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Team Coaching in the Hospitality Industry

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Team Coaching in the Hospitality Industry


Our generation has always been overwhelmed by the never-ending technology evolutions, by a competition that everyday seems to be fiercer and by the constant pursuing of innovation and diversification. Surrounded by this very tough technological environment, we tend to forget that human capital is one of the greatest and most important factors of an organisation and that success mostly depends on the ability of developing our personal potential in order to obtain an outstanding performance. The hospitality sector in particular, involves a service that mainly depends on the people providing it. Therefore, the human capital is the most important one. This is the reason why we can compare the role of a hotel manager to that of a team coach. His duty is to guide and stimulate people towards the achievement of common goals and objectives.

In relation to an article I found in the Italian newspaper “Il Corriere Della Sera” (D’antogno, Pignatelli 2004), organisations have started to hire sport coaches in order to motivate and stimulate their own teams. Results of statistics are astonishing: the productivity increases, the working mood improves and the harmony in the office grows in such a way that colleagues feel more and more part of a real team and in some cases they even end up going out or having lunch all together. Among the many examples, the one of Ettore Messina in particular caught my attention. Messina is one of the most famous coaches in Italy, leading the Benetton Basket team. With a graduation in economics and management, he was hired by the company Adecco in order to hold a seminar on coaching and team building. He now teaches as an external teacher at Bocconi University in Milan. According to Messina, there are some close similarities between coaching a sport team and coaching an organisation team. First of all, a team is a team. And people who join a team can choose between two different behaviours: collaboration, by sharing tasks and final results; or, on the contrary, working only for your personal success. The trick is to take out the best of everyone. To do this, the coach needs to understand the chemistry of his team. This means giving each person the task that best suits his character and capabilities. Moreover, whoever is part of a team needs to know if he will be able to learn new things and if, once he has learnt them, he will be able to achieve a higher position. In other words, a team always need motivation to be efficient. Finally, every team should have its own norms and rules that need to be respected by everyone, no matter their role or performance. The duty of the coach is to understand the dynamics of the relation between people and to use them to make his team works. Superficiality is indeed one of the most dangerous behaviour a coach may adopt. In the sport environment, it will compromise the final result of an action. In the working environment, it will put at risk the team final performance.
To conclude, sport coaches seem to be a step ahead of business managers. They have a great sense of discipline and they are used to always pretend the best from themselves. They tend to adopt the same attitude they use when practicing sport in all other activities and this makes them very determined. Managers of all industries should really adopt this type of behaviour: train their team as it was to win some sort of world championship.

Fundamental roles of a team coach

We can define team coaching as the “ direct interaction with a team intended to help members make coordinate and task-appropriate use of their collective resources in approaching the team’s work”.
(Hackman & Wageman, Academy of Management Review, 2005, p. 269).

According to professor Clutterbuck (2004), the role of a team coach is very different to that of a one-to-one coach. The last one focuses on the main intra-team relationships, while the first one has to facilitate the simultaneous interactions among all the interested parties of the team. This task is even more complicated when the team coach is also the team leader (which is often true in the hospitality industry, if we think that most of the time the restaurant maitre or the front-office manager are also the coaches of their team). In this situation the coach should have an independent prospective and view of the team, recognising his own needs of personal changing and his direct or indirect influence towards the various objectives of the team. His ultimate goal is to guide the team towards a self-sufficient level of coaching. Team members should arrive at a stage where they learn from each other and they communicate efficiently since each one is best at doing their task. The team is therefore independent and do not need a coach anymore.
Moreover, the coach will need to take into account the fact that teams are always different: adopting the same method with every team does not always lead to a successful outcome. The coach needs to adapt his behaviour according to many variables, like the team idiosyncrasy, which depends on the historic and cultural formation of each team member, the personality mix of the team, the reputation within the organisation and the prevalent beliefs of each member. All these variables influence the production capacity of the team.

Clutterbuck (2004) finally points out that a team coach has the following fundamental key roles:

1. Define the team goals and priorities: members need to know from the start what the team aims at and why. The coach should provide the team with a clear mission statement and list of achievable goals and objectives. Communication and comprehension should be the coach main focus at this stage.

2. Understand the environment: very often the external environment can disappoint or be in contrast with the personal convictions and expectations of the team. This may create conflict. In the hospitality industry, this may happen most frequently when customers react in an unexpected or impolite way. Or in more dramatic situations, in case of fire. The coach role in this case is to help the team understand and identify the possible impact of these conflicts, and train their behaviour in all possible situations so that the team always know how to react.

3. Identify and cope with possible performance obstacles: the coach should lead team members to spot their main lacks and help working on them. This requires a great quantity of time and reflection, as well as gathering of data and feedback analysis in order to establish the main internal and external barriers (whether they refer to the structure, systems, know-how or team behaviour). The role of a coach here is to encourage dialogue and communication in order to explore all possible obstacles so that the team as a group can openly face them and try to find a solution.

4. Develop a learning scheme: this scheme will define what the team and its single members have to and are willing to learn and how this will contribute to the team performance. This is a very important document as it defines how the main objectives and goals will practically be achieved.

5. Developing trust and respect: this aims at building a certain level of competence and helps members to accept other people point of view and opinion. The coach should first consider each member individually, and then work with the team as a whole. The aim of this phase is to teach the team to listen, respect and ultimately trust each other.

6. Develop systems, competences and behaviours to internalise coaching: the ultimate phase is to reach a certain level of maturity and independence, where the team is able to carry out the majority if not the totality of what the coach job is. In order to do this, the team needs to develop a degree of dialogue and communication that is beyond boundaries.

Three main coaching interventions

“The leader’s main job is to do, or get done, whatever is not being adequately handled for group needs”.
(McGrath, 1962:5)

Relating to what Hackman & Morris (1975) and Hackman & Walton (1986) say, team effectiveness is a joint function of three performance processes:

1. Level of effort that team members jointly employ in doing their task 2. Level of appropriateness of the performance strategy 3. Level of knowledge and skill of team members

Any team that lacks on one or more of these aspects will most likely be inefficient.
In order to satisfy the team effectiveness function, coaches have at their disposal three different coaching functions. Coaching functions are “those interventions that inhibit process losses and foster process gains for each of the three performance processes” (Hackman & Wageman 2005, p. 273).

In particular:

1. Motivational intervention: coaches should use it in order to foster the level of effort of team members. The coach should therefore motivate members to be committed to their team and its work.

2. Consultative intervention: coaches should use it in order to foster the level of appropriateness of the performance strategy. The coach should help his team to develop performance routines that are consistent with team goals and objectives and, at the same time, train them to adapt their behaviour in case of uncertain or changing situations.

3. Educational intervention: coaches should use it in order to foster the level of knowledge and skill of team members. The coach should therefore increase members’ preparation and background, minimizing the suboptimal weighting of members’ contributions i.e. “when the weight given to individual member contributions is at variance with their actual talents” (Hackman & Wageman 2005, p.273).

Hackman & Wageman (2005, p. 274-278) also point out that the effectiveness of these coaching interventions will depend not only on their focus, but also on the specific time they are carried out. In particular, a team’s lifecycle generally goes through three main phases: beginnings, midpoints and ends. Each of the previous functions should be undertaken at a specific time of the team’s lifecycle. Wrong timing will affect team effectiveness. Therefore, the readiness of work teams for coaching interventions changes systematically across their lifecycle. By readiness we mean the team members eagerness to receive information about a specific issue at a specific time. Sometime the information is not relevant for what they are working on at that specific time, but it will eventually be in the future. The scope for a coach is to give the right information at the right time.

In more details:

1. Beginnings: this is when team members are getting to know each other and their specific role in the team (i.e. when the team has not yet engaged in its task). In this phase motivational coaching is most appropriate. If a team is well motivated before actually starting its job, it will most probably have a good “launch”. Beginnings are therefore not a good time for strategy discussion since members need first to get used to the team.

2. Midpoints: during this phase the team has already started, and probably is half way through, its job. At this time the team is more willing to accept external interventions and to let someone else review and correct their work or behaviour. Consultative coaching is most appropriate at this point of the lifecycle so that members feel free to communicate their thoughts to their coach and eventually accept his advice.

3. Ends: this is the phase where a team has completed its task and where members are mostly ready to capture and internalise information since all the anxieties of getting the work done dissipate. As a consequence, educational coaching is most appropriate at this stage.


As a conclusion, the team coach has a multiform role that should be neither completely internal nor external to the team. He or she should behave neutrally with all members in order to provide feedback anytime is required, which is often a tough task. The coach should also encourage the team to have a more general view of the problem and at the same time to develop an adequate level of equilibrium. This means planning and carrying out actions both for the long term and for the short term.

In the hospitality industry, coaching and training are one of the most important aspects of management. This is a matter of fact since a hotel, in order to be successful, needs to increase the productivity and the motivation of its human resources, as they are the only ones responsible for the quality of the service they deliver. When a team is unmotivated, it will be very hard to deliver a high quality service. Team coaching is therefore one of the keys for team efficiency and success.


CORRIERE DELLA SERA – D’antogno, C.; Pignatelli, B. – E ora nelle aziende scende in campo il coach (2004). Retrieved February 2, 2010 from

Hackman, J.; Wageman, R. - ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT REVIEW – A Theory of Team Coaching (2005, Vol. 30, No. 2, pp. 269-287)

LEADER VALUES – D. Clutterbuck – Il Team Coaching (2004). Retrieved February 2, 2010 from PLANETHOTEL – CONSULENZA – Persone performance e profitti di albergo e hotel. Retrieved February 2, 2010 from…...

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