Team coaching and facilitation are closely related disciplines. Are there any real differences between the two, and if so, what is helpful to bear in mind when deciding on one or the other?
A question of definition
The meaning of the term facilitation is often assumed to be understood. A look on the Association of Facilitators site for example leads to excellent content including a Code of Practice, but no definition is given. Elsewhere subject matter experts such as John Heron are quoted to describe the dimensions of facilitation or the styles of facilitation.
This is what I mean by facilitation:
Facilitation is aimed at helping participants to explore and develop with the help of a neutral outsider – the facilitator – who brings a structured approach to the process.
Team coaching is defined by Hawkins and Smith in their excellent book Coaching, Mentoring and Organizational Consultancy as:
“enabling a team to function at more than the sum of its parts, by clarifying its mission and improving its external and internal relationships.”
Team coaching or facilitation?
First let’s deal with the obvious difference: team coaching always concerns a team, whereas facilitation doesn’t necessarily – it can also be a group of people coming together for the purpose of the session alone. Examples are conferences or workshops.
Let’s consider a team to be a collective of people who not only share a common goal, but are co-dependent on each other to achieve it, and (are expected to) behave accordingly.
It’s true that it isn’t clear where team coaching ends and facilitation begins. Let’s start with some similarities:
- takes a structured approach to the session
- may use tools
- works to agreed objectives and desired outcomes
- requires a coach to participate
- takes a structured approach to the session
- may use tools in session
- works to agreed objectives and desired outcomes
- requires a facilitator to participate
The clue is in the role of the outsider guiding the session along: coach and facilitator. Let’s look at those a bit more.
A coach is a professional who is skilled at eliciting helpful and focused conversation with individuals or groups, including teams. Coaches may use different approaches and techniques to stimulate this conversation, including tools which are also used in facilitation. They may work as a one-off with a coachee or group, but usually have a relationship lasting over two or more sessions.
A facilitator is skilled in guiding group processes to allow helpful collaboration, such as meaningful conversations to take place. As with team coaching, sessions are designed and prepared in advance, to allow the effective use of tools and group activities in the available time. It is not uncommon for facilitators to deliver one-off sessions focused on a specific goal or objective.
The difference: frequency, focus and relationships
As the above implies, a key difference between team coaching and facilitation is in the frequency of sessions: team coaching usually involves more than one session.
A second difference is in the the aims of team coaching compared to facilitation: team coaching focuses on the team itself: its effectiveness, the barriers to success, how it functions and where it can use its strengths to maximise performance. It requires a different kind of participation from team members, who will be invited to evaluate their own part in the team’s success in various ways.
Facilitation very often focuses on specific aspects of a team’s role and responsibilities: the annual strategic review; target-setting or planning for the year ahead. Sessions can have a clear theme as well, such as leading change, and fit in seamlessly with a training or development programme.
A third difference is in the nature of the relationship between coach/facilitator and participants. The latter can more easily bring expertise into the session without undermining their relationship with the group, while a coach will try to avoid being seen as the expert so as to remain on an equal footing with the team.
One-off vs ongoing: a caveat
I don’t consider this to be a hard and fast rule, as I have both delivered one-off team coaching and ongoing facilitation. I always try to find out from clients whether the topics they need external support with are of an ongoing or unique or ‘seasonal’ nature. The way I will go about supporting a team will be quite different depending on the answer.
Much is being said and written about the benefits of a healthy work-life balance. The UK saw the recent extension of the right to request flexible working hours. So how is it that in my coaching practice it seems that almost every single client brings it as a theme to improve?
Caveat: the biased view from the coach
Of course, people come to coaching for a reason. I predominantly coach clients in organisations, for example as part of a leadership development programme or as a coach supporting organisational change. Both can do much to upset work-life balance and both present opportunities to re-appraise habits and opportunities to re-balance where necessary.
Work-life balance: some facts
Let’s first have a look at some interesting facts and figures from the the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The OECD’s Better Life Index report found that the UK scores above average when it comes to the percentage of employees working very long hours. 18% of men and 6% of women, together averaging at 12.3%, work more than 50 hours a week.
According to this report, the UK ranks 27 out of 36 of member states. Best ranking? Denmark, also known as the happiest country on earth. Also in the OECD work-life balance rankings top 5 is Norway, rated as the world’s most prosperous country in the world for five years in a row by 2013. There has to be a link!
Indeed, the EOCD report states:
Finding a suitable balance between work and daily living is a challenge that all workers face. Families are particularly affected. […] This is a challenge to governments because if parents cannot achieve their desired work/life balance, not only is their welfare lowered but so is development in the country.
– OECD Better life Index
Work-life balance as a theme in coaching
So, with that in mind, what gets discussed in a session where someone brings work-life balance issues to their coach? Three questions I am often asked in client sessions:
Am I allowed to use my sessions to discuss work-life balance?
This one is a telling question. The asker is looking for the boundaries of what can and cannot be on the coaching agenda as far as their employer is concerned, while also letting me know it is a theme for them personally.
Before I start coaching in an organisation, I always ask what is off the agenda as far as the sponsor (person or organisation who pays for my services) is concerned. Work-life balance is often mentioned as a welcome theme, albeit within boundaries. Many clients arrive at their first session not knowing what to expect, and need to first establish what would be unreasonable to expect their employer to pay for. For many work-life balance is a grey area when it isn’t for their employer.
What can I reasonably ask my manager or employer for?
Many clients discover in a session that they are simply unaware of what their organisation’s policies are when it comes to flexible working. Some people use their sessions to practise having a challenging conversation with their manager. They sometimes need figure out what they really want to achieve to improve their work-life balance, and what they are prepared to concede if a deal needs to be struck.
How do other people achieve a healthy work-life balance?
This theme pops up when people are looking for creativity to solve the problem of work-life balance. Sometimes the client needs my probing questions to recognise examples of successful behaviours they already exhibit in other situations. Sometimes our conversation uncovers successful strategies used by people they know. Occasionally I’ll share some examples from past clients, and use questioning to come up with new ideas for the client to try out.
Coaching for a good work-life balance
Coaching itself is unlikely to solve the problem of work-life balance for clients. It does, however, offer space to explore what strategies might work, while perhaps also getting some insight into what expectations clients may need to let go of.
As a coach I am never qualified to advise on legislation, policy or my client’s Terms of Employment. I also will withhold my personal opinion on what the client should think or do. For each of these needs there are HR professionals, colleagues and friends to help my client! What I am qualified to do though is to talk through options and support my client in finding new ways to balance work with personal time. My role as unbiased outsider fills the gap in the list of helpers above.
How much of a theme is work-life balance for you? And what strategies are you using – successfully or otherwise – to keep the balance?
You’ve heard about coaching, and how it is the latest thing for personal and professional development. Perhaps someone is raving about it. Perhaps you’ve seen the adverts promising success and wealth in shouty tones. Appealing, so you decide to have a go. Simple, right?
Hold on: let me give you six scenarios that show how coaching is not for everyone. Which one describes you?
Scenario 1: You have a supportive manager
And even better, one who is ready, willing and able to coach you on the job. As coaching takes hold in more workplaces, managers have opportunities to increase their managerial repertoire to include a coaching style in the way they lead their teams. Are you one of the lucky ones to have such a manager? Make the most of it!
Scenario 2: You just want to let off steam.
Although this does happen in coaching sessions occasionally – it’s only human – your coach will soon steer the conversation into a different, more reflective direction to help you work through whatever set you off. If you are more interested in going through the issue in minute detail, and reliving an incident without intending to turn the experience into something you can learn from, you are really looking for a rant facilitator, not a coach. A night in the pub with some friends is probably what you need.
Scenario 3: You’re not ready to explore the question or issue.
In fact, you’re not convinced there is an issue to start with! You’ve been told to go to coaching, or you’ve been persuaded to. Maybe you feel an obligation to see a coach and you don’t want to look ungrateful. Perhaps you don’t see the issue as an issue and you’re not willing to spend time en mental energy on it. Whatever the reason; if you are not ready to engage with whatever someone else has told you you need to address through coaching, coaching is very unlikely to work, and will certainly be off to a very rocky start.
Scenario 4: You’d rather someone sorted you out.
You know there’s an issue which needs working on, and you’re looking to someone else to provide you with the solution. That doesn’t sit easily with coaching, which looks to support the individual to find the solution for themselves. Few coaches will sit down with you and map out a plan for you – be weary of those that do. You’re probably dealing with an adviser of sorts, and you’ll want to ask them some questions about what qualifies them to advise you.
Scenario 5: There isn’t really anything to talk about…
Which doesn’t mean you have no challenges to deal with, it just means that you have the natural support and resilience in your (professional and personal) life to deal with things successfully. People go through life without ever having coaching, while others work with a coach for a number of weeks or months and happily move on afterwards.
Scenario 6: You’re after a quick fix.
Coaching does have the potential to open a can of worms, and sometimes it takes two, three sessions for the real issue or question to emerge. Much happens in between sessions too – clients take away ‘homework’ and experiments to try out, while the coaching process itself can take months to complete. It needs time, effort and a degree of patience in almost all cases, which is important to bear in mind.
So, having read all this, has your perception of coaching shifted, and I so, how?