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This is the third in a series highlighting ethics in coaching. Watch for new posts monthly!

My area of expertise is team coaching. I blend coaching competencies with proven team methodologies to help teams move to high performance in a short period of time. Most teams include a ‘team lead’, a person who sets the direction for the team. Usually my contracts with companies include both team coaching and individual leadership coaching of team leads.

This dichotomy recently led to an ethical dilemma that I have yet to fully resolve: how do I handle a situation when the team’s agenda and the team lead’s agenda are in direct conflict?

I had been hired to help move an organization of 100 people to a team-based project methodology, and to mentor and coach the 8 team coaches. I was seen as the “Lead Coach” of the organization. My contract also included individually coaching several of the team leads. One team comprised of the best technical minds in the organization had a major obstacle that caused them to miss deadlines and fail at their projects: the team lead’s dysfunctional relationship with his team. The team came to me in despair because the team lead’s actions made it obvious that he didn’t trust them to do their jobs, he wanted to micro-manage them, and his communication skills were terrible; they couldn’t figure out what he wanted. However, in the team lead’s opinion, his team loved him and he had no problems communicating with them. His manager (who had hired me) had counseled him in this area, and the team lead assured his manager that there were no problems with his team.

The team’s coach was unable to help the team through this. The manager, coach and team looked to me for a solution, and the team lead felt everything was just fine. As stated in the ICF Code of Ethics, I maintain the strictest levels of confidentiality with all client information. The team didn’t know I coached the team lead. The team lead didn’t know his team asked me to coach them on their relationship. I couldn’t coach the team lead on his communication skills because it wasn’t his agenda, and he was convinced he needed nothing in that area. Yet as the “Lead Coach” for the organization, the team looked to me for help to resolve the impediment. I held a special coaching meeting with the team (minus the team lead) to help them work through the issue, and they decided to confront the team lead head-on to work out their differences.

We held a meeting the next day to review team progress. This meeting was attended by the entire team, including the team lead and team coach. The team lead stated that “Trust was the most important value on a team”. The following day he demonstrated (yet again) that he didn’t trust the team by telling them in great detail how to do their jobs, and rejecting their suggestions. The team then confronted him, and he rebuffed their opinions. He said he couldn’t understand why the team thought his micro-management indicated he didn’t trust them. He walked out of the room and refused to talk about it further.

In our next individual coaching meeting, he did not bring up the subject. I felt I could not raise the subject either, because that would have been my agenda, not his. I hoped he would talk about the team’s confrontation, and he never brought up the subject. That was our last meeting as my 2-year contract happened to end the next day. I heard that shortly after I left, his manager replaced him as team lead.

I feel that although the team’s dilemma is resolved and they learned something about confronting an uncomfortable situation, the team lead missed a valuable personal lesson. I was frustrated that my hands were tied as his coach, I couldn’t work with him on this issue unless he brought it up, and he lost his position. He still doesn’t understand why it happened.

I am very interested to hear what others might do in a similar situation. I invite you as an objective observer to reply with how you would ethically handle this dilemma.

Kathy Harmon_headshotKathy Harman, CSC, CSM, PCC is a self-professed geek-turned-coach who loves coaching teams to extraordinary success. Kathy blended her leadership coach training with her career experience and success as a team lead to develop the PRISM Team Coaching Approach. She currently uses this approach to coach both technical and business teams in discovering their own unique path to high-performance. She also trains and mentors team coaches to help their teams achieve PRISM status. She is the author of PRISM Teams: Coaching Prolific, Radically Innovative Self-Managed Teams. Kathy trains and mentors Leadership Coaches, and is 2013 President of the ICF Greater Richmond chapter.
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