• Toby Sinclair

Team Coaching At Work Summary by David Clutterbuck

Updated: Jul 14


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⭐ Toby's Rating: 8/10 - Recommended For: Line Managers

3 Big Ideas 💡


Learn how coaching teams can help improve your team:

  1. Team coaching is a discipline distinct from consulting, team building, team leading and other roles. It is more complex, not least because it deals with the systems that influence teams and how those teams interact with them.

  2. Highly effective coaching is both systemic (seeing the client and their issues within the context of multiple systems) and dialogic (a conversation that creates its own path, developing new insights and new meaning)

  3. Line Managers face challenges and conflicts of interest in becoming effective team coaches. For example, on the manager’s part about their plans to reorganize the team and on the employee’s part about how long they intend to stay with the company.

2 Best Quotes for Coaching Teams 💬


Team Coaching is… Partnering with an entire team in an on-going relationship, for the purpose of collectively raising awareness and building better connections in the team’s internal and external systems and enhancing the team’s capability to cope with current and future challenges.

The most enlightened coaches as ‘holding the client, while he or she has the conversation they need to have with themselves.

Tobys Top Takeaway

My biggest takeaway from coaching teams is the challenges many line managers face. To be an effective coach there are several barriers to overcome. Some of these relate to the positional power in organisations. Some of them relate to skills line managers need to master such as active listening and asking questions.


The opportunity is that if line managers overcome these challenges high performance can be achieved. Team coaching can transform teams and improve their outcomes. This book will guide your development and give new insights into how coaching teams work.


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Big Ideas Expanded 💡


The big ideas for coaching teams expanded.


What is Team Coaching?

Team Coaching is...

Partnering with an entire team in an on-going relationship, for the purpose of collectively raising awareness and building better connections in the team’s internal and external systems and enhancing the team’s capability to cope with current and future challenges.

Team coaching is in essence systemic.


Systemic coaching has been described by Ober (2010) as ‘being aware of three worlds and how they interplay to produce outcomes’


  1. The Face-to-Face World – interactions with the client, and their face-to-face interactions with other key people.

  2. The Larger External World - client’s organization, their business, their customers, and their marketplace

  3. The Deeper Internal World -how/what client leaders think and feel, their mental models/underlying assumptions, their deeper beliefs.

Team coaches help teams explore these three worlds.


Team coaching is not:

  • Coaching individuals, who happen to belong to the same team

  • Coaching only part of a team

  • Team building

  • One-off interventions such as an off-site workshop

  • Training and consultancy

Another Team Coaching definition is:

Helping the team improve performance and the processes by which performance is achieved, through reflection and dialogue.

Line Manager as Team Coach

Studies have shown Team Coaching to be one of the least common activities conducted by managers. The reasons include underestimating the benefits of team coaching and a lack of skills in doing so.

Managers are prone to misattribute the causes of poor performance. They tend to over-emphasize motivation and under-emphasize other factors – in particular, lack of knowledge or skill. Poor performance has a lot more to do with poor management and failure to coach than with unwillingness on the employee’s part.


Team coaching can lead to team improvement. Line Managers seeking to coach their team face challenges.


Studies identify significant barriers and conflicts of interest between the roles and responsibilities of a line manager and those of a coach.

These barriers include:

  • The tendency for managers and direct reports to fall into ‘parent/child’ roles.

  • Hidden agendas. For example, on the manager’s part about their plans to reorganize the team and on the employee’s part about how long they intend to stay with the company.

  • The conflict between the employee’s desire for some things to remain confidential and the manager’s accountability for the welfare and performance of the team as a whole

  • The conflict between pressure to deliver short-term task objectives and the longer-term development needs of team members.

  • Groupthink. The better the relationship between line manager and learner, the more likely this is to be the case.

  • Inequality in who gets coaching. Time pressures often mean that the manager concentrates coaching on particular individuals or sub-groups of the team.

How do line managers develop coaching skills?


Coach Training rarely leads to high impact results for managers:

Here is an example from coaching teams:

In some unpublished experiments with several organizations, including the UK subsidiary of a global retail chain, a utility and a university administration function, we carried out focus groups to understand what happened when line managers went on courses to learn how to coach their teams. The narratives consistently showed that goodwill and enthusiasm rarely led to a significant and lasting change in behaviour by the managers, who often gave up the coaching mid-frame after as little as a few days. We theorized that the issue was one of systems behaviour. When one part of a complex system changes, the rest of the system tries to bring it back to where it was (Schneider et al, 2006). When the line manager was the only person who understood coaching, and was trying to do coaching to individuals within the team, it was hardly surprising that they met intentional or unintentional resistance. (It takes two to tango!)

The best coaching results come from environments where the team and coach learn together.


To increase coaching success these conditions must be present:

  • Psychological safety.

  • Everyone in the team needs to know how to coach and how to be coached (including the line manager)

  • Everyone in the team takes collective responsibility for performance and for each other’s learning.


The best line managers are those who are secure within themselves:

  1. They don’t feel the need to control. They trust others because, if mistakes happen, the leader has big enough shoulders to share responsibility.

  2. They demonstrate that they care – both about the team goals, but also about each of the team members as individuals. They make time for human interaction.

  3. Instead of trying to manage the team, they support team members in managing themselves.

  4. These leaders encourage the team to decide what they need to inform the leader about and what to take responsibility for communicating themselves.

  5. They protect the team from distractions.

  6. They ensure that everyone understands and is aligned with the overarching team goals and trust they will find the best way of achieving them.

  7. They encourage feedback from team members. They have a ‘growth mindset’ – focused equally on their own development and that of the team and see themselves as a work in progress.

Team Coaching Conditions


Team Coaching is unlikely to be successful when the following conditions are true:

  1. When there is no compelling rationale for being a team – for example, when members of a group have little interdependence

  2. When it is too large to be a real team – above eight, it will become harder to gel as a team.

  3. When only the leader wants team coaching to happen.

  4. When the team leader is weak – for example, unable to deal with dissension. In such circumstances, the team coach can easily find themselves in the role of surrogate leader

  5. When the team expects you to rescue them, or for you to find the solutions to their problems instead of working things out themselves. If they won’t take responsibility for the process or the outcomes, you are liable to become the scapegoat when things don’t work out

  6. When the team has no prospect of acquiring the resources it needs to succeed

  7. When you have close relationships with some members of the team, but not with others

  8. When the team’s problems are pathological – deeply unhealthy teams will find it impossible to engage with the team coaching process.

When coaching teams it's important to ensure the right conditions are present.


Developing Team Coaches


The most enlightened coaches hold space for the client, while he or she has the conversation they need to have with themselves.


Highly effective team coaching is both systemic (seeing the client and their issues within the context of multiple systems) and dialogic (a conversation that creates its own path, developing new insights and new meaning)


This is one reason why most serious practitioners and observers of team coaching now recommend coaching in pairs – one to lead and one to observe, swapping roles frequently to maximize their attentiveness.


The skills for one-on-one coaching and team coaching are similar. However, the dynamic nature of team coaching puts increased pressure on these skills:

  • Listening. The team coach needs to listen to both the person talking and to everyone else in the room. Being aware of their silent conversations, through observing body language.

  • Using silence.

  • Powerful questions. In team coaching, the emphasis is on helping the team find its own powerful questions.

  • The story. The team coach has to help them accept and integrate each other’s version of the team story into a narrative that helps make coherent and compatible future choices.

  • Identity. Coaches help individuals articulate and understand their own identities. Achieving this awareness as a team tends to be more complex.


Building Team Relationships


In one way or another, pretty much every study of team effectiveness identifies the quality of interpersonal relationships as a critical component. There is surprisingly little evidence that people in the team have to like each other, but they do need to respect, trust and be open with each other. In high performing teams, there is high reciprocity of attitudes and behaviours that reinforces these qualities; and an ability to manage conflict in ways that contribute to rather than undermine teamwork.


A good question to gain an indicator into team relationships

If you were to restart this team from scratch today, would you choose the current members?

If the answer is negative, it provides rapid insight into the underlying tensions within the team.

Importance of Trust


Trust within teams is positively correlated with performance and negatively correlated with anxiety and stress (Costa et al, 2001).

What does your team talk about?


A good technique to understand the relationships within the team is to observe their dialogue. What does this team discuss?


David Clutterbuck shares 7 categories of dialogue teams typically engage in:


  1. Social - Weekend plans, hobbies, the weather.

  2. Technical - How to do tasks within the team

  3. Tactical - What needs to be done today?

  4. Strategic - What needs to be done in the future?

  5. Self-insight - How are we performing? Retrospectives, Lessons Learned etc.

  6. Change - What can we do differently?

  7. Integrative - Who do we need to work with?


Through this evaluation, you can find areas of improvement. Most teams will have a preference and underinvest in certain areas.