Tag Archives: team

Power distribution and its impact on team performance

29 Apr

The impact of power differentials on how teams and groups work is not as straightforward as it might seem. Having a mix of powerful and less powerful people in a team, or having a team composed entirely of powerful people can both have a negative impact on performance (Angus et al, 2016). It seems that the more powerful people are, the less effective they are in tasks that require coordination with others. High power individuals tend to be over-confident, to be poor listeners, to devalue other people’s ideas, interrupt and take credit for other people’s suggestions and successes. Compared with low power groups, when working together, a group of high power individuals is less focused, less creative, has more conflict and shares less information. Where high power individuals shone was when they worked on their own.

Power can be acquired in many ways, but some of the most common in a team context are:

  • Hierarchical power (position or authority)
  • Power of expertise (knowledge)
  • Power of connection (networks of influence or information, often associated with relatively long tenure in post; and also being “in with” other high power individuals)

The implications for team coaching are considerable. The team members may well recognise that power differentials exist and affect behaviours, but are unlikely to be aware of how these play out. So what can the team coach do to raise awareness and help the team manage power issues better?

A simple exercise to bring power issues into the open is the following:

  • Ask everyone to rate themselves against each of their team colleagues against the question When you are in meetings with this person, do you feel more powerful than them, less powerful or about the same level of power?
  • In situations, where you feel more powerful, how would you rate a) yourself and b) the group or team on:
    • Listening to and being genuinely interested in less powerful colleagues’ views?
    • Working collaboratively?
    • Sharing information?
    • Valuing other people’s contributions
    • Generating creative ideas
  • In situations, where you feel less powerful, how would you rate a) yourself and b) the group or team on:
    • Listening to and being genuinely interested in less powerful colleagues’ views?
    • Working collaboratively?
    • Sharing information?
    • Valuing other people’s contributions
    • Generating creative ideas
  • In situations, where you feel equally powerful, how would you rate a) yourself and b) the group or team on:
    • Listening to and being genuinely interested in less powerful colleagues’ views?
    • Working collaboratively?
    • Sharing information?
    • Valuing other people’s contributions
    • Generating creative ideas
  • What could you as an individual do to overcome the negative effects of power differentials, when you are in situations where you feel powerful or less powerful?
  • What could the team as a whole do, to overcome the negative effects of power differentials?

The outcome of this exercise should be greater individual and collective awareness of the issues, along with practical approaches for managing them. These approaches are likely to be a mixture of structures and behaviours. Structural approaches may include:

  • Building time into the agenda of meetings, for sharing of information
  • Generating ideas quietly and individually, before pooling and discussing them together
  • Appointing one or more of the less powerful members in a meeting as “designated contrarian”, with the role of presenting alternative or minority perspectives on an issue
  • Making sure that work groups are not dominated by (or composed solely of) high power individuals

Behavioural approaches may include:

  • Rules or norms about how to flag up situations, where power issues are affecting the quality of discussions, decision-making and /or performance
  • Analysis of situations, where individuals felt themselves to be in a low power status, and that this has had a negative effect on individual and/or collective performance
  • Making power management issues part of 360-degree feedback
  • The team coach can point out when he or she observes power issues affecting behaviours in a negative way

A good starting point is for the team to recognise that high performance is more likely and more sustainable, when there is a relative “power equilibrium” and that it is everyone’s responsibility to create and sustain that state, wherever possible. The responsibility therefore becomes shared between high and low power team members.


David Clutterbuck 2016


Angus, J Hildreth, D & Anderson, C (2016) Failure at the Top: How Power Undermines Collaborative Performance, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Yet another reason to focus more on the team and less on individuals

9 Jul

Having a team full of superstars doesn’t lead to high performance, according to research by Roderick Swaab, a professor at Insead business school, and his colleagues . His researches indicate that when two-thirds of the team are star performers, they co-operate less and become more competitive with each other. The reason seems to be that stars have become habituated to being recognised and rewarded for their individual performance, so the more other stars they see around them, the more competitive they feel. So they hoard information and waste energy jostling for position.

So should you avoid creating a team of stars? Not necessarily. But you do need to manage them differently. In particular:
• Avoid any kind of individualised reward or incentive, if you want them to work as a team. Make rewards collective.
• Reward and recognise teamwork – but again, collectively. If someone isn’t being a team player, the rest of the team will most likely bring pressure to bear on them. If that doesn’t work, then it’s time for a frank discussion about whether they are suitable for this team.
• Hold frequent conversations about how they can be more effective in supporting each other. Establish team priorities and encourage team members to subordinate their own priorities to these.
• Establish the principle that everyone is responsible for both their own learning and the learning of other team members.
• Make the team the star. Work with them to build the reputation of the team, so that outsiders recognise the individual for being part of a bright nebula.
• Recognise that they all have big egos and openly discuss how to harness these for the benefit of the team, rather than let them undermine the team. The greatest antidote to excessive egoism is laughter, so encourage the team and its members to laugh at themselves.

It will still be a tough challenge to manage a team of stars. But when they work together, as a true team, great things can happen!

© David Clutterbuck, 2014

Team coaching: what’s the point?

27 Aug

Coaching one-to-one is a very powerful way to help someone reflect upon issues that affect their performance and well-being. But just focusing on the individual and what is going on for them internally, is only part of the picture. All really effective coaching addresses not only the individual, but the systems, of which they are a part. Sustainable individual change can often only be achieved, if the systems around them also change to support and reinforce new behaviours, priorities and ways of thinking.

Research shows that individual performance is far more dependent on the team environment than had previously been thought. Moreover, high individual performance by one or more people in a team doesn’t necessarily lead to high performance overall – indeed, sometimes the opposite may be the case.

Team coaching has emerged in recent decades as a practical way to apply the principles of coaching to the team as a whole. It enables the team to:

  • Develop a climate of psychological safety, conducive to collective learning. Team members learn to have open dialogue, to share concerns and fears and to work with constructive, empathetic challenge. As a result they build deeper levels of trust and higher quality of collaboration.
  • Gain greater clarity, coherence and consistency around priorities – what’s most important for the team to achieve collectively. One of the signs that a team is successful in this is that individuals routinely put the team priorities ahead of their own personal task priorities.
  • Better understand the processes that underlie how the team works, and identify ways to improve these. Team coaching helps the team question and validate its own assumptions, with the result that radically new ways of working frequently emerge
  • Manage all three types of conflict (task, process and relationship) constructively – so that conflict becomes a driver of performance, rather than a barrier.
  • Understand and value the contribution each member can make at their best, and how to support each other in creating circumstances, where they can play to their strengths
  • Explore the team culture and help it evolve in line with changing environment, while still enabling everyone to retain their personal authenticity
  • Increase the level of creativity and innovation
  • Manage its reputation within and outside the organization
  • Improve the effectiveness of communication, both between team members and with external stakeholders
  • Have a stronger sense of shared purpose
  • Become more resilient to setbacks
  • Adjust its temporal orientation (achieving a better balance between attention to the past, present, near future and long-term future

Because everyone in the team learns and reflects together, teams that embrace team coaching tend to demonstrate more focused, collective energy. As they learn together – and support each other’s learning – they can use real work issues to put the learning into practice, so embedding new skills. Typically, co-coaching becomes a routine activity.

Team coaching isn’t always transformational. Nor is it the answer for all team performance issues – if the team is actually just a bunch of people who work together, but have no desire for collective improvement, then the impact may be very limited. Equally, if the team leader does not accept that change involves him or her as well, team coaching isn’t necessarily a practical approach.

Where team coaching does frequently deliver the goods is when:

  • A new team is being formed and needs to hit the ground running
  • A key team is not working as effectively as it could, and the team leader and team members agree that they want to do better
  • A long-established team has lost its sparkle and wants to regain it
  • A top team wants to become a role model for the rest of the organisation

What team coaching can do in all these cases is to re-energise, refocus and create collective habits of success.


© David Clutterbuck 2013






The competencies of an effective team coach

27 Aug

Team coaching requires a portfolio of skills beyond those in one-to-one coaching. Most of these relate to the difference in context between individual conversations and group dynamics. For example: 

  • Managing varying paces of learning. In team coaching, it is common for some members of the team to come to conclusions about the way forward, while others are still at the early stages of thinking it through. The team coach has to have processes that prevent this difference in pace from becoming a cause of conflict, and use it constructively to help the team come to better decisions overall.
  • Managing sub-groups. Many teams divide into sub-groups. These subgroups can sometimes vary according to the topics under discussion, or the nature of perceived threats; and they are not always obvious Being aware of these sub-groups and preventing them from hijacking the coaching conversation requires a string understanding of group dynamics and how allegiances change. In order for the coach to make the team aware of these behaviours (so they can consciously seek to change them) the coach has to be hypersensitive to them first!
  • Confidentiality. What gets said one-to-one often isn’t appropriate to say in front of the whole group. Yet the coach will typically be privy to a number of individual confidences from members of the team. Managing this takes delicate judgement and skill.
  • Facilitation. While the role of team coach is not the same as that of a facilitator (one of the key differences being between solving a problem and building capability), he or she does need a good grasp of facilitation skills and a toolkit of team facilitation techniques and methods.

Many of the standard approaches and qualities of one-to-one coaching are also essential in team coaching, but they tend to demand a higher level of skill. For example:

  • Listening is a core competence for all coaches. However, the team coach needs to listen both to the person talking and to everyone else in the room. Being aware of their silent conversations, through observing body language and intuiting the mood of the listeners, isn’t easy – especially of the speaker is particularly passionate or persuasive
  •  Using silence effectively is a sign of a confident and mature coach. But creating silence in a group situation, especially when the team is composed mainly of activists, is much more challenging.
  • Powerful questions are often at the core of coaching. In one-to-one coaching, the emphasis is usually on the coach finding the right question at the right time to stimulate learning in the client. In team coaching, the emphasis is more firmly on helping the team find its won powerful questions. the story. Coaches help individual clients to articulate, reflect upon and learn from their own story. The same principle applies to team coaching – but everyone has a slightly different (and sometimes radically different) perception of the story. The team coach has to help them accept and integrate each other’s version of the team story into a narrative that helps make coherent and compatible future choices.
  • Identity. Coaches help individuals articulate and understand their own identity. Achieving this awareness as a team tends to be more complex.
  • Conflict management. The one-to-one coach frequently helps clients to work out strategies for dealing with conflict in the workplace (or elsewhere). Those strategies are “opaque”, in the sense that they are known only to the coach and the client. In team coaching, conflict management strategies usually have to be transparent, because all the players are in the room and part of the conversation. Handling the emotional energy in such situations is a skilled task!

These differences make it essential that coaches, whose experience has been mostly in one-to-one environments, preface any move into team coaching by undertaking additional training to equip them for the extra demands of this more complex role. In doing so, they often find that those extra skills add to the impact of their one-to-one coaching.


© David Clutterbuck 2013