Team coaching is unlike any other development that an individual will have experienced.  The agenda is co-created by the team and the coach and there is no taught content.  Team members may have worked with (some of) the team for some time, but they won’t necessarily be ready, willing or able to say what is really going on for them as a way for the team to learn and grow together. They can feel very vulnerable in this situation.

Brene Brown (2015) has discovered in her research that it takes courage to “get into the arena” (Theodore Roosevelt 1910), being fully yourself, being vulnerable.

Team coaches have responsibility for creating psychological safety (Edmondson, 1999), such that the team members feel more ready, willing and able to say what is really going on for them.  This includes contracting well; setting and keeping good boundaries for the work; providing a nurturing environment; role-modelling truthful feedback, both challenging and supportive; and reflecting with the group on what is working and what is not.

Taking it right back to the first meeting, they want to know they are in good hands, so your Authority, Presence and Impact (Hawkins and Smith, 2013) are vital ingredients:

  • Authority: what we know and what we have achieved/experienced
  • Presence: how well we relate with them in-the-moment
  • Impact: how we enable them to shift in some way, even in that first exploratory meeting.

Then we need to take care over the details of the booking agreement and/or contract and joining instructions, so that everyone understands the boundaries within which you will work together, giving them certainty (Rock, 2009).

We should not underestimate the physical environment (virtual or face-to-face) within which the team coaching takes place: quiet, private, spacious, light, welcoming, safe.  The quality – and healthfulness – of the refreshments (or care package in the case of virtual) also shows your consideration for their well being.

At the start of the team coaching proper, we have another opportunity to contract well for the work in (and out of) the room, in particular helping them to define how they wish to work together and what is acceptable/non-acceptable behaviour.  You may have some requests of them too.  You are still figuring out the boundaries together, creating more certainty (though the work itself may be anything but certain at this point).

Our role as team coach is then to enable them to say what they see, hear, sense and feel.  We can model this ourselves to enable them to feel more safe to try it.  The more we ask this of them, the more practiced they become and the deeper they may be able to go.  Our aim is to be both supportive and challenging (Blakey and Day, 2012), building their capacity to speak their truth and give each other feedback.

As the coaching progresses, re-contract for how the process is meeting their collective needs.  What is working in the way they are working together (this is not about you, the team coach), what is not working, what will they take responsibility for changing?

This might all seem like common sense to those of you who facilitate groups already.  It is worth reflecting on how you can transfer those same skills into team coaching, so that you can create the “holding environment” (Donald Winnecot, cited by Abram, 2007) in team coaching that will lead to more psychological safety, and a willingness on the part of the team members to be vulnerable to express their needs and the needs of the stakeholders.

This articles draws on the chapter on creating safety in Clare’s book, Mentor Coaching: A Practical Guide


Executive Coach and Coach Supervisor Clare Norman works with clients who want to make high impact transitions from one company to another, from one role to another, and when stepping up to more senior leadership levels.