Sari van Poelje

personal, expert, consultant, author, Speaker

Team Coaching: What Is The Level Of Dynamics? — April 1, 2021

Team Coaching: What Is The Level Of Dynamics?

Hi, my name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy where we teach coaches and consultants to do executive coaching and team coaching, and to become supervisors of coaches. I also run a business called Agile Business Innovation, where I help businesses innovate more quickly than their products. If you want to know more about that please go to http://www.agilebusinessinnovation.com. 

We’re talking about team coaching. We have talked about what it is, the focus that you need to have and the levels of diagnostics you need to have. Now we’re taking the levels one by one to figure out what it means. We talked about the structural level, and now we’re talking about the level of dynamics, otherwise called the interpersonal level, or relational level. It’s about how people relate within the team. If you’re doing well, the relationships between the people in the team are such that they’re willing to give each other the benefit of the doubt, and that they’re willing to support each other. If one person has a problem, the other person says, “what can I do to help you?”. What’s also an ideal team for me is when it comes to the wire and everyone gets together, and does what needs to be done, regardless of their status, or their position, or their role in the team. 

I see the dynamics are going well, if there’s cohesion, if people want the team to survive. Then I usually see them helping each other, complementing each other, doing what needs to be done, disregarding their egos, and working together seamlessly. Where one drops the ball, the other one picks it up. 

Truth be told in 35 years, I haven’t experienced a lot of ideal situations at the beginning of the client request. Usually, I see teams that are in disarray, both at the structural level and at the dynamic level. What you see is that people have conflict, or there’s latent conflicts, people are just focused on their own thing, and not willing or able to deal with other people’s problems. I see that the leadership is not focused on creating cooperation as a task. I also see that there is a very strong, informal leadership that undermines the formal leadership. This is when it’s bad. I talked about when it’s good, this is when it’s bad. 

When I look at teams at the dynamic or relational level, the first thing I look at is; What are the levels of games being played? Is it a kind of basic irritation that people are expressing? Or is it to the level of ‘if they continue like that they’re getting fired’? We look at the intrigue, the games between the members, or we look at the agitation, the games between the leader and the members. If the level is high, one of the things you should focus on as a team coach, is to de-escalate those games, to teach people about conflict and conflict management, and how to give feedback. That’s usually a competence that’s missing, rather than a conscious manipulation. I find most of the people I work with are okay people, they want to do the best they can. Sometimes they get caught up in a system where there’s a lot of dynamics going on that they don’t want. You have to teach them something about games, about conflict management, about de-escalation. I often teach them about soft starts, but we’ll get to that later.

The other thing I look at is whether people are expressing themselves in their role. Is it Like a military team where everyone has to be exactly the same, like an identikit of Marvel Comics? How much can you be yourself in that team? Actually, the more people can also be different in their roles, the more sustainable a team is. The inverse is also true. The more people have to over adapt to whatever the leader thinks they need to be in a role, the less sustainable the team is. I also look at; Do you have room for expression in this team? Is there room for emotional expression, for intellectual expression or for dialogue? We call that persona. 

The next thing I look at is social distance. It is interesting, we have theories about time and time management in teams, but we don’t have theories that relate to space management. I mean, literally, the management of proximity. I’ve talked about that in other blogs as well. One of the theories I use is Edward Hall with his Proximity Theory. He talked about different levels of proximity people have; intimate, personal, social, public, and how that plays out in the way you interact and manage your proximity map in your life. The same goes in teams, there is a proximity map. 

The thing that disturbs a team most is if there are favourites for the leader. If some people are closer, or experienced as being closer, and some people are being further from the leader, that’s something that causes a lot of dynamics in teams. The other thing is when a team is more mature, when there are couples in the team, or if there are bands of brothers that stick together. When decision making comes along you can almost predict how they’re going to swing their votes. I look at who’s close and who’s far from a leader. You can do that through socio-grams as well. I look at how we can create more balance in this distancing within the team. The more equidistant and close people feel, the more sustainable the team. 

The dynamics, the persona, the social distancing, also determine how much influence people have in teams. You can imagine that if you’re closer to a leader, you feel like you have more influence. You probably play an informal leadership role. If you’re the one who controls the dynamics in the team, you have a lot of influence in a team as well. 

If we make people aware of the dynamics and create more cohesion in a team, if we allow people to be more themselves in a team, and if those distances are managed well, as if by magic, the influence becomes more divided amongst everyone. Everyone can participate and have influence. That makes a team more sustainable. 

The question for you is; At what level are you playing games in the team? Is there enough cohesion in that team? Can you be yourself? Are their favorites? What kind of effect does that have in your team? 

Team Coaching: What Are The Diagnostic Levels Of Team Coaching? — March 25, 2021

Team Coaching: What Are The Diagnostic Levels Of Team Coaching?

Hi, I’m Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy, where I teach coaches and consultants to deal with problems at the individual level, or support and challenge people at the individual level through coaching, to do team coaching, to do organizational coaching, and later to become supervisors of coaches. There’s a whole gamut of programs you can follow. If you go to www.intactacademy.com you can check them out. The other thing I do is Agile Business Innovation. I help businesses innovate. That’s one of my passions. I’m currently doing some projects in Holland, my home country, in non profit organizations. I’ll talk about that another time. 

We’re talking about team coaching. We talked about the definition of team coaching and the triple or quadruple focus you need. We talked about levels of what you actually look at – structure, dynamics, psychodynamics. Now, I just want to go through those levels one by one to give you some idea of what you are looking for. We’re only talking diagnostics now. We’ll talk about interventions later. 

When we talk about the structure of teams, what are we looking at? If you want to have a healthy team, there’s two main rules. One is that all the levels are in sync with each. The other thing is what is happening within the levels. We’ll start with the structural level. I’ll give you an example; one of the things we look at is boundaries at the structural level.

Boundaries is something very specific. We talk about the external boundaries of a team, which make the difference between the outside and the inside. Who’s in the environment and who’s actually in the team. We talk about the major internal boundary, where there’s a distinction between the leaders and the members. It sounds technical, but it’s quite simple. When we talk about the healthy boundaries of a team, we want them to be permeable enough to hold the team. Closed enough to hold the team and open enough to let new impulses come in, new people come in, new ideas come in. This management of the openness and closeness of a boundary so that the team remains healthy, is a leadership responsibility, but all the members can influence.

If boundaries are completely closed, a team can almost become like a sect. People are closed in. They’re not willing to take new information or people in, and they’re functioning as if they’re a little bubble in the whole organization. Of course, when you’re under stress, boundaries usually close as a reflex to protect. The trick is to keep open, so that people also feel nurtured and renewed and regenerated by new ideas and by new people. 

That’s true for the membership boundary, but it’s also true for the leadership boundary. Sometimes I find that leadership is completely encapsulated. If they’re isolated in an ivory tower and they’re doing their top down thing. People don’t like top down leadership, except in crisis. They want to be involved and participate. Truth be told, the problems nowadays are so complex that leaders can’t solve them on their own. They need everyone in that team to participate. One of the first things I look at on a structural level is how open or closed the boundaries are. 

The second thing at the structural level is that we look at roles. Are the roles in a team clear? Sometimes I see mixed roles. Sometimes people have two roles or three roles at the same time. When are you wearing what hat? Sometimes roles are empty. There are vacancies and it  creates a lot of dynamic in a team. Occasionally, we see that people are unclear about; Where does my role start and end? Where does your role start and end? Then you have a lot of intrigue in a team because the overlap isn’t clearly defined. I’ll call them the handover points. 

For instance, Johnny is responsible for purchasing and Peter is responsible for production. Peter has to check if all the stuff is in the house. But Johnny has to make sure that it’s in house and actually handed it over to Peter. Sometimes those handover points aren’t clear. This results in intrigue between roles.

The third thing we look at the structural level is the hierarchy. It is interesting that some organizations are going back to self managing teams. They’ve taken out layers of management in the belief that it will make teams more agile. But no leadership role is difficult. I used to implement self managing teams in the 90s. We took it over from Volvo who started the idea. What people have to understand is that Volvo is in a Scandinavian context. Scandinavians are very good at self managing. It makes sense that for them, it worked. For us, in Holland, it’s a bit of a different story. People don’t usually agree with each other in Holland. I’m sure that’s true in other contexts as well. 

I’ve gone away from self managing teams and I have started to embrace the psychoanalytic thinking that all of us grow up in a system (family) where there are leaders. It’s actually something we gravitate to naturally. It’s very difficult to do self managing teams without a role of leadership in there. I always say in a team, the members can do maximization, but the leader has to do optimization. What I mean by that is the members can think, “Oh, I want 100% this or a 100% that.”, but the leader is the one who weighs the interests of all parties involved and looks at the strategy. They can then make a decision on how to divide the resources. 

Why am I saying this? Because I truly believe you need a hierarchy to have sanity in a team. You have to know that this is staff, this is leadership and these are the people who know what needs to happen at the work floor. They all have their different levels of decision making. It may be applicable to have holacracies like in IT teams, where all the experts work in projects with a rotating leadership.

The fourth thing and last thing I look at, at the structural level, is the processes and more specifically the decision making processes. If I want to see if a team is working well in terms of structure, that’s where I go first, even though I said it last now, because the unclarity of hierarchy, roles and boundaries usually results in bad decision making processes. The complaint could be: we go around and round, or we never take decisions, or we discuss things and things aren’t written down, so we don’t know what we decided. When I hear this, I immediately think, “boundaries, roles, hierarchy. Is that clear?”. I say it last now because in terms of intervention, it’s the thing that you do last. However, it’s one of the symptoms that I see first. Theoretically, if you have clarified the boundaries, hierarchy and roles, then almost automatically, the decision making process becomes much easier. 

I have a client now whose main complaint when they called me in was, “we’re all experts and we’re the four founders of the team, but we never seem to get ahead. We don’t make clear decisions. We have different opinions. We want to respect everyone, and we’re friends. We want to stay friends”. I hear this quite a bit in the start-ups. They were going round and round and round on the roundabout and never going forwards. Then in the meantime, their competitors do go forward, so they actually missed their slot in the market. One of the things that I did was help them clarify the difference between ownership and management. Help them to see that they have different roles. How their different competencies could connect together and how the output of one, was the input of the other. As if by magic, their decision making process took off, and now they’re doing fine, they’ve caught up and have actually exceeded their competitors.

Often, the other symptom, when boundaries, hierarchy and roles aren’t clear, apart from decision making, are struggles around power. A team may start games around; Who’s the boss? Who’s dominant? Who’s submissive? Sometimes there are escalations to see who’s going to submit first. When you clarify boundaries, hierarchy and roles, not only does the decision making start getting better, but also the power division becomes more clear. Then it’s much easier to function in a team. 

The question is; If you look at your team, how is the structure doing? How are you doing in terms of boundaries, hierarchy roles? Can you see problems in the decision making and in power struggles? If so, go back to, what can I do at the structural level? 

Team Coaching: What Do You Look At When You’re Team Coaching? — March 18, 2021

Team Coaching: What Do You Look At When You’re Team Coaching?

Team Coaching: What Do You Look At When You’re Team Coaching?

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy and of Team Agility, or as I call it Agile Business Innovation. In both, I’m focused on change and how to facilitate change. In Intact Academy, I teach coaches and consultants to do that for other people. Those programs go from beginner coach, to executive coach, to team coach, to supervisor. It’s one of the passions in my life to teach people to support and challenge others in systems. 

Within Agile Business Innovation, I help businesses innovate more quickly than their products, so that they can get to market on time. Usually, I find organizations that have great ideas but lousy adaptation of their organization to modern times. I help them renew their leadership, renew their cooperation, find a new relationship with clients, so that they can accelerate their time to market. 

One of the integral parts of both businesses is actually team coaching. In the Intact Academy, I teach team coaching. For the business agility, I do team coaching because a lot of the work is focused on the leadership team becoming a real team and working together.

We’ve talked about what team coaching is, and that you need a triple or quadruple focus for that. Now, I want to talk a little bit about; What do you look at when you’re team coaching?

When I’m looking at teams and team coaching, I look at the team as a whole. I listen to people, not only as people, but also as what’s going on in the group or the team. I listen at three different levels. The first level I listen at is; What are they telling me about the way they’re structured? Are the roles clear? Is the hierarchy clear? Are the decision making processes clear? Sometimes I have organizations that don’t understand who’s in and who’s out of the leadership. I had a client once who said, “We want team coaching for the management team.”. I looked at the list, and I said, “Your secretary is on the list.”. He replied, “Yes, my secretary replaces me when I’m on vacation, so she should be in the leadership team coaching!”. So, sometimes my first conversation is about, is there clarity about who’s in the role of leadership and who’s in the role of membership? 

A second level that I look at when I’m team coaching is the relationships. At the individual level in transactional analysis, we talk about games or symbiosis. At the team level, we’re talking about dynamics. Is there intrigue? Do people gossip about each other? Are there fights in between people in the team? Is there a lot of agitation? Agitation is when people accept or don’t accept a leader, so they try to create informal leadership, or push the leader out, or the leader is agitating and doesn’t take the role. I look at how much pressure there is on the team. Actually, the more agitation, intrigue and pressure, the more you should focus on how to create a cooperative, cohesive team

If a team thinks, “we’ll stay together no matter what, if we have COVID, if people are fighting, the important thing for us is that the team stays together”, then the prognosis for team coaching is quite good. Often though, I have to work at the relational level to increase the cohesion. 

The third level I look at in a team is the unconscious patterns in the team. There I explore the imago, or how people see the team. People have an ideal team in their heads or their hearts that comes from the past, or from experience, or from their hopes and dreams. Then there’s the real team. Sometimes the difference between the real team and the dream team is such that it creates a lot of friction. I had a leader once who told me that he wanted a dream team. I said; “How do you picture that?”. He replied, “I want the family that I never had.”.  Obviously, it’s a very honorable thing for him to want and to explore in individual coaching, but the members aren’t there to be a family, the members are there to work. They’ve not bought into that. This friction between the imago and the reality, and that often gives tension in teams. 

What I look at is, the structure of a team, is it healthy? I look at the dynamics, is there enough cohesion to deal with the dynamics? I also look at what’s going on in that unconscious level where imago and reality collide. 

If you look at your own team; What is going on in the structure? What do you see in those roles? Is there clarity? What’s going on in the dynamics? Do you feel cohesive? Do you want that team to survive? Does everyone feel that way? What’s happening at the psychodynamic level? If you would compare your dream team with the reality of the team, is there friction? What does that mean for the way you act in that team? 

I leave you with those questions, and I’ll come back later.

Team Coaching: What Is Team Coaching? — March 11, 2021

Team Coaching: What Is Team Coaching?

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy, where I train coaches and consultants in 12 different countries in eight different programs. I’ve been doing that for 35 years. It’s one of the passions in my life, to help coaches and consultants develop so that they can help other people. 

One of the things I do in Intact Academy is to train team coaches. Team coaches are a little bit of a different animal than life coaches or executive coaches. In individual coaching, like executive coaching, you coach in a one on one relationship. Where one is the helper and the other person receives help. In team coaching, what we’re looking for is to create sustainable results and ongoing development in a whole team. Nowadays, team coaching is focused on creating teams that can innovate well and for that, I refer you to http://www.teamagility.com where I talk about my consultancy work. 

Team coaching is different from coaching in a group. In coaching in a group, you coach the individuals who have come to a group based on a shared interest. They contract for learning and development one on one with the group coach.

However, in team coaching, the client is the team as an entity, with all the multiple individuals that are in it. That gives a different perspective on how to coach because ultimately in team coaching the team or the system is more important than the individuals. This has a whole lot of consequences for the way you look, the way you diagnose and for the way you intervene. 

My preoccupation when I do team coaching is how can I make the team function better as an entity. That means my contract is multi-layered. Usually, there is a contract between myself and the leader and the members of the team, and usually also a bigger power because I coach teams within organizations.

My interventions are focused on getting the team to perform better as a whole. That means that I need to have a triple focus. The first focus is intra-psychic. Like in individual coaching, you need to have a good sense of yourself as a coach. You are your own compass. If you’re the instrument of change, and your compass isn’t completely pointing North, then it’s hard to coach because you might take things personally, or you might interpret things in a way that suits your life story, but aren’t focused on the reality of the client.

So, “can I get my own household in order so that I’m not hooked every time when I coach?”.

The second focus in team coaching is interpersonal. Are you able to actively listen, ask powerful questions, support, challenge enough, hold that individual in their development? Learning about how to make trusted, safe and challenging relationships is the second domain of coaching, which is very similar to individual coaching. 

The third domain, the systemic domain, is particular to team coaching. There you have to be able to see the individuals but also the team as a whole. You have to hear what people say and honor that. But also, hear it as a symptom of what’s going on in the team. That kind of listening, both internally to the person and to the system, is what I call the triple focus that’s needed in team coaching. 

You could also speak about a fourth focus, but that’s when you are working with an organization, a team of teams. Then the focus is, what is the interrelationship between the teams in the system? Are they each contributing to the strategy and purpose? Do they realize they’re interdependent – the output of one is the input for the other? Are those handover points managed well? 

So for me, if you want to be a team coach, you need some personal development. You need to develop your skills in individual coaching. You need to develop your skills in looking at the system and intervening for the system as an entity.

The question is, could you be a good team coach or not?

Conflict Management Styles — February 25, 2021

Conflict Management Styles

Hi, my name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy, where we teach coaches from beginners, to executive coach, to team coach, to business coach. It’s all accredited. If you’re interested, you can go to http://www.intactacademy.com, we’d be happy to welcome you there. The other business I run is Agile Business Innovation, where I help businesses innovate more quickly than their products. The goal is to accelerate time to market. People can get stuck in traditional management, bad cooperation, no co-creation with their clients, etc, etc. We help businesses turn into an agile and innovative business in 38 weeks. You’re very welcome to find out more by going to http://www.agilebusinessinnovation.com. 

At the moment, I’m really interested in conflict, it’s because of COVID, but also because of some of the ethical issues I’m faced with at the moment in my profession. I’m a professional coach, I’m a professional consultant and I’m realizing that people are kind of sliding down the scale in these extreme times. I also see it internationally, it’s almost like there’s a split between people who are going for individual well being and people who are going for communal well being. If we continue making that split worse, our conflicts will get worse as well. This is difficult to deal with if we don’t realize we’re all dependent on each other. 

I mean, we can talk about dealing with COVID, and then people think “a life is a life and we’ll create a vaccine”. What are we doing for climate change? You know, COVID almost becomes irrelevant if we didn’t do anything about climate change. I’m wondering about that. How can we mobilize billions of euros for COVID vaccines when we can’t deal with climate change in the past 20 years? I’ve been thinking about that and thinking about conflict. What is it? Is it that we don’t recognize enough that we’re dependent on each other for that, and how can we teach people to deal with conflict with differences so that they actually stay in dialogue? That’s my preoccupation at the moment.

So we’ve talked about what conflict is, we’ve talked about types of conflict and levels of conflict. I want to talk a little bit about conflict management styles. I’m rereading the classics at the moment. One of my favorites is Nietzsche, I think he’s great, existentially, it really helps me to read him. One of the things Nietzsche says, and maybe it’s true in terms of conflict is, “when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back into you”. If we don’t realize that any conflict that’s outside is also inside, it’s going to be really difficult to resolve because people don’t feel responsible. 

How can we make people more aware of conflict management styles. One model goes like this: on the vertical axis, we’ve got the importance of the relationship to you and on the horizontal axis is the importance of the result to you. The idea is that if you think the relationship and the result is really important, you’ll probably move into collaboration for resolution. 

Talking about climate change is really interesting, because for people, the results are existentially really important, but people don’t feel it every day. So this maximization of importance of results is something we have to get across to people. The other thing that’s missing in this debate about climate change, is that people think they’re not dependent on each other, their interdependence. The felt importance of a relationship is lower than it actually is. However, when you have a really high score on the importance of relationship and the importance of the result, you go into a state where you go, “okay, we have to stay in dialogue, you have to give a little, I have to give a little, the stakes are high”. So that’s one, conflict management style. 

If you think the relationship is not important at all, and the result is really important to you, you kind of see what we call charming manipulator conflict styles. These are people who are out for their own results, and don’t really care about the results of others. You will see them make alliances, but not relationships, so alliances to make sure they get their own results. Usually, when people enter a conflict, where they don’t rate the importance of the relationship, but they rate the importance of the result for themselves, then you see all forms of aggression and passive aggression that we talked about before. You can do that, the moment that you think that the result is more important than the relationship. Yesterday, I was listening to the news that Biden had stopped the pipeline from Canada to America. One of the commentaries was, “how could he do that? The friendship between Canada and America is so important”. The fact of the matter is that Biden has climate change very high on his agenda, so the result is more important to him than the relationship at the moment. The really tough thing to say is that we don’t have time in the turn around of climate change. We just don’t have time, the predictions are now speeding up within 20 years. It means that we have to put the result before the relationship. Is that aggression? In the end is taking care of the climate, not a form of taking care of the relationship as well? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves. I certainly am. 

So, if you think the relationship is much more important than the result, what you see people do is accommodation or submission. People adapt to whatever the other person wants. I used to work for a helpline for women when I was a student of psychology. Under threat of violence a lot of women accomodated even on that helpline. I thought it’s interesting because they think that the relationship is more important than the result. How can I deal with that? How can I help them understand that their relationship with themselves is just as important as whatever relationship they think they have with the other person? Anyway, accommodation is good if you think the threat is higher than the results you might get by resisting or negotiating. I understand it as a short term strategy. As a long term strategy for conflict management it’s not very good, because it means you stop telling the other person what you need and what you want. You also stop the other person from realizing that they’re actually dependent on you as well. 

The other extreme is you don’t think the relationship is important even though the result is important. In that case, you can just walk away, the problem might still be important, but at that moment, the relationship is not important. Sometimes I come into teams where they have an enormous list of priorities, and the managers are going, “oh, we never finish our list of priorities”. The reason is because nobody checks if these priorities are actually important for these people? One thing really to check if you see that there are avoidance strategies, is, is this goal important for these people? And is the result important for these people? If it’s not, forget it, you will never get your priorities met. If you’re somewhere in the middle, you’ll probably compromise and that might be good. Again, for a while, if the other person does compromise as well, the problem is, if you’re the only one to compromise, and the other person doesn’t, it quickly escalates to aggression. You have to be a bit careful with that. 

So in summary, there are five conflict management styles, and we can rate them along the lines of importance of relationship or importance of results. The question to you is, the next time you fight or have conflict, do you have different goals but are you still dependent. Think about how important this relationship is to you. How important is the result to you? And try to choose a conflict management style consciously. If it’s that the relationship is that important and the result is that important – go for the collaboration, stay in dialogue, find the third solution that respects your relationship and the result. If for you the relationship isn’t important and the result isn’t important – just walk away. Don’t sweat the small stuff, in this case? I leave you with those questions.