Why team coaching? Why now? As organizational coaches, with a decade of experience in coaching systems across industries, cultures, structures and at different stages of evolution, we hear these two questions over and over. While an organization’s leadership or a team’s leader may be the initiator of and inquirer into team coaching, it is usual – at least initially – that some team members may not understand or trust the process.

Many teams easily answer these questions for themselves, but others find it more challenging. This is especially true for those that feel threatened by long-term team relationship dynamics or recent organizational changes – in other words, teams that could find coaching timely!

In such situations, strong sponsorship of team coaching becomes doubly important. In fact, we believe it can make or break the coaching experience.


Leaders bring the weather.
• Jim Geiger


We have coached hundreds of systems to develop their collective and change leadership capability. Most teams report that their newfound ability to speak up and engage in constructive conflict leads to better performance and improved business results.

Yet recently a few client teams have failed to complete the coaching program.

Acknowledging failure is a critical part of change leadership, and so we ask ourselves why this happened. We must take a deep look at our leadership as part of being responsible and accountable for our role in the success or failure of our clients.

On examination, we realize that in those few cases where a client has failed to complete the coaching program, it has resulted from a failure to properly contract with the sponsor of the team coaching.

Why share this truth? Whether you are a professional internal or external coach, or a leader taking a coaching approach to leadership with your team, we hope that understanding the reasons behind a failure and developing strategies to avoid unnecessary failures will support your confidence and success. Our recommendation is to assure team sponsors of their central role in the success of team coaching by carefully outlining the responsibilities of sponsorship as part of contracting.

Identifying and designing powerful alliances with sponsors is foundational to the success of team coaching. The sooner that the full range of those invested in developing a system or team join together as a sponsorship system, the better.


Start as you mean to go on.
• Charles H. Spurgeon


The initiative for coaching a system comes from many places. For instance, it might come from a CEO, GM, director or manager, a team lead or member of a team, or an HR Business Partner, or an Organizational Development or Learning and Development Practitioner.

Who then should be involved in designing the sponsorship contract? Initiators often become formal sponsors of team coaching, and can usually answer questions about which stakeholders might be included in initial meetings.

  • Who is it important to include in the initial meeting?
  • Who is responsible and accountable for the development of this system?
  • Who holds the resources for the development of this team?
  • Who will be required to support the creation of time and space for the development of this system?
  • Who are the champions of this team?
  • Who are the executive sponsors of this team?

Team members consistently look to leaders, including the person they report to and the leaders at the top, to seek the answer to the question of why and why now.

  • What is the change leadership hopes to achieve through team coaching?
  • What supports leadership to believe that the team can make change through coaching?
  • How important is this initiative?
  • Why is it important now?
  • What resources will be dedicated to make this work a priority?

Sponsorship helps a team to gain clarity. Developing a plan to consistently communicate the answers to these questions is an essential part of the process.


Collaboration allows us to know more than we are capable of knowing by ourselves.
• Paul Solarz


It is hugely important for coaches and potential sponsors to consider and align on key assumptions. As we discuss details of setting up team coaching for a particular organization, we identify needs while challenging myths and aligning on key assumptions to hold.

Designing a Team Coaching Sponsorship Contract

STEP 1 | Identify the system or team to be developed.

Who should be included?

ASSUMPTION #1 – The group identifies as a team or system, and is made up of interdependent entities with a common identity and purpose.

CRR Global, world leaders in advanced systems and team coach training, define a relationship system as “a group of interdependent entities with a common focus or identity.” In a system, entities interact or interrelate to form a unified whole.

What makes a system effective and impactful? It must become more than the sum of its parts by expressing synergy or emergent behaviour, by emphasizing relationship rather than individual components. You cannot change one part of a system without affecting the others and the system as a whole.

Successful, self-learning systems adjust with the environment to create adaptation and positive growth.

Key Questions for Alignment with Sponsors

  • What sort of system is this entity?
  • What sub-systems are present within the system in question?
  • What is the common purpose?
  • Who are the stakeholders of this system?
  • Who are the formal and informal sponsors of this system?

RED FLAG – Individuals who are seen by other stakeholders as part of a system may not necessarily see themselves as part of a system, or recognize their interdependencies, common purpose, or common identity. In this case, there will likely be great initial resistance to the coaching or being part of the coaching. This does not mean that team coaching will not be beneficial. In fact, often systems choose to explore the boundaries and emerging make-up and common purpose of their system. Team coaching can still be effective, but will require especially strong sponsorship and a commitment by sponsors and coaches to work with the resistance in initial foundation and discovery sessions before diving into a long-term team coaching engagement.

STEP 2 | Identify needs. 

Where is the opportunity for this team or system to grow and develop?

ASSUMPTION #2 – The gap between where the team is now and its future potential is acknowledged, and  team development will be made a priority.

Identifying the gap initiating the desire for change is critical, and multiple ways exist to begin the process of assessing it. As Organizational and Relationship Systems Coaches, we use the principles and tools of our trade – such as constellations – to reveal a systems change edge to itself.

Systems-inspired leaders also have the opportunity to learn and develop a coach approach to leadership, so they can better work together with their team to assess their change edge.

Initial sponsor meetings provide the first opportunity to identify the needs of the team. People invited to those meetings should represent the voice of the system, and it is essential to encourage them to speak those voices – especially the marginalized voices.

At the same time, it is important for coaches and sponsors to remember that this is only the start of the process. Other voices are needed and must be heard, specifically those belonging to the team itself, and ideally to stakeholders as well.

Formal assessment tools, one-on-one interviews and systems process are helpful in the discovery phase through foundation coaching sessions and assessments.

Key Questions for Alignment with Sponsors

  • What are the current relationship dynamics in this system?
  • What is the team tolerating?
  • What are the desired relationship dynamics?
  • What is the gap?
  • What is trying to happen? What is wanting to emerge?
  • What are your and the systems’s best hopes and worst fears for this team?
  • What’s needed to move one step closer to the best hopes?
  • What’s possible if that was to happen?
  • What are the consequences if nothing changes?
  • What’s the sense of urgency for change?

RED FLAG – If no gap is identified and the sponsors have no sense of urgency for the team to grow and develop, there is a risk that team coaching will not be a priority. Without urgency and commitment to creating a space for growth, it may be best to set aside coaching for another time.


The goal of team coaching is not solving problems. Problems will become resolved in an effective team coaching process. The goal is creating improved dynamics so that the presenting and future issues will be better addressed by the team. The goal is a more resourceful and effective team that will be able to handle the new challenges that remain ahead.
• Philip Sandahl


STEP 3 | Align on what team coaching can accomplish.

What expectations do people have about the outcomes of team coaching?

ASSUMPTION #3 – The aim of team coaching isn’t solving problems by building, fixing or doing team tasks, but rather a process of developing relationship dynamics so that current and future change can be better addressed by the team together.

Team coaching explores the relationship dynamics of a system. It is important to understand that the goal is not to fix or solve problems, complete team tasks or team build. Rather, the focus is on team dynamics and how the team interacts with one another, creating efficiency and strength and amplifying the power of the relationship system to do its work.

MYTH | Team coaching is team building.
Team coaching is NOT team building. The team is already built, even if it is new and just coming together. Rather than building the team, team coaching focuses on developing the team.

MYTH Team coaching is about fixing a team.
Team coaching is not about fixing dysfunction. When it becomes apparent that sponsors are focused on team coaching to repair dysfunction, we emphasize that this is a myth. While team coaching will develop relationship systems intelligence, it is necessary to enter into team coaching in a safe and courageous way.

CRR Global recommends checking for the following issues. Understand that appropriate approaches such as mediation, training, or counselling strategies should be in place prior to starting systems coaching:

  • Gross power imbalances with ongoing safety concerns
  • Active mental illness or substance abuse of any members
  • Physical or verbal abuse

Team coaching must not go ahead if there are any ongoing or imminent investigations of any team member.

MYTHTeam coaching is about facilitating team tasks.
Both sponsors and teams may expect organizational coaches to facilitate team processes and complete team tasks, such as developing strategy. While team coaching can be a venue to discover, uncover and explore, creating fertile ground for team tasks to be completed more efficiently, effectively and with more purpose, ultimately the work belongs to the team, not to team coaches.

RED FLAG – Those experiencing team coaching for the first time may expect that the process can build or fix the team, or solve problems and complete tasks. Although these outcomes may be byproducts of team coaching, they are not the central purpose. When sponsors do not understand this truth, team coaching is likely to be bumpy or fail.

STEP 4 | Clarify the role of sponsor.

Who will support team coaching and how will that support be provided?

ASSUMPTION #4 – Sponsors will consistently support the process of team coaching, even in the face of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, and resistance from team members.

Sponsorship is a necessity both during and after team coaching. Some sponsors may be internal, for instance, a member or leader of the system receiving coaching. They may be external to the system receiving coaching because they are further up in the hierarchy, or they may play support roles and may or may not be included in the system that receives coaching.

Every system is different, and so stakeholders must decide who is part of the system receiving coaching and who is part of the sponsorship system. This is often addressed fully in the foundation session by the system as a whole.

A sponsorship contract involves making a promise to:

  • Take a stand for systems coaching, and understand that the whole system must show up for coaching and hold accountability for the whole
  • Hold that relationship development is as important as working on tasks
  • Inspire a sense of urgency for the coaching and the desired outcomes
  • Access team coaches for support when needed and be transparent with the team
  • Create the resource of time and space for the system to grow and develop as a team
  • Hold the belief that what is wanting to emerge will appear as part of the coaching process, even if potential outcomes are not readily apparent
  • Champion the work when it gets difficult and when team members push back
  • Involve the whole system in developing desired outcomes as part of the discovery sessions
  • Understand that team coaching does not come with a script, and that uncertainty and ambiguity is part of the process

Our history tells us that team coaching has made a difference for hundreds of organizations. When systems coaches walk their talk and rigorously design alliances with sponsors and the systems they work with, relationship systems flourish during the coaching process and beyond.


WRITTEN BY: Kerry Woodcock of Novalda and Sherry Matheson of Empower the Truth, two experienced organizational coaches who frequently collaborate to develop change leadership capability in organizations and social systems.

Want to take your team and systems coaching skills to the next level?

Our Master the Art of Team Coaching program provides a practical, step-by-step exploration of how to work with sponsors, the team or system, as well as other coaches and stakeholders.

Question | How can you create understanding of and support for the team coaching process?


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Novalda Coaching & Consulting Inc.