Sari van Poelje

personal, expert, consultant, author, Speaker

Team Coaching: Four Competencies Needed To Avoid A Team Break-Up — August 26, 2021

Team Coaching: Four Competencies Needed To Avoid A Team Break-Up

There are four behaviors that lead to relational breakup, both in couples and in teams. If I see this type of behavior, I know this team is, not moments away but, on the way to self-destruct. If I see this then we need to stop and focus on the process.There are four skills that I teach teams so that they stay out of those behaviors. 

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy. We run programs for coaches and consultants from beginner to executive coach, to team coach, to supervisor and beyond, accredited both by ICF and EMCC. I am also the Director of Agile Business Innovation. We help businesses innovate more quickly than their products to accelerate their time to market. You can find out more at or

We were talking about norming issues in groups and the importance of teaching people to negotiate. There are many ways to negotiate, but more importantly is to know what not to do while negotiating. I want to use John Gottman’s theories about that. John Gottman was an Engineer at MIT and contrary to what his PhD advisor said, he started to write about human relationships. He was interested in why people broke up. He constructed a way to look at different interactions between people and categorize those interactions based on what he had observed in, what he called, The Love House. Then he started to predict how long people would stay together. This Love House was a house where they rigged all sorts of cameras, they’d invite couples into the house and film whatever they were doing. Based on all those millions of transactions, they created behavioural categories defining how they communicated verbally and non-verbally. He got a prediction rate of 86% valid on whether they would still be together in two years or not, simply based on the analysis of their transactions. Gottmann is not a transactional analyst, but in a very real sense, he is a transactional analyst. In his 45 years of research (and counting!) all over the world, all sorts of couples, in all sorts of phases of relationship they identified four types of behaviors, which predicted break ups. 

Many years ago, he met his wife, who at the time was (and still is) a very good couples’ therapist. She said, “John, now you know why couples separate, why don’t we create a therapy based on your research to help them stay together?”. Now, we not only know the four basic reasons why people split up, but also the four main competencies they need to stay together. I use their theories because within teams we also have to function within a network of relationships. Knowing why relationships breakup is just as important in a couple as it is in a team. 

What are the four main reasons relationships break up? 

On the left-hand side, the first one is criticism. If people are constantly criticizing someone else, or their partner, it’s an 86% valid prediction that they will break up within two years. Within TA we call that continuous communication from the Negative Critical Parent. That’s continuously saying, “you should, you should, you should….why didn’t you? Why didn’t you? Why didn’t you?”. When it moves from a criticism of what people are doing, to a criticism of who people are, then you’re really in a red zone. 

When I work within teams, I sometimes see there’s one person, that is the scapegoat and carries a lot of the criticism in the group. Sometimes that’s the leader. That’s a real red zone. If the leader is continuously criticized, and people don’t accept their membership responsibility for managing that leader, then you’re in a red zone as a team. 

The antidote to that is teaching people in teams gentle startups. It’s more than the feedback rules, it’s about saying something about yourself, Brene Brown would call that vulnerability. It’s really talking about the “I”. I sometimes teach the mental health karate to go with that. It’s (shows karate punches left, right, left) “the observation, what it does to you and your need”. It’s saying, “This is what I’m seeing you do. This is the effect on me. What I need is… What I would wish for us …. For example: What I see you do is focus a lot on what’s missing. What happens to me is I feel unrecognized. What I need is to get some positive feedback too, so I can stay open and work with you.”. That’s an example of gentle startups. 

To do gentle startups, you should give the feedback, immediately, whatever it is. If you don’t then people save up stamps and when your little stamp book is full, you hand in the relationship. What you could be doing is handing in the stamps as you go along, so that you don’t have one big blow up at the end. If you have saved up stamps, it’s hard to do gentle startups. 

The second reason relationships end is contempt. If you see people doing a lot of moving away, if they are insulting people or being abusive, this turning away from, or having contempt for someone else. These are all red flag behaviors. Occasionally, it happens between departments e.g. between production and sales. Sales is saying that production people can never keep up with whatever they’re selling, or the R&D people, the innovative people, are saying towards sales that they’re selling something R&D haven’t even invented yet I’m working within a professional organization at the moment, you’ve got professionals and then you’ve got staff, there’s a lot of contempt between these two groups. The staff is saying, “we know what’s best for the organization.”. The professionals who are helping the clients are saying, “we are the only ones who know what the client needs.”. 

One of the things you can help with as a leader is to build a culture of appreciation. Remembering the good things and the gratitude, remembering the times where you did work together well, remembering the times when these people, whoever they are, came up with good ideas that helped you in your work. Building a culture of appreciation is something that a leader should model and, hopefully, will affect the team to help minimize this contempt.

The third type of behavior is defensiveness. What you see is that someone doesn’t want to become a victim and they roll that on to someone else. For example, the leader gives feedback to a member and the member says, “yes, but you….!”. Then suddenly, the conversation takes another turn. It’s not about whatever it was, but becomes about the relationship. 

One of the things that’s important is teaching people to take accountability. To teach people to say, “I’m sorry, you’re right.”. To discuss; “Can we talk about what we can do differently next time?”, “I can see from your perspective that you’re right.”, “From your perspective, I understand why you’re saying that. I come from a different world. Do you have room for me to tell you what’s happening in my world?”. Yes, no or maybe. Sometimes there’s no room and then you just have to say, “I do. I get it!”. Taking responsibility, making people accountable, or helping people to take accountability and apologizing is important in teams. 

Apologies are underrated. I think it doesn’t happen enough. There are apologies that are real, and apologies that are fake. If you’re giving fake apologies, forget it. That’s the same as having contempt. However, if you have a real apology, don’t hesitate to give it. 

The Fourth, and main, Horsemen of the Apocalypse is stonewalling. Stonewalling as people are talking to you. For example: You’re saying something important about your relationship and they are reading the newspaper. That’s quite a visible way of stonewalling. Within teams, it can happen one of two ways, either it’s explicit, people move away from conflict, or it’s implicit and people listen but they shut off inside. Both are just as bad. It prevents teams from storming explicitly, and never get to the negotiation or norming stage. What’s important is teaching people to self-soothe, to be able to say, “Hold on a second, this is a bit much for me, give me five minutes!”. Then take that time to go out, make tea, hug yourself, hug your dog, do whatever you need to do, to get back into that state of, “I’m willing to be open but protected.”. Distract yourself, if need be, but fill yourself with love in some way or another to be able to come back and to be open to the other person. Within a work context, that means using humor, taking coffee breaks, going for a walk outside. Sometimes when people are stuck in conflict, I don’t stay in the office, I don’t sit down, I actually walk with them. If you walk, it’s impossible to stay stuck in not only a physical position, but also a psychological position. Teaching people to self soothe is really important. Some kids never learned to do that, but it’s an important skill to have. Otherwise, you’ll stay dependent on other people to do that for you. 

Check it out. Where are you on a scale of one to ten with criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling your team? What competency would you need to learn most? 

If you need help with that, give a call.

Team Coaching: The Six Norm Issues That Come Up In Group Development — August 19, 2021

Team Coaching: The Six Norm Issues That Come Up In Group Development

In group development we often talk of the norming stage of group development. Based on research we can actually predict which norm issues come up time and again from respecting time to respectful listening and consequence management.

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy and of Agile Business Innovation. You can find our websites to participate in our programs at and

We were talking about development stages in groups, the relational development, the imago development and the dangers of staying in crisis. What I want to talk about now is that important phase from storming to norming. We talked about the storming phase where people start to challenge the procedures in a group and to challenge the leadership. The puberty stage where members start to push against the leader, but also against each other, to come to a place where they decide to accept what they need to give up to belong to the group. I want to talk a little bit about the norm issues that I usually see in groups, and the techniques I teach people to get through that norming stage. 

The techniques are based on the work of John Gottman. He’s a very good couples therapist who developed his own Gottman Method. Negotiating well means the ability to keep a relationship and to focus. Be soft on the relationship, but hard on the task. 

One of the norm issues that come up is decision making. Who has formal power and who has informal power? People start to fight about who takes the ultimate decisions. What’s important is that the leader sticks to the formal hierarchy and makes an alliance with the informal hierarchy. 

Another norm issue is about attendance. Sometimes people are sick, sometimes people leave, sometimes people come to meetings, sometimes they don’t during a storming phase. What’s important is that the leader encourages the members to find their own criteria; When are you allowed to be there? When are you not allowed to be there? How are we going to regulate each other in being present or not? It’s great if the members start to co-regulate 

Assignments. During the norming stage I teach teams “contact, communication and consequence management”. This is about consequence management. What do you do if people don’t keep their commitments? I encourage the leader to push that discussion towards the members. What are you going to do if Tom doesn’t do his task? What do we need in this group to have active participation? What do we need to talk about? What should we not talk about? 

Agenda. Timing. Promptness. One of the norm issues is respect for the time boundaries. I know this is also a cultural thing. Wherever you are in the world, I would encourage you to keep the time boundary. If you want to start at nine o’clock, start at nine o’clock, regardless of if you’re the only person in the room. If you don’t do that people won’t feel they’ve missed out, so you’re encouraging people to come too late. 

I remember one group, we did an experiment. People who were on time just came in. If you came too late the doors were closed and you had a conversation with the person at the door. A coaching conversation: What happened to you? Why are you late? I guarantee you that people came on time afterwards. It was an interesting experience. People have life scripts around time. Time is a very important norm issue, just like money is. 

Another thing that comes up during the norming discussions is relationships. Part of that is respectful listening. What does that mean in this group? It doesn’t mean that people have to shut up passively when someone is speaking. Sometimes people have their facts wrong, for instance, are you going to respectfully listen to that? When do you interrupt each other? What kind of rules do you have for speaking? Some people speak longer, some people speak louder, some people don’t speak. It’s good to encourage the members to decide that amongst themselves. 

Enforcement is another norm issue that often comes up. Who’s going to say, “you shouldn’t be doing that!”. As a group leader, I tend to make as few rules as possible, because my starting point is trust. If you do have rules, you have to enforce them. If you have rules you don’t enforce, they’re not worth the paper they’re written on. For instance, if you say the rule is being on time, and then people regularly come too late and if you don’t enforce that by saying, “next time, you’re not allowed into the meeting.”, or, “you have to speak to someone at the door before coming in.” you implicitly validate crossing time boundaries. If you don’t enforce a rule, you’re undermining your authority. The question for the leader is; what are the minimum amount of rules you need for team functioning? 

The last thing I want to mention is; How will you evaluate the members performance, but also the team performance? Of course, the leader has something in mind, and that’s important. They contracted KPIs at the beginning, but in this storming to norming phase, maybe other criteria emerge and it’s important to make that explicit. 

There may be other norm issues, and it would be interesting for you to check and to do a check with each other; Have we actually gone through these things? What were our decisions? Make those decisions explicit and negotiate them if you haven’t gone through them yet. Then the pressure is on the group to co-create their system and their culture, instead of just the leader enforcing something.

Let me know how you get on.

Team Coaching: Imago And Post Crisis Leadership — August 12, 2021

Team Coaching: Imago And Post Crisis Leadership

It’s a reparative experience to be in a group where the boundaries are clear, where the leadership holds their task, where the members have their place, where people work together for a common purpose. This is especially important now that we are coming out of crisis.

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy and of Agile Business Innovation. You can find us online at and We help businesses become agile and innovative and we teach others to do that too. If you’re interested, go to our websites and we welcome you with open arms. 

I was talking in the last blog about the relational development stages of groups, and it goes together with this unpeeling of your imago. Eric Berne, the Founder of TA had a very specific idea of this. You have to remember that Eric Berne was a psychiatrist and that he worked in psychiatric groups. For him, looking at his patients, he realized they came in with a transferential imago, an idea of what a group should be. Usually, if they’re psychiatric patients, it could be a nightmare of what a group is going to be. Sometimes, his patients came from families where all of that was either missing or very mixed up. It might be working with patients where maybe there were no parents, or the parents were abusive, or the children had to take their parents place, or it wasn’t clear what the family was doing together. His idea is that as his patients adapt their old memories and their old imagos to the group as it is, they will heal their old assumptions of the group. 

It’s a reparative experience to be in a group where the boundaries are clear, where the leadership holds their task, where the members have their place, where people work together for a common purpose. 

His context when he was talking about group imago, was this whole clinical idea of the adaptation of imago as a sign of health, as a reparative experience. Within business we hope that groups are a reparative experience. Every group reignites your old memories, and at the same time, you’re there, between hope and fear that it will be different this time. Unfortunately, most people choose groups and partners based on their previous experience. Sometimes they recreate their own worst nightmare. For example, someone comes into a work group and they imagine that every leader is dictator-ish, or very dominant which results in them having nothing to say. Maybe they recreate behavior so that they’re not seen, or they do things that aren’t recognized and they think, “It’s the same as it always was!”. They simply reconfirm what we call their group script or their team script. 

What you want in a work group is a good enough experience, good enough to be able to work together, good enough to get that excitement of being in a team and of belonging. I won’t say that work groups are always the reparative experience that Berne was hoping for within his psychiatric groups. However, I would say that within a work context, you can create something that people dream of, and that people remember. The moments in a group where you feel, “we’re in flow together!”. The excitement of doing something together, perhaps racing against the clock to get something done, getting the pizza in and still being there at night, but finishing in the morning thinking, “we did that together!”. 

I was a director in various multinationals for 23 years, where we’ve had memorable group experiences, usually under pressure, with inadequate resources, trying to do things which were above the norm. Don’t tell anyone this, but I would argue that actually giving groups less resources than they expect, creates extraordinary group experiences. You think differently if you don’t have enough resources to get it done. 

We can see that during Corona times as well, none of us were resourced for this and yet many of us survived. Some businesses actually thrived within this time, rethinking their purpose, rethinking their structure, accelerating their decision-making processes, giving people a sense that they were part of a group that was doing something that was bigger than the group goals, the immediate group goals. 

The problem now is that we’ve switched imago, there was an imago as is, and then we went into crisis mode. Now people are coming back from these times, and they’re having to readjust again. How do you readjust from a crisis? What I can see many of my clients do is that they are so addicted to the adrenaline of being in a crisis, it’s very difficult for them to readapt to a status quo, to produce at a regular pace. Some leaders have such a hard time switching that they’re creating an artificial crisis just to keep on having that high. 

I would argue that as a team leader you really do have the power and the possibility to lead by example, and to create a group experience where people do have a reparative experience Together you can achieve  something bigger than you can achieve as an individual. The second thing is to be very mindful at the moment, because we are going back to a steady state, albeit in a very volatile and uncertain environment. However, this immediate sense of crisis, as a leader you have to dim that down to create an imago where people have belonging, even if they’re not running on fumes of adrenaline. 

What a leader can do is to go back and to reinvestigate what the purpose of the group was. What have we learned from this Corona time? Not to do everything differently, but just to accelerate that process of integrating people, of working (perhaps) at a distance, of being able to connect despite everything, and decide more quickly, and at the same time, embrace again, the fact that we’re going to a state in the world where we will go back to some form of the production we had before. 

Team Coaching: Creating Reparative Relationships — August 5, 2021

Team Coaching: Creating Reparative Relationships

Each of us takes a little rucksack with assumptions, hopes and fears and fantasies into groups. As we adjust these imagos to the reality of the group as is, more energy is available to doing the real work with the group. In this blog you will learn about the stages of imago development.

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy and of Agile Business Innovation. We help businesses innovate more quickly than their products to accelerate time to market. We also teach other people to do that too in our accredited coach and consultancy programs. You can find us online at or

Previously, we talked about team development stages and how it’s important to go through all of them. It’s impossible to skip stages because at each stage, they learn a different competency, which will be necessary later on. We talked about development at four different stages. We talked about functional and structural development. Now we’re going to talk about relational development. 

The reason I’m so interested in it is because at each level, you get different needs for relational development as well. In the beginning of the group formation, the relationship with the leader is the most important thing. As time goes on, you realize there are other people in the group, you pick out one or two that seem to be allies or are more like you. Later on, your perspective differentiates, you start to give a slot in your imago to everyone in the group to create a fully differentiated relationship with each person in the group. To form those relationships, you go through different imago development stages. 

The relational development is linked to the psychodynamic developmental stages. You see that as your relationship develops in the real world, your imago develops as well. Imagine this: you come into every group carrying your little rucksack of memories of group life from your very earliest memories, because you get born into a group, as a human being. You carry that into every group you join and, based on those memories in that little rucksack, you’ve got an expectation of what a group should be like. As you connect to the group as it is, with the people in it as it is, your imago, your transferential picture of what a group should be like diminishes, and the real relationship starts to grow. The idea is that as your real relationship grows, as you accept the group as is, and the people as they are in reality, you diminish your imago of what you’d love to make of them. Once you develop a differentiated real relationship, it’s much easier to work together because you spend less energy on trying to adapt either your imago or trying to change the people to fit your imago.

There are a couple of models you can use to describe relationship formation. One of the most known ones is Tuckman’s Model of Group Development, which we’ve talked about before. We have an author called Petruska Clarkson within transactional analysis who mixes Tuchman with Berne’s imago theory. Adrienne Lee did the same thing, showing what kind of behavior people show at the different relational levels of formation, and what the leadership task is in each step. This helps team coaches to support the leaders to do the right thing within each stage. 

On the left hand side Berne’s ideas of the development of imago, and on the right what kind of behavior you see in terms of relational formation. The leader needs to support that relational development, because the more cohesion there is, the more stable the group will be under pressure. 

When a group is forming: You still have this picture in your head of what a group should be like. Imagine this, you’re on your own and you have this feeling of anticipation. As soon as you step into that group room, if that’s a Zoom Room, or a real room, the first thing you do is establish a relationship with the leader. Your primary need in every group  is to feel safe and to belong. You carry your fantasies in your little rucksack with you. You come in, you don’t really know the other people, you sort of know the leader, you know the task of the group. Because your little rucksack is not checked in reality, there’s a lot of room for fantasy at this stage. 

What’s really important at this stage is that the leader makes sure that everyone in the group knows the boundaries of the group. What we mean by that is the leader has to create a group sense by saying, “Listen, this is the goal of this group, these are the tasks, these are my responsibilities, this is what I expect from you. We’re going to work during this time, in this place and using this technology.”. At this stage the leader also manages the external process. Imagine this, the group has come together and suddenly all these people come into the group who don’t belong there. It’s the leader’s task to manage that external boundary. Quite literally, to close the door and to ask people to leave, so that members feel safe enough to check out their fantasies by establishing real contact. 

During this formation phase, you see members do a lot of rituals; How do you do? What’s your name? What do you do? During these rituals and pass timing, the members are really busy with checking out the leader and the other members, even though at a surface level, people seem to be doing things that are quite random. At the nonverbal level, people are checking each other out to see; Can I work with you? Who are you really? That’s the forming stage. 

In the storming stage: The second step of relational development is storming according to Tuckman. Some groups have the storming quite early on, some groups really take a lot of time. It depends on the cultural context you’re in. It depends on how safe it is. If it feels less safe, people will not be so explicit about their storming. You’ll see people leave the group, or you’ll see people not come on time, or you’ll see people doing a whole lot of stuff except doing the group task as a passive way of storming. Within that storming phase, what you’re seeing is testing behavior. It’s like being in the puberty of a group. People start to test the roles, they start to test the boundaries. They say they’re dissatisfied; they are agitated, they play psychological games with the leader. What they’re hoping for is that the leader will maintain their position because if a leader doesn’t maintain their position, it becomes very unsafe for a group. And the members will retreat into a passive state again. 

As a group leader, you should be happy if members are explicitly storming. You’re pretty unhappy if they’re not even implicitly storming. At this stage the task of the leader is to maintain the boundaries because then people can have something to have friction against, and test their relationship and the strength of the group. What’s also important is that the leader teaches emotional intelligence, by explaining what’s happening in the group, by being clear about their role and other people’s roles, by teaching what is expected in the group. 

That calms and reassures a group, and it helps them move towards what we call a norming stage. This disagreement about procedures starts with a disagreement with the leader, but what you sometimes see is it also turns into intrigue between the members. You see subgroups begin to form. Here again, the leader is important because at this stage, you have to reconfirm the purpose of the group as a whole and the task of the group as a whole. If you don’t do that, you see the group dissipate into different alliances, and then it’s much harder to create cohesion later on. 

Disagreement is okay. Part of teaching emotional intelligence is also teaching people to fight fair. A lot of people have ambivalent feelings about conflict. Most people have not learned to fight fair and to use disagreement to strengthen relationships. It takes skill and leadership to teach people to do that. If you come through that stage well as a group, you go into what Tuckman called norming. 

At this stage, people have stormed, they’ve had this friction, and then they come to understand they’re the same in this way and different in other ways, and they agree to negotiate; What do you want? What do I want? Can we find a third way? This is an important stage, because as a member you’re illegible if you conform to what is needed in a group in terms of competencies, but you’re only accepted as a member of the group, once the group sees that you’re also willing to adapt to the group as a whole. The group is bigger than the individual members, so this negotiation is a chance to show your similarities and differences, and to negotiate; What are we going to do as a group to work together? That’s the purpose of this norming stage. 

At the norming stage, you see an emerging dialogue about contracts, “No, actually, yes, this is what the group is about and this is how we’re going to make it work.”. This is the stage where you not only create a contract with the leader, but you create a cooperative contract amongst the members. The leadership task at this point is to stimulate this negotiation, to challenge the passivity, but also to teach negotiation skills. A lot of people don’t know how to do that well and it’s up to the leader to set an example and to make what is implicit, explicit. Often, you can see people struggling; Where is it me? Where is it the group? What do I want here? It’s important that the leader leads by example by negotiating as well.

Once the group has established norms and values, it’s about creating a cooperation contract. They’re ready to go to the next stage of working together and creating relationships. Tuckman called that the performing stage. In the previous stage, you see a lot of group process, but in this stage, it has to morph into group activity. People start actively working together to reach goals, they start problem solving to reach the goals. At this point, the leader steps back a bit, because all you must do is lead from behind, catch people at doing things right. Don’t focus on what’s going wrong, because you’ll get more of it, focus on what’s going right and you’ll get more of that. Also, this is the phase where you start to delegate leadership tasks. You cannot delegate leadership responsibility, you’re always ultimately responsible as a leader. However, you can start to delegate leadership tasks at this point. 

The last stage in group relational development, Tuckman called it adjourning. At this stage, you are finished with a task, you’re ready to withdraw and say your goodbyes. Teams have life cycles, just like people do. You must accept that a team is born, it grows, and then there’s a time where you say goodbye. It takes skill and heart to be able to say goodbye to a team and to know that the task is done. It’s important to say goodbye before you re-contract for the next task. Most people don’t accept this pain of goodbye. They keep on adding tasks to the team to just keep it going. 

At this stage, it’s important for the leader to teach people to celebrate success. A lot of teams don’t do that. A lot of teams just go on and on and on. It’s very important to get those juices flowing and to have the feeling of, “Yes, we did it and we did it together!”. I was watching Roland Garros and the doubles. You see after every point, the partners clap each other’s hands good or bad. If it went well, or if it didn’t go well. They talk to each other. Then they leave that feeling behind and go to the next point. That’s a lot of what the leader has to do as well. They have to teach people to celebrate every success, because all those little successes make up the big success in the end. It gives energy, much more energy than staying stuck in; “Oh, we didn’t complete that.”. The other thing at the end of a group is to teach people to let go so that they can re-contract in that group or continue in the next group. 

Throughout this behavior, and throughout these relational steps, what you see is a movement relationally into more intimacy, into more spontaneity, into more awareness, into more ability to be there together with someone else. You don’t have to be best friends, but you do have to be best work partners in a group. It doesn’t mean you have to know each other’s children’s names and dog’s names. It’s nice if you do. In group development there is a movement towards more intimacy and I would call it professional intimacy. For me, professional intimacy means the ability to work together in a cooperative way based on an explicit contract, and to support each other to know that we are going to do together what we can’t do alone. That gives me interdependency on you, and you on me, and on our team. 

I wish you good relational development in teams and I hope this has helped you understand what stage of development your team is at. 

Team Coaching: Why You Can’t Skip Development Stages — July 29, 2021

Team Coaching: Why You Can’t Skip Development Stages

As you develop from a very simple team to a fully developed team, you add complexity, you add layers, you add specializations. Each development stage allows the team to develop specific competencies. Each stage solves one problem and causes the next problem. If the team skips a stage they are limited in their ability to conquer the next stage of development.

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy and of Agile Business Innovation, you can find us online at and We’ve published more than 100 vlogs on individual development, team development, and on agile business innovation. Check out: YouTube

Last time, we talked about the four developmental stages of teams. Like people, teams have stages of development. Each stage solves one problem but causes the next. Also, each stage causes you to learn a specific competency, which means that if you skip a stage, you’ll need to catch up later. As team coaches, we have to know these stages because we’re supporting and challenging development in the team.

The first stage was that the leader was doing everything on their own. If this happens, they have maybe one other person, a partner or family member in there with them. A lot of people get stuck in this stage and the team doesn’t develop beyond that. The good thing about that stage is that you have complete control. You know what you’re doing, you know what you’re doing it for and you don’t need to manage other people. The flip side is that you’re very limited in the volumes you can reach. 

You’re limited by your time which is a non-renewable resource. We have approximately 200 days a year in which to work. From that you want to take vacation, you want to sleep, you have a private life. All in all, usually, entrepreneurs have approximately 100-160 days in which to do paid work. The rest of your time is spent on acquisition, on administration, on accreditation of whatever you’re doing. If you’re a mature professional, it’s 160 days. If you’re just starting your business, you have about 110 days in which to really make your money. If you do everything on your own, you can see that 110 days to create the volume and make the big money is more difficult. 

Most entrepreneurs start hiring new people in the second stage of team development. These members still keep on going in and out of the team at that phase. The good thing about that stage is you learn how to manage others. You have to start accepting that you’re not the only one doing stuff. You’re gonna have to teach other people to do stuff and also monitor their progress. That’s a very difficult stage for most entrepreneurs. 

The role of the team coach is to teach, to help the leader to let go and to focus on managing others instead of doing everything themselves. Also, the leader at that stage has to start focusing on the outside world and leave the inside world of the team to their members. Focusing on the outside world means the leader has to learn how to pitch, how to sell, and to bring new ideas in. That requires a different competency from the early leadership but also from the membership in working more autonomously. This stage could solve part of your problem of volume, but it causes the next problem, which is delegation. It requires additional learning. 

In the third stage of development of the team, you start vertical differentiation. You’ve got team leaders in between you and the membership, if you’re the founding leader, and it solves one problem, which is the delegation problem. You can concentrate on this ‘outside in movement’ that you need as a founding team leader, however, it causes the next problem. Your information, your direct link to the work floor, gets cut as a founding member, because now you’re working through team leaders. 

At this third stage where you only have vertical differentiation, you will have solved the delegation problem, but it’ll cost you more because suddenly you have team leaders to pay. They cost more than the people on the work floor. It’s an iffy stage. If you do it well, what you learn is to market your product and to do that ‘outside in, inside out movement’ so you create much more revenue. Then the cost of the team leaders in between you and the members isn’t such a problem. 

The fourth stage is horizontal differentiation in the membership. You create minor internal boundaries between the members: you now have members who focus on the production, members who focus on improving the sales and marketing, members who focus on customer relationship management. With this, the team leaders now have specializations to manage. It solves one problem, because you can do sequential production. The customer comes in from one direction in the process, goes through the different specializations and goes out through after sales. This creates standardized processes within the team, which is more reliable for the customer. That solves one problem and it causes the next. What happens is that all these specializations start to isolate themselves, with a view to create autonomy within the specialization. This means that the view of the whole production cycle, the whole customer journey, gets cut between the different specializations. It means you have to make an extra effort to create cross functional cooperation. As well as managing top down, you also have to make sure that the members themselves start to manage amongst each other. You need to focus on creating a cooperation contract. As a team coach, you can teach people to do that. 

As you can see, yes, you go from a very simple team to a fully developed team. You add complexity, you add layers, you add specializations. Each stage solves one problem and causes the next problem. At each stage, the team has to learn a different competency, and that’s where team coaches come in.