach, first of all, you are in maybe a bigger vehicle with a bunch of people and you are kind of riding in the back seat, but you are close enough that you can reach forward and grab the steering wheel if you need to if the car starts going off the road, or you can sit back there and you can ask questions like are we even on the right road right now? Or where are we going, do you guys even know where you are going? So just this interesting car metaphor of the distinction between the individual coach and the team coach.

But what I will say is, I think there is a lot of overlap there. But again if we revisit the top five skills; facilitate groups well, have a clear and deep understanding of group dynamics, those are clear team skills. Anyway, so I thought that was an interesting aspect of the study that I thought was I was asking them to really try to think about and distinguish from their practice as an individual coach how do they approach team coaching differently.

Amy Climer: Did people say it was more complex? Because that would be my guess.

Bill Jacox: That is exactly one of the things that came up, Amy, is there is way more moving parts. It is just more complex.

Amy Climer: Yeah, I mean just thinking about my experience anyway, there is just a lot to track. You are watching body language and how people look at each other and tone and what people are saying, but it not just with one person, it is with many people.

Bill Jacox: Yeah. And another person used this language, which I thought was pretty powerful was, “When I am coaching an individual, I really intently sort of lean in. I lean into them and my attention and focus is right there, intently on them. But when I am coaching teams, I have to kind of lean back so that I can have that larger view and that bigger perspective, and so that I can see everything that is going on. Because if I focus in too much on one individual, then I miss other things that are going on.”

Amy Climer: Yeah, and I also think that just that leaning back or — I mean, I have even been in moments where I have been coaching where I was like just kind of in the back of room, so that there was no confusion of whether or not I was part of the team. I have been in situations with people and I am trying to be more of a coach, but then if I am sitting at the table right there with them, they want to include me in the conversation. It is like, “No, you guys just do what you were going to do.”

Bill Jacox: And I think that is why some organizations choose to bring somebody from outside of the organization to coach that team, because then it is very clear. Although some organizations, they will have team coaches that are internal, but like you said, they have to be clear what their role is — role clarity is obviously very important — what their role is and what they are not there to do. That is part of the reason why it does not really work at all, frankly, to have somebody that is part of the team also be a coach of the team, because it is too confusing for people. It is like, “Wait, do you have your team coaching hat on right now or do you have your I am a part of this team hat on right now?” And it can be confusing for the team coach for that matter.

How Team Coaching Could Help with Creativity in Teams [23:49]

Amy Climer: Yeah, that is a great point. So one of the things that I focus on a lot in this podcast is creativity and innovation in teams. How do you think team coaching could help specifically with creativity in teams?

Bill Jacox: My belief is one of the things that often times crushes or squashes creativity and innovation is, when folks just get their heads down, especially if they have got a deadline looming and things like that, they get their heads down and they are just in it. They are just in it and they are like, “What is the quickest way, the easiest way, the most logical way, whatever, to solve this problem? What has worked in the past?” Blah, blah, blah, and the team coach can really help folks pull their head up, look around, take a deep breath, like let’s pull ourselves out of this head down driving forward process and look around and reassess whether or not this is the right way to do it. Let’s reassess, is there anything else that we are missing here? Let’s ask those questions, let’s pause and ask those questions. And I think that is where, often times I think, some of the creative and the innovative ideas might come from. Is that, let’s pull our heads out for a moment, take a break, if you will, look around and see if there is another way to do this that might be better, if you will.

Amy Climer: I think that is a great point. I love that. I think sometimes teams, they are just so focused, and sometimes it is a matter of like oh, this is how we have done it before, or sometimes they are solving a problem but it is really not the right problem they need to be solving. They need to move over a few feet, and here is a different problem that actually if you focus on this you are going to solve what you think you are solving. And I think being able to pause and look up, that is a great point. I love that. So what advice do you have for team leaders who might be listening to this?

Advice for Team Leaders [25:47]

Bill Jacox: The research is clear out there in terms of the power of the team. And I know Amy you have talked about this in your podcast as well. The power of teams versus an individual in solving problems, it is indisputable. So what my research was suggesting is, okay so let’s take that sort of indisputable fact and see if there is a way to make those teams perform even better. And having a good team coach is one of those ways. So I guess folks that are interested in that what I would suggest is, just give it a shot. Even before that, go out and just observe a team and see if you notice anything. If you are always part of a team, you might not notice as much some of the dynamics that exist, but ask a team that you are not part of if you can just simply observe them.

I’d say go into a meeting, go into a project session or whatever and just sit on the side of the wall or whatever, and just observe what is going on and pay attention to the dynamics and see if you can notice anything. Because I think when you observe, you notice. And again, you do not have to have any specific training in team coaching or whatever, just notice a team and I think you will be surprised to see what you find out. And then if they ask, maybe they would, hopefully they would ask you, “Hey, so you just observed us for 45 minutes or half an hour, was there anything there that you can tell us that we might be able to do differently, or whatever, that could help us?” And effectively that is kind of the beginnings of team coaching.

I am a big fan of experiential learning and so if you are interested in increasing your capacity as a team coach, the best way to do it, in my opinion, is to start practicing that with a team that is okay with you hanging out in the back. But yeah, just go out there and observe some teams and start noticing for yourself what you notice in terms of those team dynamics. Because a couple of things are going to happen; you are going to start noticing certain patterns that show up within teams, and you might start feeling that there are certain times that would be an appropriate time to stop the team and ask this question or ask that question. So you will start noticing that. By the way, there is research out there that will give you a little bit more information about what those appropriate times might be and maybe some suggestions and certain questions that might be powerful ones to ask the team. But they are not a substitute for just going out there and having some observations yourself first.

Amy Climer: I love that. That is such a good idea. And just as a side note Bill, I will put in the shownotes a link to your dissertation and if there is any other specific articles or references you think will be really good for people to read, you can send them to me and I will put them in the shownotes as well. It is like a blog post page people can go to.

Bill Jacox: Okay, absolutely.

The Weekly Challenge [28:49]

Amy Climer: I love that idea of going and observing a team, even if it is just another team within your organization. So every week on this podcast I challenge listeners, I give them a weekly challenge to take what they learn from the podcast and apply it to some area of their life. So I was going to ask you what challenge would you give listeners this week, and what you just said I think is an excellent challenge. I do not know if that is what you were thinking or if you want to add something more?

Bill Jacox: Yeah, I think that is the challenge that I would suggest, is not only go out and observe some teams, but go to Amy’s shownotes and if you want to read my dissertation or the abstract of it or whatever, great, do that. There is obviously a tremendous number of research articles listed in the bibliography of that document, but I will go ahead and sort of pick out some of the — not the best, of course, but the ones that I think would be, I guess, most beneficial for someone that is maybe just trying to learn about team coaching and something like that so that you could access that information as well. But yeah, go out there and observe some teams.

Amy Climer: Cool, yeah I love it. And Bill if people want to get in touch with you and either hire you as a team coach or just talk with you more, how should they do that?

Bill Jacox: I am on LinkedIn so you can find me on LinkedIn, send me a link request. I would love to continue the conversation. I would love to hear other people’s success stories or not. Team coaching is kind of — I wrote my dissertation on it so that is kind of my thing, so I would love to hear stories and if you are interested in bringing me into your organization to help work with some of the teams, I would be happy to have that discussion as well.

Amy Climer: Awesome, great. And I will put the link for LinkedIn in the shownotes as well.

Bill Jacox: Great, thanks Amy.

Amy Climer: Yeah. Bill, thank you so much for being on The Deliberate Creative podcast, I really appreciate it. This is such a cool conversation.

Bill Jacox: Well, thanks for having me. I really enjoyed it.

Amy Climer: Bill, thank you so much for being on The Deliberate Creative. Loved having that conversation with you. I learned a lot about team coaching and I am sure listeners did as well. If you would like to learn more about team coaching, you can read Bill’s dissertation. It is actually short, which is kind of cool. It is in the shownotes, you can access the shownotes at www.climerconsulting.com/042. I will also put a link to his LinkedIn profile and some other resources as well for you. So go check that out. I also want to reiterate, take up that weekly challenge that Bill said. See if you can go sit in on another team’s meeting. What do you notice? What do you learn? I think that is a really awesome idea. I love it.

If you enjoyed this episode, I would love to get a review from you. You can go to www.climerconsulting.com/itunes, it will take you right to the iTunes page. Take a moment, review the podcast, give us feedback, it will be awesome. And while you are there, you can also just hit the subscribe button and a new episode will come to your phone or download to your iTunes account every week. New episodes come out on Thursday, occasionally on Friday, usually on Thursday. I hope this was helpful. I hope this helps you think about how to help your team perform even better and to be more creative and innovative. Thank you so much Bill for being on the show and thank you everyone for listening. Have a wonderful week and I will see you next time. Bye.

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