5 | Coaching Teams & Groups

What's the difference between teams and groups?

What’s the difference between teams and groups?
 Each is an assemblage of people, yet important differences between the two exist. Complicating the issue is that each organization will have its own definitions for the terms. That said, a number of general distinctions can be made, as follows:

  • Share a common vision, purpose, and values.
  • Are often long-term in nature, depending on their purpose.
  • Pull together in the same direction, to achieve a common goal.
  • Are composed of members who need each other to accomplish the common goal.

Athletic coaches serve as a helpful metaphor for the difference between coaching individuals versus coaching a team. A tennis coach will, for example, help a single player to sharpen his or her game. A soccer coach, in contrast, will focus on getting team members to work together, while leveraging the strengths of individuals, mitigating weaknesses, and creating partnerships and systems within the team. A coach for an individual will always put the best interest of that player ahead of anyone else; for the team coach, the best interests of the group will come first. A person coaching teams knows what is required to make the sum of the parts greater than the whole.

  • Come together for a specific purpose, such as to learn a new skill set, to support each other during a challenging time, or to give input on a specific topic.
  • They can be short- or long-term arrangements.
  • Are composed of members who do not necessarily need each other to achieve the common goal.

Certain coaching techniques can be applied successfully in both team and group settings.
Teams and groups both need to establish shared expectations and norms in order to do their best work and accomplish their goals. Confidentiality is as critical to the success of team coaching as it is to individual coaching. No good can come when a team coach betrays confidences, takes sides, or, worse, "triangulates" between members. Certain individuals on the team will naturally try to influence the coach. When this happens, the coach must direct these individuals to others on the team or to the team as a whole, reminding them to use the agreed-on communication tools. Teams must clarify outcomes, expectations, and norms if they are to thrive. Therefore, one of the first steps a team coach must take is to gain consensus as to how everyone will deal with every possible scenario the team will face. Teams, at their inception, should discuss:
  • Purpose and goal
  • Vision and values
  • Norms
  • Roles
  • Purpose and Goals


The team leader may have a clear vision of what he or she wants the team to accomplish, but it is rare that the vision is articulated in a clear and compelling way. When all members of the team work together to craft a shared vision, the chances are greater of achieving universal buy-in for that vision.

Values, too, must be set and shared. These can be developed with help from the coach, who can solicit from each team member his or her personal sense of what is most important when working with others. For example, the coach may learn that some team members value timeliness and accurate record-keeping. Others may value the idea that every voice be heard and everyone be treated equally. Ultimately, the team can use majority rule to prioritize what will be most important.  Admittedly, going through the discussions about what is most important to arrive at shared values can be time-consuming and grueling; however, sharing values can help the team avoid all kinds of trouble down the line. Unfortunately, too often teams don't start talking about shared values until after trouble and/or emotional upheaval have occurred. Effective coaches ensure that conversations take place that address anticipated obstacles and issues before they occur.

After the values have been prioritized, coaches can help a team clarify its code of conduct—which results in its "norms." The code of conduct should include clear consequences for failure to abide by the code. For example, if timeliness is an agreed-upon value, then an aspect of the code of conduct might be to schedule all meetings for 15 minutes past the hour so that everyone has time to get from previous meetings. The norm becomes that meetings will start on time, with all members in attendance and no excuses. Finally, a well-functioning team will establish clear standards and agreements regarding communications—voice mail, email, and memos. This will result in the norms of a clear, common language and efficiency among team members.

It is also key that teams identify who will play what role to avoid confusion and overlapping of responsibilities. A coach can help untangle such problems by asking questions about possibly ill-informed assumptions. A good exercise to help with this is to have all team members write down what they believe their areas of responsibility to be, in order of importance, and then share them with their fellow team members. Most will be surprised by their expectations and assumptions, many of them faulty.
When you consider purpose and goals, vision and values, norms and roles, which do you think the teams in your organization need to give the most attention to? What steps will you take to guide the teams in this direction?

Settings Agendas
When coaching individuals, we usually follow the basic agreement, asking the critical questions, “What would you like to talk about?” and “What would you like to take away from today’s session?”  When coaching teams, a coach should know the answer to those questions BEFORE the start of a session. Those who coach teams may carve out time at the end of a coaching session to build the agenda for the next session while all parties are present. Some coaches will solicit feedback from members by text or email before the next meeting to help frame the agenda. The key point is to have the focus of the team coaching session decided before the meeting begins.


Like team coaching, group coaching also benefits from having clear outcomes, expectations and norms for when the group gathers.  Where group coaching differentiates from team coaching shows up in two distinct ways:
  • Members usually are seeking to fulfill individual desired outcome rather than having shared vision that all members are contributing toward.  Several of groups I coach share a common goal of creating and implementing annual leadership development plans. All members follow a similar process for creating their plans but each person’s plan looks significantly different.
  • Because the desired outcomes for each member are unique, members are not as dependent on one another for the achieving their desired outcomes.  Members of these groups are formed to share a similar experience, to learn and collaborate with each other, and often, to be held accountable for living out their intentions.

Successful group coaching experiences share a number of characteristics, itemized in the following subsections.

1 | Shared Purpose
Every group has to have a reason to exist, and a clear and compelling reason to meet regularly.
Group coaching works well to support a group in using new behaviors or skills learned in a training program, and to provide support and inspiration to individuals who are developing new habits or working to achieve a goal.

2 | Clearly Stated Individual Goals
These goals must include mileposts, for check-in at each meeting. One way to create a sense of urgency and interest in a coaching group is to assign each individual a goal that is broken down into segments, whose progress can be reported on at each meeting. Following these reports, individuals can either ask for help to brainstorm solutions to obstacles or to get recognition and celebrate success with the group.

3 | Adequate Preparation
Group coaching sessions should be structured enough so that participants can feel progress in meeting their goals, yet loose enough to allow for natural emergence of valuable learning. To accomplish this balancing act, the coach needs to stay present in the moment and maintain a strong sense of where the group is headed. Less is more, in terms of structure.

4 | A Strong, Compelling Coach Presence
A group coach must be a strong leader, one who can command the group's respect and direct its focus. The coach's communication style should be clear, concise, and to the point. In fact, he or she should speak less than anyone else during the meeting, communicating mainly to greet individuals, direct/ redirect attention, request clarity, and facilitate discussion. It is the members of the group who should be adding the most value. The coach needs to listen for the question to be asked next. The coach must pay close attention to each individual in the group and may track his or her comments. Participants should know in advance that they will be called on if they are not actively participating. Conversely, the coach may need to "reel in" group members who are talking too much, becoming repetitive, or no longer adding value to the conversation. In sum, it is the responsibility of the coach to pay attention to the time arc of the meeting and make sure that everyone participates. The coach can also solicit information or request that members of the group with specific expertise share small bits of information that might help members achieve goals.

5 |  A Finite Timeline
A successful group coaching experience will have a defined beginning, middle, and end. All participants must be clear on the start date, must understand the dates and times of all meetings, and must be working toward the conclusion, when successes will be celebrated.

Ground Rules for Communication for Teams and Groups
As with a team, in a group, all members should agree on norms at the beginning of their journey together. The coach can point out any break in norms and request ideas from the group about how to address the infraction. Effective communication is key to establishing positive group dynamics. Coaches may:
  • Send out a brief email after each meeting whose contents include: a list of the top three learning points generated at the meeting; a reminder of any homework that the group agreed to; and a reminder of the date, time, and location of the next meeting.
  • Announcing via email, two to three days before the next meeting, the agenda of the upcoming meeting, along with a reminder to bring homework.
  • Communicating intermittently between sessions, via email or voice mail, to offer small bits of information, or introduce concepts to inspire thought (no more than one per week). These messages could include quotes, relevant facts, or updates.

    CHAPTER  5  |  Student Assignments



  • Be able to articulate the difference between a team and a group.
  • Understand and demonstrate skills needed to effectively coach teams and group.
  • Gain insights on how to create mutually agreed upon norms and expectations for teams and groups. 


                   Insights,  ideas,  and  applications  from  former students

"Coaches need to be able to read the tone and energy
of the group as well as each individual."

"Teams and groups need clarity about meetings wins and outcomes BEFORE they gather. Many of the skills used to run effective meetings also apply to coaching teams and groups."