The Why of Team Coaching: Winning, Losing, or Playing the Game?

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While the original meaning of “coach” was a horse-drawn carriage, British sports teams in the 1800s began to utilize “coaches” to assist with the training and development of individual athletes and teams. Subsequently, coaching professional sports teams around the world evolved into what is now a highly visible, highly controversial, and highly compensated career choice. In the United States, even non-sports fans recognize the names of NFL and NBA coaches who are regularly featured in the news and command salaries that rival those of seasoned players.

What can we learn from this type of team coaching that relates to organization team coaching? What are some process elements that are universal and worthy of replication? What are some areas of coaching practices that should be challenged when applied to organizational effectiveness? And why would we want to invest scarce resources (money, time, talent) in team coaching when, just as in sports, there is no guarantee of a win?

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Ordinary or Extraordinary? Why Some Teams Suck and Some Don’t

Organizational Teaming

As authors Kathleen Ryan and Geoff Bellman discovered in their research of extraordinary groups, most work is done in teams in both organizations and communities. While the “players” and “game” are ever-changing, organizational teaming involves the same combining of individual talents and skills into a collective that is stronger as a whole than the sum of the parts.

Just as sports team coaches must consider the differing gifts of team members and determine ways to maximize the performance of both individuals and the team, organizations must create and sustain teams that embrace differences – even when the team members are not recruited. In the current work environment, team member differences extend beyond skills and abilities to include different locations, different hours of work, and different degrees of commitment and engagement.

Team coaching is really all about facilitating the development of relationships that increase the likelihood of desired change. Noted author and organization coach Margaret Wheatley speaks to the importance of relationships when she says: “In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions.”

Team Coaching Benefits

In teams of any kind, team members benefit from guidance in developing these critical relationships. On the field, in the board room, around the operating table, or at the construction site, team coaching can help team members:

  • Clarify shared purpose.
  • Truly appreciate differences.
  • Understand the stages of team or group development.
  • Engage in open and honest dialogue.
  • Experience learning and growth.
  • Define and celebrate success.


Master coach Adria Trowhill of Posi-TRAK Coaching and Consulting maintains that team coaching takes place in conversations. She sees it as a collaborative process where individual team members are regarded as creative and resourceful. She would likely suggest that sports team coaching models of command and control are best left in the locker room.

So, if work is done in teams comprised of individual contributors who must establish some consensus around where they are and where they want to go, what do team coaches offer? A team coach offers:

  • Active listening/observing of the team process.
  • Maintenance of a safe environment where all voices are heard and respected.
  • Powerful questioning to provoke exploration of choices.
  • Direct communication, including timely and relevant feedback.
  • Encouragement of individual and team accountability.
  • Reminders to focus on possibilities rather than limitations.
  • Knowledge of process improvement and team dynamics.


Why should you consider team coaching? It’s a legitimate development process that benefits individuals, teams, and the organization, and it allows team members to experience teaming that is effective, satisfying, and fun. It’s also a way to “play the game” where the scoreboard is not about win/loss as much as how the teaming experience was truly positive and transformational.

Why Team Coaching? The Real Question Is Why Not??

If you find that your team experience is not what you wish it could be, think about what’s at stake if things don’t change. Consider assessing the current team using the Extraordinary Teams Inventory (ETI). Use this objective data to help get hard-to-discuss matters on the table as well as to understand areas of team strength and areas for improvement.

Also, consider engaging a team coach to help guide the team experience. A team coach can help get undiscussables talked about in a neutral way that both values and helps to replace dysfunctional behavior that has served people at one time but no longer serves them.

Headshot of Sally Stamp
Sally Starbuck Stamp

Sally Stamp is a certified coach and consultant who works with individuals, teams, and organizations, primarily in the areas of leadership development, communication effectiveness, culture transformation, and life/work balance. Her experience includes working for a variety of healthcare and technology organizations as both an internal change agent and an external coach and advisor.

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