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I particularly liked the sub-title of this book: The Secret Life of Teams. Leading and Coaching Teams to Success by Phil Hayes is about what happens to teams behind closed doors. It talks about how teams gossip, go off the rails and implode. There’s something cathartic about reading about teams in a worse state than that of your own.
Hayes, whom I interviewed earlier this week, is a team coach. It’s his job to help teams work out where the problems lie before they derail completely. On a more positive note, coaching teams can also help them move from being great performers to excellent performers, so it’s not all about remedial action.
Much of what I know about coaching is about coaching individuals, and the concept of coaching a whole team at a time had never occurred to me. But from the stories in the book, you can, and it works.
Practical coaching advice
It would be hard to pick up this book and suddenly be a great team coach. However, there are stories, examples and exercises here that can help you be a better team leader. For example, Hayes talks about the 3 styles of leadership: authoritarian, laissez-faire and achievement focused/democratic.
All these styles can work in different situations, but it is the leader that sets the tone. Knowing the characteristics of each style and what works in different environments would help you create a project team that is not dysfunctional. In a project
environment, I believe that the achievement focused/democratic style would be the best option for the majority of the time.
Good team ‘housekeeping’
“It should be explained clearly to each member of the team that when speak to them individually you will respect confidentiality,” Hayes writes. He has some general guidelines for teams that I consider ‘housekeeping’ and would be good practice for any project team, whether or not you are working with a coach. For example:
- Create a team contract that documents how the team is going to work together. Everyone should agree to it.
- Develop your facilitation skills if you work with teams (although facilitation is different to coaching).
- Respect confidentiality.
- Listen more than talk.
There is also a chapter on how to be a good team member, which I found interesting, especially the bit about how to manage your boss! Top tip: “Demonstrate that your work is helping to achieve the boss’s goals.”
Hayes recommends that you stop asking why. He says that it’s counterproductive to put people on the spot like that. He writes:
“It is generally asked mainly to satisfy the curiosity of the questioner and tends to put the client on the defensive, requiring them to explain themselves. It is a useful question for journalists, politicians and scientists but not for coaches. The question ‘Why haven’t you solved this yet?’ will have a very different impact from asking ‘What is getting in the way of a solution here?’”
As project managers, we all work with teams. Coaching a team is a difficult job, and it’s not one that every project manager will be equipped to do. However, it doesn’t hurt to understand a bit more about the secret life of teams. And if your team is going off the rails, this book will help you understand what to look for in a team coach – hiring one might just save your project.