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What is the major difference between executive and team coaching?

What is the major difference between executive and team coaching?

An executive coach works with executives, senior leaders, and executive teams, whilst the team coach focuses on working with an agile team or team of agile teams.

Executive Coaching vs Team Coaching

An executive coach will likely be more focused on one-to-one conversations with an executive, focusing on how to help:

  • Identify the most compelling problems in the environment.
  • Identify the most valuable solutions that need to be developed.
  • Clarify what options are available to explore and potentially exploit.
  • Clarify the priorities that need to be addressed first.
  • Identify potential solutions to the problems and challenges ahead.

And so forth.

A team coach will likely be more focused on one-to-many conversations with groups of individuals in a team environment. Sure, they will have one-to-one conversations with individuals on the team, but their primary focus will be on helping the team improve and overcome challenges.

Are the coaching roles interchangeable?

Can a team coach work with an executive and can an executive coach work with a team? Yes.

It almost always turns out to be a matter of preference. A coach may find that they love the ability to have a significant impact in the work they do, outcomes that impact thousands of people across multiple countries, because of an executive coaching engagement.

Others love the thrill of working with a team and seeing incremental, evolutionary improvements every two weeks. They love being an integral part of a team, and they are inspired to be among the leadership figures in that team environment.

It often depends on that preference, and how you build expertise, capability, and experience based on that preference. A great, experienced executive coach is more likely to be contracted for executive coaching engagements, whilst a team coach is more likely to be contracted for teams.


Coaching Frameworks and tools and techniques.

There isn’t much of a difference between the coaching frameworks, models, and techniques that you use when working with executives versus working with teams, it is just the focus of your work that is incredibly different.

Many coaches do swop between executive coaching and team coaching, as opportunities present themselves, so the tools of the trade are similar and you can be effective in both realms as long as you have solid, respected training and coaching as a professional coach.

If you’re looking to make the leap from scrum master to executive coach within a year or two of being a scrum practitioner, you are going to battle. You need to focus on the professional element.

That means training. That means certification. That means coaching. That means mentorship.

You need those elements to become a professional coach yourself, there are no shortcuts to being an effective coach, whether at the executive or the team level. You must do the hard yards, master your craft, and earn the privilege of coaching others.

Coaching Outcomes.

As a professional coach working with an executive, I am not there to tell them what to do or put answers in their mouth. I am not a senior-level executive, nor have I got experience leading a multi-billion-dollar enterprise across multiple geographies so there’s no point in trying to do that.

It is asking them questions, helping them achieve clarity around what needs doing, why that matters, what isn’t working, what might be causing that, and what their priorities moving forward should be.

I am in a partnership with them. I am there to help them achieve the best outcomes they are capable of achieving. I am there to support them through the transitions they need to make, and to help them see clearly when things may appear vague or chaotic.

So, the primary role of an executive coach is to act as a sounding board, a challenging partner, and at times, a cheerleader. You are there to help them make better decisions and take decisive action in the direction that best serves their interests and responsibilities.

A team coach is not focused on the individual, they are focused on the success of a team of people.

They are focused on the collective effort of all those individuals.

  • How are the team going to move forward?
  • What are the primary challenges that the team need to overcome?
  • What are the decisions that the team must make to move forward?
  • What are the actions that the team must take to move forward?

And so forth.

It’s very much a facilitator style of coaching rather than the deeply immersed, engaged partnership of executive coaching. Sure, you’re immersed and have skin in the game, but it isn’t about you. It’s about them. You don’t get to claim their victories nor are you responsible for delivering the outcome.

They are.

You’re going to be drawing individuals out into the team conversation to get the most out of what everyone has to offer. You’re going to encourage a specific line of conversation because it leads to productive outcomes, whilst you may intervene and check an unproductive conversation that will disrupt the team’s momentum.

You will be instrumental in creating psychological safety for the group.

Space for people to speak the truth to power, without fear or retribution, and a place where people are heard. Their ideas, their concerns, and their recommendations. Their expertise, their knowledge, and their contribution made visible.

It’s tough.

You have the extroverts who dominate and the introverts who would prefer to hide, but you can’t allow one side to dominate and the other to hide, because you need the best outcomes for the team and that requires collective contribution of ideas, insights, and recommendations.

A team coach is also more likely to be dealing with conflict and confrontation.

In a team environment, you have bright, skilled, and passionate people. They often hold strong views and are experts in their field. They are going to have conflict, which is healthy, but your role is to facilitate healthy, respectful, and productive conflict.

Your job is to help them work through that in a way that leads to a positive outcome. Your role is to help the team agree on how they are going to make a decision when neither side of the argument can agree. A pre-agreed commitment to move forward, effectively, when you reach a stalemate so that things don’t fester and that people aren’t polarized into different camps.

You don’t make assumptions, you don’t judge, you just ask a clarifying question to move things forward.

  • What do you mean by that?
  • Why is this important to you?
  • What are the consequences of doing nothing?

And so forth.

Lead people effectively through conflict but have an ace-in-the-hole should you not see the light at the end of the resolution tunnel.

So, in a nutshell, those are the major differences between an executive coach and a team coach.

About John McFadyen

If you are interested in becoming an agile coach and value mentored, coach-driven skills development in your journey to mastery, visit our Growing Scrum Masters website.

For more information on John McFadyen, connect with John on LinkedIn at

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