March 10, 2023

Managing complexity in team coaching

When you are coaching a team and there are several topics that need to be covered, the team needs to decide in which order and how they would like to tackle the topics. This is one of the few points where a team coach might enter into thinking about the content of the session and their interdependencies. Sometimes there is a natural sequence of topics. Take the example of the old “Nasa Game” exercise where teams are asked to rank items of supply according to their usefulness after a plane crash in the desert. If the team decides to stay where they are and not move (the right decision, just so that you know if you are ever in this situation), material for building shelter would rank much higher, for example, than if they decide to march through the desert (not advised). In team coaching this could be that the team needs to decide on roles and responsibilities first before starting to work on topics or that they need to decide on a strategy before they can move into more tactical issues.

This also influences what can be dealt with in plenary and what can be delegated to small groups. It is best to ask the team about the interdependencies of the issues (as you cannot know this well as a team coach) and to find a good sequence together. This may also be done in preparation for the team coaching together with a small project group of the team.

When you have decided which topics need to be discussed first and by all, you can then move into working with smaller groups or breakout rooms. Here are two ways in which you can help these working groups be successful:

Create a briefing for the small groups

If you ask the plenary to create a short briefing for the small groups, you increase the likelihood of acceptance for the results of the small group work. Take a flipchart or digital whiteboard and ask the plenary: “What is important for this small group to take into account?”. Take 5 minutes for the creation of the brief for each small group. If there is no time, you an also put the flipcharts in different spaces in the room or in different corners of the digital whiteboard so that everyone who wants to contribute to a small group topic but cannot join can give their input.

Offer a structure and/or brief facilitators

To make the discussions as fruitful as possible, ask for volunteers from the team before the team coaching session and do a mini-facilitation training with them. Teach them the Solution Focused structure of: “Ticket Office, Preferred Future, Successful Past and Gift Shop” so they can guide the discussions away from blamestorming and keep them constructive.

You might also offer the small groups a “facilitation guide” by way of a structured flipchart or a prepared digital whiteboard with Solution Focused Questions:

Ticket office

What would you like to achieve in today’s breakout sessions?

Check: is this goal in your influence, feasible, positively described (presence of something not absence of something)

Preferred future

If we achieve this, what difference would it make to the respective stakeholders?

Draw a mindmap with the stakeholders and what they might notice?

Successful past

On a scale of 0-10 where 10 means that you have already achieved your goal, where are you now?

What is already going in the right direction?

Gift shop

How would you and the stakeholders notice a step up on the scale?

What will you propose as solutions to the plenary?

When they report to the plenary, ask the plenary for comments and invite them to agree on experiments (rather than feeling that “this will be forever).

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