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Team Building, Team Training or Team Coaching: What’s the difference??

An exploration of strategies for enhancing team performance.

When a functional business team isn’t performing as desired, for a variety of reasons, be it poor communication, too much conflict, low trust or personality differences, many leaders attempt to solve the problem by telling the team they need to work together better… as a team. They repeatedly tell them that communication must improve, they must overcome their differences, and learn to work together better.

Unfortunately, nothing changes.

Eventually team leaders and/or HR realize that they need a solution that involves some outside help. So, they research some consulting companies and ask for some good old-fashioned training. However, there are many options for enhancing team performance… But which one will do the trick?

I’d like to offer a breakdown of the difference between Team Building, Team Training and Team Coaching so the next time you are looking for some help with team performance or team effectiveness, you can ask for the right service for your needs.

Let’s start with Team Building.

Team Building is a way for team members to recharge their batteries by engaging in fun, relaxed activities that are meant to allow team members to get to know each other in a casual environment. Some Team Building exercises include construction games, off-site excursions, and obstacle courses.

The time that is spent having a good time together is never wasted, because it allows the team to bond at a high level and allows them to see their co-workers as real people, outside of the workplace.

Having the team enjoy an activity away from work gives them the opportunity to learn a little about each other and create some fond memories together. While these team work exercises usually are a lot of fun and good for morale in the short term, they rarely translate back to the office for the long term.

We know that allowing the team to spend a few hours to a couple of days socializing every few

months does not produce the kind of connection that is needed for them to really trust each other once they get back to work. In fact, the good feelings that come with spending some relaxed time with your co-workers tend to stay in the context in which they were built. And when they get back to business as usual, all the issues-as-usual are still there waiting for them.

Team building

Don’t get me wrong, Team Building is great when you have a high-functioning team that consistently achieves results in a healthy way! In fact, these activities can serve as a great reward for high-performing teams! Given that the cost of these activities is usually substantial, and many times used to improve team functioning, where they fall short is in terms of long-term return on investment. They

are limited in getting the kind of change that will last.

So, we tell ourselves that perhaps something a little more robust is needed.

And we enroll the team in Team Training.

Team Training is certainly useful when team members don’t have the skills and knowledge needed to achieve results. It consists of a knowledgeable facilitator at the front of the room teaching relevant content, inviting discussion, and using learning activities that allow the team members to walk away from the session with practical skills and information that can help them be and do better.

Training usually takes place anywhere from a half day to full week, and is meant to fill skill and knowledge gaps, thereby equipping attendees to choose actions that will lead to more desirable results in the way they interact with others. Training also provides a variety of tools and strategies that the team can use not just with each other, but also with those they work outside of the team.

Alas, knowing what to do isn’t enough.

To see a little more long-lasting results for the team, we may then realize that what they really need is “teamwork skills”; that is, that they need to learn how to communicate better, make better decisions, or learn how to strategize effectively to achieve their goals.

Once everyone is on the same page from a skills and knowledge perspective, then the focus turns to ensuring alignment about what a positive and focused teamwork environment looks like. Getting agreement on how the team will work together effectively is the next step toward lasting change. And that’s where Team Coaching comes in.

What is Team Coaching?

Team Coaching is a series of professionally facilitated discussions involving every member of the team, including the leader, that create forward movement within the team. Issues are identified and dealt with openly, all team members are heard, and real strategic change is planned for and actioned. If a team is trained before being coached, it is better equipped to begin using strategies that enhance communication , problem solving and decision-making right away.

Team Coaching begins with the Coach collecting information about the team and how it sees itself. This is done through interviews of each team member and an assessment of the team’s dynamics. Then, results are shared with the whole team and space for the conversations is created.

A big difference between Team Coaching and the other two initiatives is that the team creates the agenda, determines the path to take, decides how to proceed, sets the pace, and does most of the work. As a result, ownership of team results rests with the team, and with greater ownership comes greater change. The team can then take full credit for achieving the changes they set their minds to, because they decided which priorities to tackle, and how.

This is where Team Coaching really gets its power. It is team-led and team-owned. The Coach merely acts as enabler and awareness-builder.

One great benefit of Team Coaching is that the tough issues are brought to the surface, the hard conversations are had (with help) and the difficult decisions are made, in the name of moving the team in the direction it wants to go. Team Coaching is great for unsticking the team from stagnation or complacency, it builds cohesion between the members because of the open conversations, and as a result, trust is bolstered, conflict becomes healthier, ownership is boosted and so is the team’s performance.

Another benefit of Team Coaching is that team members come to understand their teammates at a deeper level by exploring their values, beliefs, strengths, weaknesses, and ideas. They begin to see the benefits each member brings to the team and how they can be leveraged. At the same time, team members gain a deeper awareness of themselves, as they explore their own values, beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses.

Compared to the other two initiatives, Team Coaching has much more accountabilities built into the process. While the team works to resolve issues openly and plans to implement decisions made in the session, it also discusses how members will hold each other accountable. Discussions center around what accountability looks like, and how achievements will be celebrated.

Due to the developmental nature of Team Coaching, the time needed is much more than that of Team Building and Team Training. Indeed, Team Coaching usually requires at least half a day every couple of weeks from all team members, spread out over at least six months. Of course, like any goal, or real change initiative, the more time we give it, the sooner we see results. Team coaching can lift struggling teams out of trouble spots, and it can take successful teams to the next level. It is not meant to be remedial, but forward-looking and innovative. Team coaching is a great way to get the team to practice and use what they learned in training, in a productive, organized way.

When it comes to enhancing your team’s performance, you have many options to choose from. Which initiative to dive into really depends on what you and the team want. This breakdown is meant to provide you with the information you need to make the best decision for your team’s goals.


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