Quick question – should you coach the team or change the environment?

When coaching teams, I find that I have a natural bias for teaching them to take charge of the world and apply better techniques to getting their work done.

I find, however, that teaching the team is often not enough. As much as they are empowered and keen to improve, they are always part of a larger system.

The team members might all want to stop working on pointless features and focus on value, or they might want to get rid of long business cases and piles of unproductive meetings. This would be great if they operated on their own, but it is a lot more difficult if they need to engage a lot of other stakeholders or integrate their way of working into a larger organisation.

On the other hand, I guess I could start by changing the environment to allow the team to be more agile and then watch them take advantage of their new opportunities. There are a lot of studies on habit and behaviour that suggest that people will adapt quickly to their environment, so it seems reasonable to assume that a better environment will lead to better results.

On that basis maybe I should start by setting up the right environment for the team – give them good tools, establish good agile processes and remove organisation gumph that will get in their way.

This latter approach aligns with concepts like Sh Ha Ri and establishing a playbook before getting teams to spend too much time creating their own habits or pushing up against organisational constraints when they try to improve.

This seems sensible, but it is just not how I do things by default.

So for me – starting with the team and equipping them for a better world precedes building the better world for them. Of course I then iterate, changing constraints, then building the team, then changing constraints etc. But I always seem to want to focus more effort on helping the team build the strength to take on the organisation rather than helping the organisation support the team better at the beginning of the journey.

I wonder now if I am just biased in my approach or if there is a fundamental pattern that works better.

What about you – do you start with the environment or the team? Is one approach better?


3 thoughts on “Quick question – should you coach the team or change the environment?

  1. I think you are right, James. I am only a sample of one, but have found the source of organisational gumph to be the senior stakeholder group. They can not be ‘taught’. Your best chance to impact the team’s environment (meaningfully) is to demonstrate the change you know the team can be.


    1. Thanks, Lawrence, sometimes I over-think things, but starting with demonstrating the change you know others can make is always going to be a good starting point.

      In fact, if we can’t live up to what we hope others will help strive for, then I guess we are actually part of the organisational gumph.

      On the other hand, if we can make even a small change, at least we have made an impact 🙂


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