Coaching can help struggling work groups

Chris Posti
| Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, 8:59 p.m.

No matter where you work, it's never perfect. Let's face it, the workplace is made up of complex, imperfect humans, working in an environment that is often stressful and relentless. That's a mix that inevitably creates some level of dysfunction.

Most times, we learn to live with these, but there are times when the dysfunctions can be disruptive, counterproductive, or even endanger our careers. Major changes such as the appointment of a new leader or a departmental reorganization can have profound implications on team dynamics. Other times, a work group may be falling short of accomplishing goals, struggling to attain quality results, or just plain not getting along.

These are the kinds of situations that everyone does their best to manage through on their own, perhaps with some support from Human Resources. Other times, the issues are so challenging, or the stakes are so high, that the team requires some kind of outside intervention. Today, the kind of intervention that is commonly deployed is known as team coaching.

Team coaching is one of the evolutions of executive coaching. Coaching a team addresses multiple challenges, mainly because there are multiple people involved. Imagine a group of eight or 10 people, all with different personalities and work experience, various ages and education levels, a mix of cultural and religious backgrounds, and every one of them has their own agenda. On top of that, if you make a major change like assigning a new leader, or challenge a team with a tough project or deadline, it can be overwhelming. And if it's too overwhelming, the change or the challenge will be unsuccessful.

Jane Patterson Abbate, managing partner of Cornerstone Team Development in Gibsonia, has been coaching teams and executives for 12 years. Her approach for getting a team to work well together is helpful for anyone who struggles with group dynamics in the workplace.

Patterson Abbate says the first step is to focus on a common goal. She says this is a step that's commonly overlooked, because it is assumed by the leader that everyone on the team is already aligned with that goal and willing to share accountability — but often, they are not.

“Team members need to recognize and manage the differences in their strengths, roles, power, and priorities,” says Patterson Abbate. “It is these differences that can create either destructive conflict or mind-blowing synergy.” Outside support from a coach who specializes in teams, or perhaps from an internal coach such as someone in Human Resources, is the next step for learning what's working for you and what's getting in your way.

Patterson Abbate uses a mix of coaching, facilitating and training to move the entire team toward its goals. She measures success by analyzing their performance to the actual goals as well as how they are interacting.

“They may feel they're getting along much better, but if their end results aren't any better, that's not the point of coaching,” Patterson Abbate said.

Chris Posti, president of Posti & Associates in Pittsburgh, is author of “The Shortest Distance between You and Your New Job,” available on Email your questions to her at

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