Marilyn Atkinson is the Founder of Erickson Coaching International and originator of the Solution-Focused Coaching methodology. A former Registered Organizational Psychologist, Marilyn is an NLP Master Trainer and specialist in Ericksonian Communications. Since 1980s she has been helping leading global companies and leaders through Solution- Focused and Outcome-Oriented Coaching. Marilyn has authored eight books, including The Art & Science of Coaching trilogy (Inner Dynamics of Coaching, Step-by-Step Coaching & The Flow of Coaching).
Boosting Team Innovation With Coaching
In many companies, innovation is an elusive quality that is either present or not – rather than available as a process that can be trained and managed. Leaders aim for the elusive elixir of ‘team spirit’ when they ask, “How can we manage teams and design an environment that consistently generates innovation?”
Strong team coaches know their job is to develop team spirit. They support the structure and principles of innovation and provide specific tools to enhance the creativity and strategic thinking of individuals, teams, and organizations. Effective team coaching needs to be very topical and functional to a corporation’s core aims yet seed innovative thinking as well.
Well-trained team coaches know how to unleash team spirit. What can a team coach do to build innovation? The team coach needs to diligently support positive processing, positive support, and flexible rapid thinking.
This requires a very specific kind of professional team coach training because the coach needs to know how to truly support the quality of visionary thinking. How do team members become visionary? The team coach assists them to develop the team vision function as a key part of every single meeting. The right brain (visionary function) is by far the mastery function in the brain. By stimulating right brain processes, the team coach creates synergy and allows for the development of holistic thinking.
The team coach builds positive team experiences, linked together with positive language. High performance team coaching is about assisting people to stay positive no matter what has been their framework before so that they stay willing to share their private expertise with other team members. The general rule is that knowledge is freely shared as soon as a group of people have a common vision.
Joint visioning assists general purpose awareness that allows each member to contribute to a common dialogue. It builds an effective unitary mind within the team. This is now a key part of the emerging genius of the Solution-Focused team approach. The team coach needs to provoke both curiosity and alignment towards results.
If you were undergoing a team coach training program, you would learn that the most important thing a strong team coach can provide is the capacity to support community-building in a very specific systemic way. How do we support the building of the team?
First, we need to enjoy the team as a team. We need to celebrate the team presence. We need to experience the team values and appreciate them verbally. We need to align the contributions of members. Sometimes we need to create informal team events to bring people together so that they really get to know each other in a variety of contexts.
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Second, we need to build team performance. We do this with a specific emphasis on team coaching as a skill set that the team itself is learning. We show them the power of team vision and how to create it well. We invite them into team dialogue and provide skills to support each team member with their own creativity. Every single member of the team, no matter what they have said to themselves about the products and services of the company, needs to feel they can join forces together in dialogue towards the company’s potential.
Building real dialogue requires persistent, insightful listening and support from the team coach. The team coach needs to hold the context of dialogue, and assists team members to suspend their assumptions. This allows people with totally different habits, backgrounds, and viewpoints to contribute well. The team coach needs to know how to treat the team members as thought leaders so that each member is able to relax and contribute. The team coach needs to assist the team to think longterm through the long game that each project may create. All participants must regard one another as colleagues to do this. As soon as possible in each meeting, the dialogue needs to become playful so that members easily visualize together.
A strong capacity for dialogue creates successful teams who have fun together. Longterm, they learn to build strong team support systems as they manage the tasks at hand. This process takes investment in key areas of the team coaching skill sets by the whole team as well so that everyone learns.
The third area that is relevant to the successful building of innovative expert teams, is the ability to assist the teams to handle conflict. Handling conflict is a big deal. It means that the team coach understands the specific, negative team dynamics that create the most difficulty and which can wobble team spirit. This means a team coach needs a real understanding of how to work with different kinds of personality traits, social styles, cultural dynamics, and interest areas. The team coach needs to be able to find the positive undercurrents of any conflict at hand and showing how the team can agree to disagree. This means the group can still find value and vitality, combining dynamically different approaches. A team without conflicts is not a team – there will always be conflicts when people are independent thinkers, individually exploring the topic their own way.
One key skill that all strong coaching team leaders need to do well is being able to work with long-distance communication, often through Skype or online meetings, across language divides. The team coach needs to keep virtual teams functioning with dynamism. Again, this results from carefully built Solution-Focused skill sets.
Our respect for each member means that we manage active communication between many contributors. We hold the frame for genuine team-building as a framework of joint concern among the members. In some ways, we act like a traffic cop at a busy intersection. Someone is speaking, and we make sure that person is heard and respected. Here is one way to think about this. What follows is called the RIDART framework, an acronym for the six key steps in building trust.
R – Rapport
Rapport often starts with our respect and listening to each of the partners. It continues as we create fun as one of the themes of team communication.
I – Invitation
We invite deeper participation. We urge people to move further into real collaboration. We are supporting the function and structure of the team as a collaborative framework. As a team coach, I personally am a little fierce about continual invitation. I genuinely hold that the team function is more important than anything else we are doing. That means that even if we are very busy people and the team meeting has to be fast and furious, we can build our team process quickly. ‘Fast’ works because it often assists people to innovate fiercely. People throw out ideas, and one idea builds on another (“What if ‘this’….what if that’?”). People then begin to see how ‘this’ and ‘that’ can come together and they have something much bigger between them to build with.
D – Dialogue
Needs to include:
A – Agreement
We need to carefully examine what we need to agree on.
- It also needs to include the willingness to disagree. Often we need to agree to disagree, and this kind of agreement sometimes allows for a much higher value than simple agreement because we start to build the common bridge. We need to be able to hear our differences, and we need to speak them. If you have people on your teams who are willing to stand up and talk about what still requires work, or speak frankly about their opinions where they think differently from everyone else – then you are very lucky people – because you are establishing a framework for people to really think collaboratively. This develops a much higher intention to create visionary results for the company.
R – Respect
How do we create respect? People need to see each other and their purpose with high value being added, and understand that this collaboration can create something great. There are lots of reasons not to trust others on a team and to hold onto ‘private’ knowledge. It is easier not to share ideas, not to teach others, and not give freely of our resources. As team coaches, we need to build high respect for the individuals and genuine agreement to disagree. Gradually, people see the team as ‘home base’, a natural place to share their best…and they do share freely.
T – Trust
And all of this, over time, builds trust.
Trust naturally leads to a final function that the team coach needs to hold for each other, and that is appreciation. We appreciate every single step, all of the way down the line. We acknowledge what is being accomplished. It takes courage and value-focus to genuinely give your heart to a team and set aside your own time and energy to do so. The team needs to make the team function preeminent whenever they are present together.
The corporate leaders of the world often do feel they are appreciated. They often give lots of appreciation to others, but often, only a little comes back to them. Sometimes leaders experience others as honeying up to them.
Real appreciation for work accomplished is very different. People need genuine gold stars given freely by self and others. People need to be respected and strongly valued for their committed actions, not just for the role they play. They need to be seen for what they’ve really accomplished. The team needs to see the risk and courage it took for them to do it and speak the value into the shared space.
Effective teams gradually reform the structure of the company. Well-coached, cross-functional teams can continue to collaborate, share information, and build the corporate promise to the world over time. They become the companies backbone, making sure that key values and visions will be shared and done. They represent the whole and do the work that the company wants to accomplish. This means that the teams continually grow the company and grow themselves at the very same time. The result is phenomenal for the companies that do this. The company becomes much stronger. The teams become interpersonal units with people now holding the companies vision as co-leaders.
All of this depends on you, the team coach. It depends on your willingness to be a fierce, vital part of the team, holding the structure over multiple meetings, assisting them to divide the work and go off and do it. You assist them to stand in Coach Position, seeing what they have accomplished so far, noticing that even in a difficult area they can – and have – moved one step ahead. This is what all members want: the ability to see that they’re growing as individuals, that they are building the team, and also building the projects well.
A great team gradually becomes like a longterm band of jazz musicians. People don’t want sameness all the time, and they don’t want chaos. They want to live on the edge! Each member knows the common melodies of effectiveness. They know how to participate, and they follow the joint tune for a while. But then with the teams support, they break out into their own ‘riffs’ of individual achievement as individuals and sub-teams. They start to create complex new ideas and build on what they’ve done. That allows the innovative experience to permeate the whole team and everyone shares the reward.