Sari van Poelje

personal, expert, consultant, author, Speaker

Conflict Resolution – What Are The Feelings Underneath? — June 17, 2021

Conflict Resolution – What Are The Feelings Underneath?

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 so that they can accelerate their time to market. If you want to know more about that, please go to our websites: and

We were talking about styles and types of conflict. Now we’re going to talk about conflict resolution. Conflicts are something that appear in our daily life, but also over a lifetime as well. I sometimes wonder what does a conflict actually mean? A conflict can be the pathway to re-deciding your life. For instance: You start fighting about who puts out the trash, and you end up walking away thinking, “nobody loves me anyway!”. Or you’re fighting about who puts out the trash, and you walk away thinking, “I always have to do everything around here!”. Or you walk away and think “Tenderness is more important than trash”. Conflict can be a pathway to reconfirmation of what you already know, or a conflict can create a doorway to something new in your life. 

You can redesign your pathway in life. You could have that same conflict about who puts out the trash and decide, “this person loves me and this is just a conflict about who puts out the trash. How are we going to deal with this?”. Or you could have the same conflict and think, “obviously, I’m in a relationship where everybody does something to their own ability, and maybe I’m taking too much responsibility. Can I let go of that responsibility and relax into being instead of doing?”. At the social level, we talk about who puts out the trash, but our experience of conflict is always emotional. What might be interesting is to find the word that expresses what you usually feel in a conflict. 

My experience of conflict between people is that the feeling they have after a conflict is always familiar. No matter what conflict they’re having, or with whom they have conflict, that person who puts out the trash walks away thinking, “nobody loves me!”. They always feel a victim of circumstance after conflict. They always feel this impotent sadness, which hides the anger underneath.

For many reasons that person who walks away thinking, “I always have to do things around here”, walks away angry. Underneath they are always sad, because they feel alone, nobody’s supporting them in what they’re doing. If it’s about the trash, or it’s about their new job, or it’s about the strategy within the organization they are in, they’ll always walk away thinking they must put out the trash in whatever form that takes.

Focus on the feeling and think about  what it is you are missing. Each feeling gives us information about the need you have underneath. The guy who walks away thinking, “I always have to do things around here”, walks away with the sadness of never being supported. That feeling of sadness tells you something about the need for having that arm around their shoulder. Having an experience of support. 

The other thing that you could focus on during a conflict is to step away and think, “I’ve had this conversation about trash  many times. Yes, I’m feeling that way but what opportunity does this give us?”. You could have that same conversation, have a laugh together and say, “we’ve been here before. What is it we haven’t thought about together that gives us an opportunity for change in our relationship?”. 

You could start hearing an attack as a way of reaching out by someone who doesn’t know how to reach out differently. I know people focus on the slap in the face, but the slap in the face is also a hand reaching out to you. Can you hear the attack as a request for support? If you can, not only of the other person, but also of yourself, what does that tell you? 

Those are my three invitations. The reasons for a conflict seem grounded in fact but are actually very emotional. Look at the feeling underneath, the opportunity, and the request for support. 

That’s the first step in conflict resolution.

Team Coaching: Who Has The Power? — June 10, 2021

Team Coaching: Who Has The Power?

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy and of Agile Business Innovation. If you want to know more about that, please go to our websites: and

We’re talking about team coaching, and more specifically about diagnostics in team coaching. We’ve talked about the different levels in teams, the diagnostic diagrams, about how you diagnose roles and the connection between roles at the structure, the relational and the psychodynamic level. One of the other interesting things I find is, who has the power in a team and what is that power based on? If we look at the structural level, power is based on three different things. One is what we call the “Constitution of the Team”, the other is the law, and the third thing is the culture. At the relational level we look at who has the social influence. Culture is more at the psychodynamic level, because it’s based on often pre- or unconscious values. 

Structural power: A constitution for a team states the purpose of the team, the name, defines the boundaries, and also how you regulate discipline and order within the team. Lastly, in a democratic team, there is always a clause on how to change the constitution. That’s the big difference between autocratic and democratic teams. In autocratic teams this autotelic provision, how you can change the constitution is missing. 

As a team coach, you must understand the statement of purpose, where the boundaries are, or how people administer discipline, but also rewards. The person who can write that part of the constitution has a lot of formal power. Sometimes, that’s determined by HR or by Finance. However, if leadership takes real power, they’re the ones who determine who gets punished and who gets rewarded in a team. I’ll give you an example. In a team where key performance indicators are set on an individual basis, you may assume that this is a group, not a team. If people are rewarded individually, they might hesitate to work together and diminish their chances of an individual reward. In a team where the rewards are set for the team as a whole, you will see an increase in cooperation. 

The name of the group, we call that the existential provision of a team, is also important. What people call themselves. It’s one of the first questions I ask as a team coach, “if you had any choice, what would you call yourself?”. The person who determines the name of the group tells you a lot about who has the real power in the structure.

At the relational level, after acquisitions and mergers, I sometimes see groups that are put together for no apparent reason. The person who puts those groups together and who names those groups is the one who has the most influence in the acquisition or the merger. It’s interesting because as a team coach, that’s probably the person you need an alliance with. 

At the cultural level, the psychodynamic level,  the person who determines the etiquette, technicalities, and character in a group is the person who has the authority in the imago. A culture creates rules about what is acceptable in a group and gives you guidelines on how to deal with the environment, both within and outside of the group. 

Etiquette, that’s what we call the Parent function in a culture, is what you are supposed to do. It is the social contract in a group. This is the way you should behave. The Technicality is about what you have to do. It is the standard operating procedure in a team. The Character is what you would like to do. It has to do with instinct, with self-expression. 

Etiquette is what you should do. How are we going to treat each other? It is about values. Values are interesting for a team coach, because they are guidelines for behavior and problem-solving. As a team coach, we  deduce values from the behavior. If people don’t comply with values in the recruitment procedure, you shouldn’t hire them. I’ve had leaders say “Teamwork and cooperation, that’s our value.”, and then they hire people who are solo players, experts in their field, but lousy at teamwork. Team coaching at that cultural level is helping teams create awareness of  their values. Are you very consistent in applying them? 

At the Technicality level, we talk about methods, concepts, standard operating procedures. What do you have to do? In an engineering team, usually the technicalities are leading for their culture. This is the way we do things around here. Sometimes the technicalities stand in the way of innovation. Standard operating procedures are important because it manages all the operational work. It reduces the amount of thinking power you need in the operational work, and gives you more space to think about other ways of doing things. 

The more room there is for Character, the more space there is to be yourself in a group. It’s an illusion to think that you can be yourself completely in a group. Any group membership entails that you must adapt yourself to the group etiquette and technicalities. For instance, in the military, there is very little character, there’s very little room to be yourself. You’re more a rank and number, than an individual. Whereas in an architectural office, there is a lot of room for Character because they have a need to innovate in a creative business. If you would create an atmosphere with very little Character there, you’d probably get cookie cutter images of what a house should be like. 

We’re talking about diagnostics, we’re talking about roles, and we’re talking about what confirms or supports the functioning of those roles. There are three things that support the functioning of roles: constitution, law, and culture. As a team coach you look at all three to see, “How are these people getting their influence and power? Can I change, instead of just influencing, the rules directly? Can I help them change the constitution and the culture so that those roles have a different way of expressing themselves?”.

Team Coaching: What Are The Links Between The Diagnostic Levels? — June 3, 2021

Team Coaching: What Are The Links Between The Diagnostic Levels?

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy and Agile Business Innovation. I help businesses innovate more quickly than their products to accelerate their time to market. If you want to know more about that go to For more program information, or to register for our coaching programs go to

We’re talking about team coaching. What is a team? What is team coaching? What are the levels of diagnosis? It’s important to understand where teams are stuck, so that your interventions become a “bull’s eye”  instead of a shot of hail. It’s better to be direct about what you’re aiming for with the team, instead of applying very broad interventions, and trying to hit a moving target. 

Previously, I talked about the diagnostic diagrams that Eric Berne uses in his book “The Structure and Dynamics of Organizations and Groups”. I want to go a bit deeper into that. It’s not just the levels you have to look at. It’s also the link between the levels that’s important, to understand where teams are stuck. 

We talked about the structural level, the relational level and the psychodynamic level of intervention. The structure is about boundaries, hierarchy, roles and processes, especially decision-making processes. The relational level is about dynamics, personas, informal structure, and influence. The third level, the psychodynamic level, is about imago, about transference, about transactions and personality. When we look at those levels, separately, we can see the diagnostic photograph. 

You also have to understand the link between the levels, for instance a problem at the structural level causes problems at the relational and the psychodynamic level. I’ll give an example. If two roles are unclear and overlap, the people in those roles at the relational level will have conflict about who has the power, who has the influence, whose work it is, regardless of who it is. That causes problems, at the psychodynamic level for them, because it might remind them of conflicts they’ve had before. The relationship between the levels is also important. As my physiotherapist says, if you have a pain in your neck, it might mean that your hip is not aligned. That’s how the team works as well. 

At the structural level, it’s important to understand what Eric Berne meant by boundaries, by roles and by power. If you look at those three things and the relationship between them, you need an in-depth knowledge of what each level means. At the structural level when you talk about roles, people often ask me, “What roles do you look at? Do you mean job descriptions?”. No, I don’t mean that. Within transactional analysis, we talk only of three types of roles. We talk about leadership, we talk about membership, and we talk about apparatus. Apparatus includes  the functions that support the leadership in an organization. The leadership are the hierarchical formal leadership, the membership are the people who report to the leaders,  and the apparatus are for example, HR, IT, Finance; all those advisory functions in an organization, which help the leaders decide if what they want is possible. 

In the leadership, we talk about three types of leadership, which is interesting because it kind of mixes the structure, the relational, and the psychodynamic. Berne talked about responsible leadership in the structure, the people who are formally responsible. He talked about effective leadership at the relational level, the people who have social influence. And he talked about historical psychodynamic leadership, the people who founded the team, who influenced the imago of the group. 

When we introduce organisational change, just at the structural level in a team, it means that you’re working with a responsible leader. However, you have to take into account that, in the background, people’s idea of who the true leader of that team is can differ. I remember reading an interview with Michael Eisner from Disney and the mistakes he’d made in his maiden speech. After 100 days, he apparently stood up in front of the Disney executives, and he said, “We are in difficult times in Walt Disney. Walt Disney is dead. We have to think about what to do now.”. What he completely underestimated was that Walt Disney was, of course, the ehumerus of Disney. People were still referring to him as the father of the company. If in your maiden speech, you decide to say, “the father is dead, long live the father”, you’re gonna alienate a lot of people. His maiden speech was not a great success, and he didn’t last very long! 

As a team coach, what you look at in terms of roles is leadership, membership, apparatus. In terms of leadership, you’re looking at different levels of leadership. Which leadership is most powerful in that team? The question is not, is Walt Disney still alive? The question is, what would Walt Disney do if he were alive now? That way, you can create momentum for change in a team. 

The second role we look at within the diagnostic is membership. Membership is an interesting phenomenon. At the most superficial level  a member is someone who has accepted the formal contract of membership. In business, you sign a working contract on paper, but rarely does it happen that that’s what you do within a team. There’s also what we call an informal contract. The more I work with team coaching, the more I think there are three contracts that you’re influencing as a member, but also three contracts that you have to take into account as a team coach. The first is the purpose or why contract. Why does the team exist? What can they do that nobody else can do? The second is the work or what contract. What are they doing? The third is the how contract, which is more at the relational level of membership. How are we going to work together to make sure the purpose is realized? 

When we talk about membership, and when you look at membership diagnostically, what you must think about is; Are these the right people? Are they in the right place? Also, do they have the right contract in mind? Diagnostically that’s interesting. Some people are attached to the product, the what, but they don’t have a how contract. They don’t have, what we call, a cooperation contract together, which means that they’re all in it to do their own thing. 

The apparatus in my experience usually don’t know their position in the structure. That causes a lot of problems in the relational level and the psychodynamic level. For instance, HR often thinks they have more power if they’re in the management team and can co-decide. I believe that’s not true. Anyone who’s in the apparatus should be between the higher leadership and the direct reports. The leader decides in the line management, what are we going to do? The HR, Finance and IT have the responsibility to say, if it is possible to do it. They have a very strong advisory power, which they give away if they confuse their role with a deciding task. 

When I look at advisory functions, the apparatus functions, in a diagnostic fashion, I often look at how they are positioning themselves. Are they playing their role to the full? At the relational level for the apparatus, I often look at, are they able to manage a network of connections? Obviously, as apparatus, you don’t have direct power, you must have functional leadership. You influence through your advisory function in the structure, and you have to be able to manage that network of relationships and negotiate in the relationship. 

At a psychodynamic level, often see that the status of an advisory function is overlooked in a team. It seems like the real work is done in the line function. They’re kind of forgotten, because they’re not taking their rightful role in the structure, it causes problems in the imago. That says something about the order of intervention, which we’ll talk about later. 

We’re talking about diagnostics, we’re talking about structure, and we’re talking about having to look at the different levels, but also the relationship between the levels. Now, we’re talking about roles. I could do a whole team coaching based just on a diagnostic of roles and how they play out at the different levels. 

What is the organizational chart like? That’s the roles in a formal way. What is playing out in these roles in the informal structure? Who has the influence? Then think about who has the influence under normal circumstances but look at who has the influence under crisis. Then you can see the informal structure at work. Then think about what roles are there in that group imago. If people draw a picture of the team, which roles appear in that picture? If they forget the apparatus, you know where to start your team coaching. 

ICW Agile Business Innovation Webinar — June 2, 2021
Team Coaching: Webinar —