Can team leaders be team coaches as well?

Time and time again, IECL’s Head of Coaching John Raymond has been asked ‘Can the leader of a team also be the team coach?’ John unpackages for us how an understanding of the coaching process can lead to team leaders, at all levels, drive sustainable performance in their teams.

As much as organisations rely on the performance of teams to deliver on their organisational outcomes, proportionately there is little support for teams to function well, when compared to development options for individuals. I find it odd that the expectation is that teams be high performing yet performance systems still overwhelmingly focus on the individual’s performance. There seems to be an assumption that if all the individuals are performing well, then the team will also be performing well. We know this is not necessarily the case; the old adage ‘a team of champions doesn’t make a champion team’ is often true.

Maybe this is one reason why individual coaching continues to grow (ICF  2016 Global Coaching Study) yet team coaching struggles to take hold in the organisational landscape in terms of definition, volume and research (Lawrence, P., Whyte, A. 2017, What do experienced team coaches do? Current practice in Australia and New Zealand. IJEBCM. Vol 15 (1)) A shame really, as team coaching is one of the few team development interventions that directly impacts both the output of the team, and the ability of the team to generate that output. David Clutterbuck defines team coaching as “Helping the team to improve performance, and the processes by which performance is achieved, through reflection and dialogue.” (Clutterbuck, D.,2007 Coaching the Team at Work)

A question that I am often asked when teaching team coaching (IECL run team coaching programs in Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai) is “can the leader of a team also be the team coach?” My personal belief is that an understanding of the coaching process (one on one and team) will help leaders at all levels drive sustainable performance in their teams.

Successfully leading and coaching a team

If we unpack David Clutterbuck’s definition of team coaching, it contains four elements that will help leaders succeed:


This is an area of focus that is probably the easiest to nail as organisations tend to be very specific about what is required, although looking at performance through a team lens does change what performance might look like. In team coaching the performance element is contained in a team goal that all the team contribute to creating. If you look at nearly any team performance model, trust is a foundation for a team to perform. Trust holds the team’s process and therefore enables (or disables) the team’s performance.


Many leaders would benefit from further understanding process, especially as it correlates with trust levels in and across the team. When process is discussed in relationship to team coaching, it means understanding the system dynamics that are influencing the team’s performance. This includes (but is not limited to) team and relationship dynamics, culture of the team and the organisation, systems and structures e.g. hierarchy, performance management etc., role clarity, values and beliefs, relationship with the leader and other stakeholders. It is necessarily complex, which may be why many leaders avoid working in this realm. It is for this reason that leaders understanding team coaching will support their own success and the success of their team.


A 2012 HBR article titled Leadership is a Conversation (Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind, HBR June 2012) summed up the importance of leaders having a strong dialogue capability. Team coaching requires an advanced form of dialogue to be utilised to both hold and challenge the team to uncover the processes which are driving performance. Ralph Stacey summed it up well when he said “the quality of the system is determined by the quality of the relationships which is determined by the quality of the conversation”. You cannot have a high performing team without an open and frank dialogue which is role modelled from the leader.


As the pressure of higher performance pervades nearly all organisations, the time to reflect is squeezed out, yet the need for reflection has never been greater. In the fast-paced world we work in, reflection is a core activity that allows us to navigate the complexity of our reality. A useful reflective practice is to ask three simple questions:

  1. What?
  2. So what?
  3. Now what?


You will find it is not rocket science for leaders to bring a team coaching approach to their team’s performance, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy! From my perspective, the benefits definitely outweigh the costs and will give leaders’ another tool in their kitbag to drive team performance.

John Raymond is IECL’s Head of Coaching. John has been involved in coaching since it began to take hold in Australasia in the mid-1990s. He brings a systems thinking filter to everything he does with a stand out concept from his Masters being “The quality of the System is determined by the quality of the Conversation”. As Head of Coaching, John leads the way in ensuring our coaching offerings are innovative and continue to lift the bar. With Team Coaching identified as an emerging strategy in which coaches can be instrumental in helping organisations build high-performing teams, John runs our Team Coaching program.