Coaching the Team at Work, by David Clutterbuck. Part One: Teams

This is a Pocket Wisdom first! I bought this book to learn more about coaching, and team coaching. These topics unite my two professional passions: high-performing teams, and coaching for development. However, the book is so densely packed with research, theory, practical ideas, and Clutterbuck’s wisdom, that I had to split the post in two. You see, what I didn’t anticipate was a huge literature review of teams and high-performance in teams.

This post concerns all of the book’s reflections on those topics; a future post will explore the team coaching element of the book. I hope the author will forgive me for ignoring the main basis of the book, to begin with at least.

In summary

The book’s aim is ultimately to improve team performance and effectiveness by applying team coaching processes. This is a fascinating area of which I have no experience, hence wanting to dedicate an entire future post to this component of the book.

However, as I mentioned, many chapters in the book explore a wealth of evidence regarding how teams form, perform, and succeed.

Key Takeaways

  1. What is a team? – Clutterbuck explores various theories about the difference between a team and a group, looking at definitions from Katzenbach, Hackman and Thompson in particular. Some characteristics of a team are: complementary skills, commitment to a common purpose, commitment to the same performance goals, commitment to a common approach, mutual accountability. Another model adds: members depending on each other, the team having clear boundaries, being stable over time, and that members have the authority to manage their own work and internal processes. This should be a point of reflection for us – are we in a group or a team? If we want a team, how can we follow this advice to make it more cohesive and authentic?
  2. Teamwork Quality measure – working in a team is not the same as working as a team; one measure from Hoegl and Gemeunden is the Team Quality model, which explores six components: communication, coordination, balance of member contributions, mutual support, effort, and cohesion. This model is worth exploring in more depth.
  3. What is high performance? I’ve spent a year researching high-performing teams, and it was refreshing for Clutterbuck to challenge the concept of performance in a chapter of this book. A possible definition is ‘a team that consistently maintains and evolves a climate that encourages and achieves a level of effective collaboration that meets or exceeds stakeholder expectations’. But it isn’t perfect. Further questions include: is performance measured collectively? Who judges performance and how? Over what time period is performance measured? So, again the question is: how do you measure your team’s performance? What does high-performance look like for your particular team?
  4. Characteristics of high-performing teams – Hackman found five key criteria: 1) is it a team, with clear boundaries? 2) Does the team have compelling direction and purpose? 3) Does the team’s structure enable rather than impede teamwork? 4) Does it have the resources and external support to deliver? 5) Is competent coaching available to help members? Champoux et al share six of their own characteristics: high level of trust, high level of respect, commitment to a clear and common purpose, willingness and ability to manage conflict, focus on results, alignment of authority and accountability. Clutterbuck discusses other excellent team models, including examples from The Culture Code, and Five Dysfunctions of a Team, in a fascinating chapter that both supported, challenged, and inspired my thinking on what makes a team high performing.

Favourite moment

Clutterbuck supplies questionnaires throughout the book that could be given to team members in order to evaluate an area of the team’s work or performance.

Notable examples include the ‘Is this a real team?’ and the ‘Team Player’ questionnaires.

Favourite quote

This is a brilliant quote. Please excuse the length!

“Teams provide the bridges between individuals and the organisation; and between the need to make localised decisions and customise the requirement to adhere to large-scale plans and strategies. Teams also provide the focus of activity that meets people’s needs for socialisation. They establish the environment where people can share effort, reward and risk. They provide a sense of common identity, rooted in shared ideas, purpose, stories and attitudes. And they provide an opportunity for conversation, support, recognitions and other activities that make people feel motivated and raise self esteem.

Unfortunately, teams don’t always live up to their promise. The depressing evidence is that many, if not most, teams in the modern workplace do not harness their collective capability to anything like the extent that they could. Failures of structure and process, lack of purpose or commitment, internal conflict, and poor leadership sap the team’s potential to work at its optimal level. Some of this loss of performance is inevitable – a simple dynamic of team size, for example – but most is readily manageable, if team members and leaders are minded to reflect intelligently on how they operate and have the skills to do so.”


The first part of the book, focusing on teams, gave me many chances to reflect on the teams research I’ve engaged with so far. Here are some questions you may find useful:

  • Would you class your team as a group or a team?
  • In your team, how would you define high performance?
  • If you could survey your team about their work, what would you include?

Read this if

You are a team leader

You are a coach

Support bookshops and buy it here

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