How to Turn Leaders into Coaches to Create a One Team Culture

Reinventing Leadership

My previous two blogs presented the basic challenge for leaders.

Deliver performance and sustain wellbeing in the most cost constrained, disrupted and unpredictable environment seen in over half a century.

We know conventional leadership practices won't cut it in this environment, and neither will the usual team development methods.

The case for reinventing leadership (and the methods of development) is compelling because enterprises simply won't recover and rebound unless their leaders respond to adaptive challenges by bringing their people with them. 

That means bringing a new mindset and new toolkit to the coaching of strategy, culture, performance and development.

Put bluntly ... 'You can't recover unless your leaders can coach'.

The Greatest Risk

It was mid-March when a Chief Executive told me his greatest fear wasn't the economic hit his business was experiencing at that time and in the coming months, but rather whether his leaders were up to the challenge.

When pressed his words clear and compelling:

"First, I worry they'll treat this like a technical problem instead of the adaptive challenge it is. They'll want to plan, control and micro-manage their units when we need to navigate, adapt and take risks together.

Second, I worry whether they can sustain performance and psychological wellbeing through the emotion charged roller coaster we'll experience in recovery and rebound."

Other leaders were saying the same things, so by early April, our team realised that every type of enterprise from banks, to universities to government agencies and beyond were going to be emerging from full lockdown with an urgent need to set up their leadership teams for a new world.  Not only that, it  would have to be done in a way that wasn't going to be anything like the customary leadership team workshops, off-sites and development programs.

We set ourselves the challenge.

REINVENT LEADERSHIP TEAM DEVELOPMENT to turn leaders into the one team coaches our enterprises need to recover and rebound.

Innovation Doesn't Mean Unproven

When presented this challenge, two experiences came to mind which helped make the breakthrough which has transformed my work and relationship with our core Clients in just a few weeks.

Those two experiences were:

  • Developing the Performance Psychology Program for the Australian Olympic Team in 2000
  • Designing a similar Performance Program for the Executive Team of the Singapore Prime Minister's Office around the time of SARS outbreak.

Two completely different contexts, however both presented high pressure, high consequences environments for which one fundamental strategy was chosen:  Turn leaders into coaches to create a one team culture.


Simply because like the current business climate, there wasn't the luxury of time for nicely paced meetings and workshops, or for teams of supporting consultants.  Every Leader had to take ownership and accountability for the performance and wellbeing of their team, and for their connection with others.

It was about creating a healthy, high performing ecosystem, and the framework was clear, if not somewhat ruthless:

STEP 1. Anchor on a Foundation of five critical capabilities & practices for all leaders / leadership teams and make those not negotiable 

STEP 2. Empower the Leader/Coach to create a Game Plan for their team (using the format typically deployed in high performance sport programs), including an operating rhythm based on uncurated feedback

STEP 3. Equip the Leader/Coach with a dynamic Playbook of Think One Team and performance psychology tools they needed on a weekly basis to coach their teams (eg: debriefing tools, performance conversations etc) 

The results could have been termed 'spectacular', although of course they are more visible in a sport setting where finishing inside the top five nations was both a goal and ultimately a key measure of performance success.

Turn Leaders into Coaches to Recover and Rebound 

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, the potential value of this model emerged again and there is a simplicity to focusing on one core people strategy: Turn Leaders into Coaches to Create a One Team Culture.

We have created and are now implementing this strategy for clients in enterprises, universities and government across Australia and it is based on three steps which reinvent the core role of the leader and the way leadership team development happens.

Here's How it's Done

Three steps have become the base framework to execute the Turn Leaders into Coaches strategy. The steps are explained below and this video also walks you through it.

Step 1. Fast Start

Start by developing the same five core capabilities and practices embedded in high performance programs in non-business domains. These five elements are shown below, and we have pulled them into a five day digital course which anyone can do for free, so they make a Fast Start.

 Step 2. Game Plan

For leaders to become coaches of teams and culture they need a Game Plan. That Game Plan defines their personal values, the essence of the team strategy, and how they'll coach the development and performance of their teams.

Importantly it is a game plan which brings a Coaching Mindset to life and lifts the ability and confidence of leaders to navigate adaptive challenges.

Here's that Coaching Mindset.  

Notice how this model puts value on the left hand side elements over those on the right (which still have value but less so in the unpredictable and fast changing conditions we are now facing).

Step 3. Playbook

Every Coach has a Playbook, so we've redeployed the tools which have been developed over the past decade in the Think One Team method (together with some performance psychology techniques), and are providing them in micro-coaching packages (videos, templates, guides) with tools to be woven into meetings, conversations and plans.

Each week (or an alternative cadence if preferred) the Coach discusses the plan for the week and their Performance Psychologist tailors and packages their resources ready for delivery. The Coach also chooses how much involvement they want from their HR Business Partner and Psychologist - which can include co-facilitation of sessions (these have been done mostly on MS Teams), observing and providing feedback, or simple debriefing ready for the next phase.

The Model below explains how we are currently deploying these three steps:

When Leaders Coach

This morning I had a debriefing conversation with the Chief Executive mentioned earlier in this blog.

We've been running the Turn Leaders into Coaches program with his senior leaders for 6 weeks, and the impact on him and the leaders has been quite profound.

His 'top three impacts' make interesting reading:

"1. Greater impact in shaping the performance and relationships between my Executives which means faster decisions and much more connected execution

2. My leaders are coaching their Teams using the Playbook tools, and that's driving better one team behaviours like sharing resources and accepting tradeoffs 

3. Much more openness and vulnerability. We've reduced risks around stress and disunity which have had personal and business benefits"

This is exciting because my passion as a Performance Psychologist has always been to help leaders create the environment where success is (close to) inevitable.

Needless to say, that's a tough ask in this cost constrained, unpredictable world, but it's certainly much more likely to happen when enterprises reinvent leadership and leadership development by Turning Leaders into Coaches to Create a One Team Culture.

Learn more about how to turn your leaders into coaches.

Graham Winter.