Coaching Leaders & Teams for Wholeness Using the 5 Knowledge Centers

Coaching Leaders & Teams for Wholeness Using the 5 Knowledge Centers

The most exciting breakthroughs of the twenty-first century will not occur because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human. – John Naisbitt


What does it mean to be a full human being? What limiting assumptions do we hold about ourselves as a species that are ripe for disruption? What might be possible if we embraced the whole “human being” in our organizations and communities?

Over the past year our team has been exploring the above questions through our leadership development programs, our coaching practices and our own teaming efforts.  Over this time we have developed and refined a leadership and coaching model that we refer to as The 5 Knowledge Centers (depicted below).

The framework emerged organically through multiple iterations of dialogue, testing, research and reflection.  Some of the main influences included: our own experiences as leadership and team coaches; the acting profession (i.e. Checkhov’s head, heart and groin actor archetypes); whole brain thinking (e.g. Neethling and Hermann); embodied cognition; Frederic LaLoux’s (2014) Reinventing Organizations; Jonas Ridderstrale & Kjell Nordstrom’s (2008) Funky Business Forever; as well as more distant sources such as Da Vinci’s 1490 rendition of the Vitruvian Man and The Golden Ratio from mathematics (i.e. Phi–the Golden Ratio or logarithmic spiral).

What we are discovering is that the framework, while simple, is strikingly fast, deep and powerful.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. It takes a lot of hard work to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions…It’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep…You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential. – Steve Jobs

Our experience coaching leaders and teams using The 5 Knowledge Centers Model is that it acts like a “Ouija Board”–it rapidly brings to the surface what is wanting to emerge in an individual, team or company.  The distance that might have taken us 1 to 2 days to cover with a team in the past is now often taking less than a 1/2 day. The same is true when coaching individuals and leaders 1-to-1 where what might have taken an hour or multiple sessions in the past now takes 10 to 15 minutes.

There are a number of ways of working with the model as a coach. One of our favorites is to invite individuals and teams to embody the 5 Knowledge Centers during a coaching session. Imagine the above model drawn on the floor. Once  a coaching topic is identified (including using the model to identify a coaching topic when one isn’t readily available) we invite the client or team to “walk the model.” Each knowledge center is physically visited and the coaching topic is embodied and explored from that center. Often, within 5 to 10 or 15 minutes a coaching topic is quickly and holistically explored, a breakthrough is discovered, the motivation for change is released and a clear action step forward reveals itself.

So what are the 5 knowledge centers then?

The 5 Knowledge Centers

Knowledge Center #1 – The Head (Reason):  This knowledge center is the one that the majority of us tend to inhabit most frequently. Reason is very important. It’s what makes us separate from the rest of the animal kingdom. We couldn’t write this blog post right now without it.  The problem in most organizations is that it’s the only knowledge center that is accessed and valued hence it creates top heavy thinking in many corporate cultures.

Our job as coaches is to have the other knowledge centers get more equal footing.  And your rational mind might be asking “why?” Good question. Our answer is twofold. Firstly,  in order to compete and win in today’s business environment, companies need to access much more than rational thought. Technology, outsourcing, flooded markets, rapid innovation and agile teaming cultures have outpaced many of the left brain hard skills that used to be the domain of senior executives and that were often sufficient for success.  Second, employment trends are changing rapidly.  Gallup reports that worldwide only 15% of people are engaged at work.  In Japan it is worse (6%) and in the US, while slightly better (30%), it’s nothing to get excited about.  These numbers are quite staggering.  The lack of engagement is finding expression in an increasing trend towards people (especially millennials) seeking purpose-centered work rather than just profit-centered work (i.e. a paycheck).  And as large corporations hollow out their workforces, new growth in employment is being found in dynamic and innovative non-profits, startups and small and medium sized businesses.

Whether in large, medium or small companies, today’s leaders and teams need to tap into under-developed knowledge centers in order to engage workers, succeed and thrive. The good news is that each and every one of us already has those knowledge centers waiting and ready to be explored.

Knowledge Center #2 – The Heart (Love): That’s right we wrote “Love.” Heart skills are the new hard skills. The great philosophers and poets have known this from the beginning of time.  Now science is beginning to finally catch up with ancient wisdom. Back in 1860 the brains that reside in our hearts and in our guts were discovered by a German doctor and later developed by two British colleagues before being lost again to history. In 1990 they were rediscovered by an American neuroscientist (see LaLoux, F. 2014, Reinventing Organizations, p. 2). This finding confirmed that humans have three brains or autonomous nervous systems (i.e. the large one in the head, as well as small ones in the heart and the gut).  And who knows perhaps we will discover more brains in the future! Have you ever said “I can feel it in my heart” or “My heart aches”? Well now it’s actually a true statement, not just a metaphor. The more leaders and teams learn how to access and use their heart the more authentic they are and authenticity is a game changer in the workplace.

So why do we use Love to describe the heart?  In short love calls us to bring forth our most noble selves. Without love growth cannot occur.  Think of a child becoming his or her full self without love. Impossible. The same is true for us as adults. We all need a holding environment that both supports as well as challenges us to live bigger and bolder lives.

All the families of emotions such as joy, sadness, anger and fear find their root in the presence or absence of love. As leaders, coaches and teams when we create a context of love, all things become possible.

Knowledge Center #3 – The Gut (Intuition): Many of us have had the experience of ignoring what our gut tells us (sometimes what it is screaming at us) only to later see the wisdom that was contained therein.

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. – Albert Einstein

Intuition is slowly but steadily becoming recognized as a valid source of intelligence for humans to tap into.  Much like the 20 year rise of Emotional Intelligence popularized by Daniel Goldman in 1995, intuition is becoming mainstream as well.  Daniel Khaneman’s (2011) Thinking: Fast and Slow is one great example where intuition finds scientific validation.

In coaching, the first step around intuition is helping clients develop the muscle to feel it or to hear it when it speaks. The second step is helping clients to follow their intuition or sit with it until its wisdom is revealed fully.

Intuition–defined as the ability to understand something immediately without the need for conscious reasoning–often contains a treasure trove of information that can guide clients through the fog.

Interestingly we see a frequent pattern in coaching. A client is struggling to choose between two important choices. Usually one of those choices is the one the client really should choose however a 2nd choice is also presented–often resulting from a place of fear and a need to play it safe. One choice tends to be bolder and riskier while the second is more realistic and safer. The client racks his/her brain analyzing both options, tends to get stuck and keeps spinning his/her wheels. When we walk clients through the 5 Knowledge Centers and explore both options one at a time, the “bigger choice” often gets revealed and the way forward becomes clear.  It often comes by asking clients to tap into their guts and let their intuition speak.

Knowledge Center #4 – The Groin (Passion): Yes indeed we have finally reached the Knowledge Center that you probably have been most curious about or perhaps even cringed at when you first saw it in the model: The Groin! Despite the general taboo about talking about this area openly, it is undeniable that this knowledge center is powerful–powerful enough to create life and to ensure our survival as a species. In coaching, when we help clients get in touch with their groins, we don’t necessarily mean in the sexual sense (although that isn’t off the table either). We mean tapping into a deep sense of purpose, of understanding our calling and discovering our creative and playful energy.

In the arts and sports, the groin is not as shunned in comparison to most other professional domains but rather is regarded as a powerful creative resource. For example, Muhammad Ali–like many other fighters–was known to abstain from sex for up to 6 weeks before a boxing match and claimed that doing so made him unbeatable. Also Michael Checkhov–the nephew of the great playwright Anton Chekhov–identified 3 acting archetypes: head, heart and groin. In his system, actors could learn to act from any of these centers and expand their range often by physically embodying a given archetype.

When we first began introducing the groin as one of the 5 knowledge centers, both we ourselves as well as a number of our colleagues suggested we leave it out. “It is too honest” one person said and “it won’t fly in the corporate world.” And yet leaving the groin out felt like a cop out. If we are serious about exploring the full human being that means we need to explore all areas including areas that may be uncomfortable to some of us. Our experience coaching with the model has shown that leaving any knowledge center out makes the whole interdependent structure incomplete.

When our team started to coach ourselves by walking on the model, we had our initial share of adolescent banter about the groin. But even that adolescent reaction proved fruitful–it injected a playful energy into what otherwise might have been a boring session where we were holding ourselves back. While we still welcome the energy that comes from that adolescent part of us, more often than not the groin now has become a place to tap into when we are seeking more drive, more courage, more creativity, more playfulness, and more purpose. And it never let’s us down.

If, as futurist John Naisbitt said in the quote at the beginning of this post that The most exciting breakthroughs of the twenty-first century will not occur because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human, then surely this part (i.e. the Groin) of who we are is ripe for a refreshing new narrative.  Perhaps it will play an important role in helping us restore wholeness to our leaders, teams and organizations.

Knowledge Center #5 – The Hands (Action): Do you remember learning to ride a bicycle as a child? Do you recall how your full being was involved and how much focus it took to keep the bicycle from toppling over? Now as an adult, in all likelihood you can ride a bicycle without even thinking about it. You can probably do this even if you haven’t been on a bicycle for years. Your body just knows how to do it.

In 1983 Howard Gardner, the developmental psychologist, proposed his theory of multiple intelligences. One of those intelligences was coined “bodily or kinesthetic intelligence.” This is awareness and ability to use one’s body to solve problems and to be creative. You have also heard people say “I learn best through doing.” Action is a great teacher and the more we do the more knowledge becomes integrated into our hands, feet, limbs…in short our whole body. In the model we use the word “hands” to refer to this kinesthetic or body knowledge.

As our world increases in speed, our line of sight gets shorter. We can only see so far down the road. For most of our clients its about 3 to 4 months at best. This suggests that rather than top-down planning we need to become more comfortable with emergence and “learning our way forward.” In other words learning through doing is taking on greater importance. This challenges us to get our “hands dirty” more often, to try more experiments and to fail more frequently so that we can learn and adapt more quickly.

The 5 Knowledge Centers and Our Relationship with Nature

A human…experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. – Albert Einstein

In the Knowledge Center Model image shared earlier, there is an incomplete outer circle that envelopes the man. This circle in our framework represents “nature” or the “environment” within which we as individuals and groups exist. We don’t live in a vacuum. Humans evolve in a dynamic relationship with the larger ecosystem of which they are an integral part. Surely we can also derive insight and wisdom beyond the 5 Knowledge Centers. Kurt Lewin, the founding father of Social Psychology, created the famous equation of human behavior:

Therefore it is essential that we look at the human being as becoming complete and whole only in the context of his or her relationships with the larger environment.

For many of us, unfortunately, nature exists as a separate entity. One of the author’s of this post–Krister Lowe–was terrified the other day when his 6 year-old described some fields that they were passing on the way to school through the lens of the online game Minecraft. “Those fields look like the fields in Minecraft, ” she said. Krister would have preferred it had she said it the other way, “The fields in Minecraft look like those fields!” In her world, the fields and forests of Minecraft–where she spends more time–are more real than the real fields and forest that exists outside the window! In all seriousness, we often live, as Einstein said in the quote at the outset of this post, as “separate from others and nature in its fullness and that this delusion is a kind of prison for us.” We would venture even further to say that our fate as a species may indeed depend in large part on us reconnecting with and rediscovering our relationship with nature.

In our leadership and team coaching work we’ve begun to experiment with taking walks with our clients on nice days and to conduct coaching sessions outside. Nature always seems to present great opportunities that support the coaching process. Even inside a building or a training room there are powerful ways to bring awareness to the context and environment and to draw on that in a session.

Recently our team delivered our first training on the model out on the high seas in nature rather than within the safe confines of the typical corporate training room or hotel conference center. (You can listen to a podcast recording where we recount our journey as well as the unexpected insights nature revealed to us at and also can learn more about the program here For many of us on the trip who were experienced trainers, leaders, coaches and facilitators, integrating nature into the learning program as a primary component proved nothing short of incredible.  Below is a brief video that helps you experience what this is like:

Bottom line: being in nature forced us to be present and facilitated us “getting back into our bodies.”  It also revealed unexpected insights and rather than being a distraction, rapidly helped us find breakthroughs and confirmations.


In summary, the 5 Knowledge Centers + Nature provide a simple yet powerful way of helping engage the full human being at work.  Whether applied to an individual, leader and/or team, it helps to bring more wholeness into the world of work.

We hope that you enjoyed this post and that you will challenge yourself and your organization to bring more wholeness in your work as well . In our view, the 5 Knowledge Centers + Nature provide a simple yet powerful way to begin this compelling journey.  You can learn more about the framework at:

We will end this post with a quote from Frederic LaLoux (author of Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness) that captures the spirit of this call and challenge to bring more wholeness into our lives and to experience living as full human beings:

The ultimate goal in life is not to be successful or loved, but to become the truest expression of ourselves, to live into authentic selfhood, to honor our birthright gifts and callings, and be of service to humanity and our world.” – Frederic Laloux

About the Authors:

Krister Lowe, PhD, CPCC is an Organizational Psychologist and the Founder of The Team Coaching Zone ( Dr. Lowe currently practices as a leadership and team coach and also organizes periodic master classes in the area of team coaching. He has more than fifteen years of experience providing learning and development solutions to diverse organizations in more than 30 countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. He is the host of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast–a weekly interview show that explores the art and science of team coaching–and that has a listenership in more than 125 countries around the world. He is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC) and has completed a number of certification training programs in the area of team coaching and conflict resolution.

Eric Kohner, CPCC is most well known as a master in developing leaders using techniques that are both deeply transformative and, at the same time, incredibly fun. Eric is an internationally recognized executive coach and keynote speaker. He founded eKCosystem, a global corporate training company dedicated to bringing HUMAN BEING into Business. A senior trainer with the world renowned Coaches Training Institute (CTI), Eric is a pioneer of the coaching profession. Eric is a Certified Coach (CPCC) with CTI. He is based in Los Angeles in the United States.

Pim Harder, CPCC, ORSC is the Founder of Pim Harder Training and Coaching. Pim combines over 15 years experience and expertise in youth and adult learning and team and organizational development. He creates and facilitates change and development programs for educators, senior managers and leadership teams. He has been a pioneer in introducing coaching in the Dutch education and law enforcement sectors. Pim is a Certified Professional CoActive Coach (CPCC) and is also certified in the Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching Certification (ORSCC) program. He is based in the Netherlands.

5 Ways To Save a Failing Team Coaching Session

5 Ways To Save a Failing Team Coaching Session

Post by George Johnson, Vision Coach and Chief Vision Officer at The Team Coaching Zone

Have you ever been brought into a planning session that makes you go “Uh, oh…” within the first hour? If you’re a team coach, chances are that this situation might sound a little too familiar…

… So I’ll tell you my memorable story, and what I did to recharge the session. Some time ago, a CEO of a high-tech digital signage company arranged a merger with a Canadian counterpart, and before the merger could happen, he left to take a new job. As a result, the president of the board became the CEO. I had been hired to conduct a strategic planning session the next week that would bring the two groups together. And like I mentioned: the first hour spelled trouble.

One of the funniest jokes I’ve heard in my industry is this – what does a team coach do at lunch? Humor aside, in this situation and in ones you may find yourself in later on, the answer is this: redesign your afternoon session.

I told the group it was time to take a break, and for the next 30 minutes, I brought the president of the Canadian company and the new CEO together. I voiced my concern about the lack of cooperation that was going on in the room, asked if they sensed it and what they wanted to do about it. They agreed that the planning session was premature, that they had a lot more work to do on roles and responsibilities, and that we needed to do the best we could to take advantage of our time together.

We changed the agenda on the spot. Here’s five ways that you can do it, too:

  1. If things aren’t working, sense it and be open to change. The key is trusting your gut, your instincts and to be willing to be vulnerable. Bring up what you sense to the group. If you’re feeling uneasy, chances are everyone else is feeling it, too. As a team coach, to not bring it up would truly be a disservice to the group.
  2. Are people sitting behind desks or in a row? If behind desks, bring them all together in a semi circle to close the gaps that seating arrangements often create.
  3. Look at the geography. Are people sitting by function or department? Have people get up, change chairs and shuffle around. This will often change the energy.
  4. Have people change roles. Let marketing assume the role of production, and the CEO take on the role of sales, for example.
  5. Go back to the purpose of the meeting. Ask the participants what the purpose of the meeting is. Why are they here? What did they want to achieve?

These are just a few suggestions intended to open and facilitate conversation. What would you do? Do you have any challenging team session stories of your own? I’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below!

Interested in learning more from team coaching experts like George Johnson? Subscribe to the Team Coaching Zone newsletter to receive a wealth of podcasts, blogs, webinars and resources to keep you in touch with the latest in team coaching. Learn more about the Team Coaching Zone here!

George Johnson has been coaching executives and their teams on vision and strategic planning for over 15 years. Go to his website to learn more.

Team Coaching Resources (Part 1): Five Team Level Assessments

Team Coaching Resources (Part 1): Five Team Level Assessments

(Note: This post was originally published on August 23, 2016 on LinkedIn.  You can view it on LinkedIn here).

Since launching The Team Coaching Zone Podcast-an interview show that explores the art & science of coaching teams in organizations–back in January of 2015, I’ve interviewed some great pioneers, thought leaders and practitioners in the field.  The insights that I have gleaned from the interviews have transformed my approach to team coaching as well as my business. When listeners of the show reach out to me I’m often asked for recommendations on team coaching resources.  Specifically they revolve around three themes:

  • What team coaching assessments are available?
  • What are some of the main books on team coaching?
  • What team coach training programs should I consider exploring?

Recently a listener suggested that I pull together a consumer reports type episode or blog post series to review some of the resources that I’ve come across.  So voila here we go with the first in a 3-part blog post series on Team Coaching Resources!  I’ll also be recording podcast versions covering similar content so feel free to check those out at as well as on iTunesSoundCloudStitcher Radioand Google Play Music.

In this post that focuses on team coaching assessments I will:

  1. Briefly discuss some pros and cons of using assessments in team coaching engagements.
  2. Discuss using individual-level assessments in team coaching and list some of the assessments that I’ve come across on the podcast.
  3. Discuss using team-level assessments and highlight 5 team level assessments that I believe warrant a closer look by team coaches.
  4. Outline some alternatives to using assessments including do-it-yourself surveys (e.g. Survey Monkey or Google Forms), interviews, focus groups and observation.  I’ll also briefly discuss combining methods as well.

1) Pros and Cons of Using Assessments in Team Coaching


So why use an assessment in the first place? That’s a good question! An easy way to answer this is to think about using Google Maps, Apple Maps or in the old days MapQuest.  To get anywhere you have to input where you are starting from and where you are going.  Once those two coordinates have been identified a road map can be drawn identifying various routes to guide you to the destination.  A good team assessment in like manner can help you hone in on your current state and also help you map out the route to your destination.

However there is another important point which is about building motivation and readiness for change.   Dr. Richard Boyatzis, out of Case Western University, has outlined five dynamic phases or as he likes to call them discoveries that individuals, groups or larger systems must make when trying to create intentional sustainable change  (For more info check out Boyatzis, R.E. (2006) An overview of intentional change from a complexity perspective. Journal of Management Development, 25, 607-623).  Creating sustainable change requires 1) discovering the ideal self or desired future; 2) an assessment of the real self or current state; 3) a learning agenda; 4) experimentation and practice; and 5) resonant relationships that enable us to learn. The engine for change gets created by the gap or dynamic tension between the desired future and current states.

An assessment can help create the motivational tension that when harnessed can propel the team forward.  And while there are different ways of doing this (see section 4 below), assessments can be great approach to doing this efficiently.  In my experience coaching teams I’ve found a few general pros and cons using assessments that are summarized in the table below:


 2) Individual-Level Assessments

Given the historical focus in most organizations on individual level performance management, it’s not surprising that a plethora of individual-level assessments abound.  Well-known instruments like MBTI and DiSC often times show up in team building and team coaching engagements.  And while they can help teams form and create a more safe interpersonal climate, they have some limitations when applied at the group level.  One limitation or risk of using individual-level assessments with groups and teams is that a team is an entity unto itself with its own personality, history and dynamics.  It has been observed that coaching all the individual members of a leadership team doesn’t necessarily result in increased team performance (Source: Wageman, R., Nunes, D.A., Burruss, J.A., & Hackman, J.R. (2008). Senior Leadership Teams: What It Takes To Make Them Great). And that’s because a team is more than the sum of its parts.   Team dynamics cannot easily be captured by simply aggregating individual level measures and making interpretations based on such averages.

So the main point here is that while individual assessments may be supportive of a team coaching engagement and useful as part of the team formation stage as well as in peer coaching among team members, their diagnostic potential is limited. Before moving on to the next section which focuses on team-level assessments for team coaching, let’s pause for a moment to list some of the individual-level instruments (13 based on my review!) that haven been mentioned throughout the various episodes of the team coaching zone podcast:

3) Team-Level Assessments

In this section I’d like provide an overview of 5 team-level assessments that I’ve discovered through the podcast interviews that are particularly suited to team coaching. While there are many team assessments on the market, the five presented here are, in my view, particularly suited for team coaching.  The list is not intended to be exhaustive.  I’ve used a number of these instruments as a team coach myself and have also experienced one of them directly as an end user on a team.

A. The Team Diagnostic Survey


Developed by the late Dr. Richard Hackman and other scholar-practitioners at Harvard University including Dr. Ruth Wageman, the Team Diagnostic Survey is based on substantial research on real-world teams in a number of industries.  The research underlying the instrument found that approximately 50% of the variance in team effectiveness can be attributed to two sets of conditions (Essential and Enabling) each measured by three factors.  The three essential factors

The three enabling factors include: 4) Sound Structure – the team has a clear task design, the right size in terms of number and shared norms for how it will work together; 5) Organizational Support – the team receives the information, resources, education and recognition/rewards that it needs to succeed; and 6) Team Coaching – support and challenge by an external or internal team coach, a team leader and/or team members that is regularly available and that is helpful.

In addition to the Essential and Enabling conditions, the assessment captures three measures of team effectiveness: 1) task performance – the team’s main clients or users are satisfied with the quality, quantity and timeliness of the team’s work; 2) quality of the team’s process – team members work together in ways that enable them to increase their effectiveness over time vs. one-time performances; and 3) member satisfaction – the team’s dynamic facilitates rather than impedes the learning and growth of team members.

Furthermore there are some additional dimensions assessed including the team leader’s effectiveness; psychological safety, the team’s learning orientation and more.  To learn more about the Team Diagnostic survey you can check out:


B. Team Emotional Intelligence Survey


Based on 20 years of research by Dr. Vanessa Druskat and Dr. Steve Wolff that focuses on understanding what differentiates high performing teams from good performing teams, The Team Emotional Intelligence Survey assess 3 Team Fundamentals (1. Goals & Objectives, 2. Meeting Procedures, and 3. Roles & Responsibilities) that all good and high performing teams have in place. The assessment also captures 9 Team Emotional Intelligence Norms that point the way for a team to go from good to great.  The 9 norms are organized across three levels:

  • Individual Level – 1) Interpersonal Understanding, 2) Addressing Counterproductive Behavior, 3) Caring Behavior
  • Team Level – 4) Team Self-Evaluation; 5) Creating Emotion Resources; 6) Creating an Affirmative Environment; 7) Proactive Problem-Solving
  • Organizational Level – 8) Organizational Understanding; 9) Building External Relations

An additional interesting set of factors assessed in the instrument are 4 Elements of Team Social Capital that emerge when the Team Fundamentals and Team Ei Norms are established.  These include: 1) Safety, Trust & Risk Taking; 2) Team Identity; 3) Innovation; and 4) Creating Debate.

Finally the survey includes a section for verbatim responses that ask respondents to share what the team should Continue doing wellStop doing that isn’t working well; and Start doing that they aren’t doing as well as a final question involving what else they would like to share about the team’s functioning.

To learn more about The Team Emotional Intelligence Survey you can check out:


C. Team Diagnostic – Team Leaderview – Team 360 View – Organization View Suite of Assessments


Team Coaching International’s (TCI) Co-Founders Alexis Phillips and Phil Sandhal (Co-Author of Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives), created a suite of four diagnostic instruments specifically designed for team coaching.  Their research identified two sets of strengths that enable teams to take action and that build effective relationships to motivate and sustain that action.

  1. Productivity Strengths: 7 productivity strengths or sub-dimensions are identified that support the team in achieving results, accomplishing tasks, sand taying on course to reach goals and objectives. The seven include: Resources, Decision Making, Alignment, Accountability, Leadership, Goals & Strategies and Proactive.
  2. Positivity Strengths: 7 positivity strengths or sub-dimensions help the team with interrelationships between team members and the spirt of the team as a system.  The strengths build on research from the areas of Emotional Intelligence, Positive Psychology and academic research into relationships that work.  The seven include: Respect, Values Diversity, Camaraderie, Communication, Constructive Interaction, Optimism, Trust.

The two sets of Productivity and Positivity strengths form the basis of the four instruments TCI has specifically designed for team coaching.  The four instruments include:

  • Team Diagnostic: a team level online assessment completed by all team members on the two sets of strengths. The 40 page report that is generated contains a generous number of quad and spider diagrams, tables of the highest and lowest scoring items in each of the two ares, line graphs of the items where the most agreement and least agreement was reported and more.  The survey also includes open-ended questions which can be customized.  TCI reports a 20% increase on average in a team’s effectiveness on the Productivity and Positivity dimensions following use of the Team Diagnostic.
  • Team Leader View: A second instrument available is the Team Leader View. The diagnostic tool is based on the same model as the Team Diagnostic and consists of a team leader’s “view” of his/her own team on the Productivity and Positivity strengths.  The results can be layered onto the results of the Team Diagnostic profile to see where a leader’s view of the team aligns or not with that of the team.  The results outline areas of strength as well as areas for improvement for both the team as well as the team leader.
  • Team 360 View: A third instrument, the Team 360 View, is an external assessment conducted by stakeholder’s of the team. Stakeholder’s assess the team on the Productivity and Positivity competencies.
  • Organization View: A fourth instrument in the suite, the Organization View, assesses the health of the organization’s culture (Positivity) as well as the capability of the organization to be productive (Productivity).  The instrument can be used with a division, a large department, an entire organization or a representative sample of the company.  The final report can also be segmented to show overall results as well as subsets (e.g. IT, finance, manufacturing, etc…)

To learn more about TCI’s methodology and instruments you can check out:


D. Team Connect 360


Based on the pioneering work of Peter Hawkins, PhD on the 5 disciplines of high performing teams, the Academy of Executive Coaching (AoEC) and Renewal Associates partnered to develop the Team Connect 360.  The instrument, available to team coaches who have been trained in Systemic Team Coaching, provides a holistic view of the team’s internal dynamics as well as its external relationships with stakeholders.

The instrument collects data on the 5 disciplines of high performing teams from 4 sets of raters: Team Members, Primary Stakeholder (i.e. who the team reports to), Direct Reports of the Team, and Other Stakeholders. The five disciplines framework provides a balanced look at the team on both task as well as process dimensions as well as outside and inside views of the team.  The five disciplines include:

  1. Stakeholder Expectations – focuses on looking externally from a task perspective on what the team is being called to achieve.
  2. Team Tasks – focuses on looking internally within the team from a task perspective on the specific areas the team will focus on to achieve its purpose.
  3. Team Relationships – focuses on looking internally within the team from a process perspective on how the team will co-create its way of working together to achieve its Team Tasks and Stakeholder Expectations.
  4. Stakeholder Relationships – focuses on looking externally from a process perspective on which stakeholders need to be engaged for the team to successfully deliver on its purpose.
  5. Team Learning – focuses on how well the team is capturing the learning for the benefit of the organization, as well as how it nurtures and encourages the learning and development of each team member.

The assessment includes both quantitative ratings as well as qualitative open-ended comments sections for raters to provide feedback on each of the 5 disciplines.  Summary views, detailed breakdowns within each of the 5 areas as well as overall performance summaries on a number of team success criteria are provided.

To learn more about the 5 Disciplines, Systemic Team Coaching, and the Team Connect 360 you can check out:


5) Polarity Map


Based on the pioneering work of Dr. Barry Johnson on Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable ProblemsPolarity Partnerships developed the Polarity Approach to Continuity and Transformation (PACT), the Polarity Map and the Polarity Assessment.  The approach helps leaders, teams and organizations to utilize problem solving as well as “both/and” thinking to address strategic opportunities and challenges.  All leaders, teams and organizations face polarities (also known as paradox, wicked problems, chronic tensions, dilemmas, contradictions, dualities and dichotomies) that by nature are “unsolvable.” While fundamentally unsolvable, the energy contained in these systems of interdependent pairs can be harnessed to drive learning and change.

A few years ago I was fortunate to experience the Polarity Map as as an end user while working as part of a small management consulting team.  The assessment and process helped us to quickly identify the unique polarities that were alive in our team and that had yet to be harnessed to propel us to the next level of effectiveness.

The PACT process unfolds in 5 steps:

  1. Seeing: identifying the polarities a team is facing.
  2. Mapping: mapping out the polarities on a polarity map.
  3. Assessing: assessing through an online instrument how well or poorly your team is leveraging the polarity.
  4. Learning: making meaning out your assessment results.
  5. Leveraging: leveraging your insights to commit to developing actions and tactical strategies to achieve success as well as to identify and monitor early warnings that require course correction.

To learn more about this approach you can check out:


4) Alternatives to Using Assessments

Let’s close out this post by suggesting some alternatives to using assessments as well as combining assessments with other forms of data collection. Collecting needs assessment data and feeding that data back to team can be accomplished through variety of additional methods including:

  • Do-it-Yourself Surveys: prior to getting trained and certified in a number of the instruments mentioned in this post, I relied heavily on Survey Monkey and Google Forms to create customized quantitative and qualitative surveys prior to team coaching engagements.  An easy yet effective method I found was to collect SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) data through a series of open-ended questions and then to add some quantitative rating scales on a number of team effectiveness dimensions identified from research articles on team performance.  I still use Survey Monkey surveys to this day and find that the graphs and tables they generate can easily be adapted to create PowerPoint decks for feedback sessions with clients.  The downside to me of this approach is simply the time involved. As my practice has grown, my time has become more limited and so I am more willing to pay to have this work done for me through a validated assessment than building out a custom survey.
  • Interviews: in many ways conducting 20 to 30 minutes interviews with members of a team as well its stakeholders is unbeatable.  In addition to collecting data it has the advantage of helping you build a relationship with each member of the team. It’s an opportunity to build trust with team members in a way that an online assessment simply can’t.  You also gain lots of nuance into how the dynamics in the team are playing out.  Online assessments tend to be more impersonal and lack the ability to capture these nuances. While costly in terms of time, interviews begin the process of building readiness for change.  Tip:  when creating an interview protocol, first identify a team effectiveness model from which you can then formulate a few questions that drive a semi-structured interview.  In other words, have some structure to your questions but then follow the energy and get curious when something sounds interesting or warranting of deeper exploration.  After conducting the interviews you can then organize the data across all of your interviewees according to the model which will help when feeding the data back.
  • Focus Groups: get groups of 6 to 10 people either face-to-face or online via a webinar platform (e.g Adobe Connect, WebEx, Zoom, Go-To-Meeting, etc…) to conduct a group interview.  One creative approach a colleague and I developed a few years ago when working with a larger team, was to have focus group members begin the session by first interviewing each other on their experience of the team guided by a few key questions (e.g. what are 1 or 2 main strengths of our team and what are 1 or 2 things that are really holding us back).  After each person is interviewed (usually about 7 minutes per person) the full group then can share findings and begin a larger group dialogue about the current state of the team and where they would like to go in the future.  This approach has the benefit of starting in a safe and more personal way (i.e. via the interviews) and then moving up to a rich group dialogue.  An advantage of focus groups is that you can engage a large number of people in the process in less time than via conducting one-to-one interviews but you still can capture the nuance.  Also you enroll participants in a more dynamic way in getting the change process started and generating their motivation and buy-in.
  • Observation: a final and largely underutilized method is observation.  Sitting in on team meetings is guaranteed to reveal a wealth of data about the team’s dynamics, strengths and areas for improvement.  One team that I work with conducts an annual one day retreat. They invite me to come and observe the first half day of the session and then to spend the afternoon sharing my observations, facilitating a dialogue about the findings as well as engaging in team coaching on a specific area for improvement.  The advantage of this approach is that the needs assessment happens in real time and the coaching follows in quick succession.

In summary, there are a number of alternatives to using assessments all of which have advantages and disadvantages.  They also can be combined together including with an online assessment.  The “triangulation” of data that occurs can lead to greater confidence in the findings when patterns across the different sets of data corroborate each other.  I like to combine interviews with an online assessment so that I get the best of both worlds (i.e. building a relationship with each team member and capturing the nuances while also have the concrete data and tables that are fit to a team effectiveness model).

So in closing, as the field of team coaching evolves it can be helpful for us as team coaches to explore both best practices for conducting team needs assessments as well as the various methodologies and technologies available for doing so.  In this post we explored the pros and cons of using assessments, briefly discussed the strengths and limitations of using individual-level assessments in team coaching, explored 5 online team-level assessments for team coaching and also explored some alternatives to using assessments.  I hope you found this post informative and stimulates your thinking about how you are approaching your work with teams.

I welcome your comments and feedback as well as any insights you have gleaned from your practice using assessments as part of team coaching engagements.

To further your learning, checkout for a range of free content and be sure to subscribe to The Team Coaching Zone Newsletter to stay up to date on the latest podcast episodes, blog posts, webinars and events going on at The Team Coaching Zone as well as to gain information and discounts on upcoming team coaching training events.

Have a great day!

Krister Lowe, MA, PhD, CPCC

Dr. Krister Lowe is an Organizational Psychologist, a Leadership and Team Coach, and the Creator of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast and Website ( He is a specialist in leadership and team coaching and has more than fifteen years of experience consulting to diverse organizations in more than 25 countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. His coaching, consulting, facilitation and training interventions have reached more than 25,000 people globally. He is the Host of The Team Coaching Zone podcast–a weekly interview show that explores the art and science of coaching teams in organizations–and that has a listenership in more than 95 countries around the world.

Post #008: 10 Lessons on Coaching Teams in Organizations: Review of Podcast Episodes 11 to 20

Post #008: 10 Lessons on Coaching Teams in Organizations: Review of Podcast Episodes 11 to 20

by Dr. Krister Lowe and Dr. David Tate

(Note: a version of this post can also be viewed on LinkedIn here.)

In this post we highlight ten standout themes or lessons learned that emerged while reflecting on episodes 11 to 20 of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast—a weekly interview show that features leading organizational coaches who share their ideas and stories about coaching teams in companies and organizations. (To listen to a free podcast recording of our informal conversation reviewing these ten themes go to: iTunes, Stitcher Radio, or

Lesson #1 – Well-Developed Team Coaching Models

A common challenge that both new and experienced team coaches face is finding well-developed models and frameworks on team coaching. Many team coaches have developed their own home-grown approaches. This is wonderful and at the same time if the field is going to develop, replicable models and frameworks that are published and that can be shared are needed. Fortunately, episodes 11 to 20 of the podcast uncovered a number of clearly articulated and tested team coaching models and frameworks. Professor Peter Hawkins’ (Episode #19) work on the 5 disciplines of successful team practice (Commissioning, Clarifying, Co-Creating, Connecting and Core Learning) as well as the accompanying CID-CLEAR team coaching process model was one notable framework that stood out. Dr. Jacqueline Peters and Dr. Catherine Carr’s model as outlined in their book High Performance Team Coaching: A Comprehensive System for Leaders and Coaches (Episodes 12 & 13) with its 6 elements (Pre Assessment, Coaching for Team Design, Team Launch, Individual Coaching, Ongoing Team Coaching, Review Learning & Successes) was another notable standout. Jennifer Britton’s (Episode #11) 5 stage team coaching process (Contracting, Pre-Program, Offsite/Kick-off, Ongoing Coaching Conversations, Wrap-Up) as outlined in her book From One to Many: Best Practices for Team and Group Coaching provided yet another practical hands-on road map to the team coaching process. And Erin Hutchins introduced the Relationship Engine framework for team coaching that builds on CTI’s Co-Active model. It’s important to mention that back in Episode #009 DJ Mitsch, an early pioneer in team coaching, also discussed her well-developed and articulated team coaching model and approach, The Team Advantagethe Extraordinary Business Game. These models provide team coaches with a strong platform for guiding practice, for the supervision of team coaches, for scaling up team coaching in organizations and also ultimately for empirical testing and research.

Lesson #2 – The Team Coaching Continuum

Professor Peter Hawkins’ (Episode #19) continuum of team coaching provides a helpful way of organizing a number of team coaching activities. As outlined in his outstanding book Leadership Team Coaching: Developing Collective Transformational Leadership, the continuum moves developmentally from more internally focused team coaching activities to ones that are more externally focused. Team building –> Team Facilitation –> Team Performance Coaching –> Leadership Team Coaching –> Transformational Leadership Team Coaching –> Systemic Team Coaching. The continuum helps clarify the distinctions between these approaches to team coaching and also provides both team coaches as well as buyers of team coaching services with a menu of alternatives depending on their goals. The continuum also helps to outline the competencies necessary for effective coaching at each stage of development. A question often asked by people new to team coaching is: “How is team coaching different from team training, team training or team building?” The continuum provides a concrete way of answering that question.

Lesson #3 – Systemic Approaches to Team Coaching

If we had to pick one word that captures the spirit of episodes 11 to 20 it would be “systemic.” Two episodes, Episode #19: Systemic Team Coaching: Coaching the 5 Disciplines of Successful Team Practice with Professor Peter Hawkins and Episode #20: The Dreaming Nature of Systems: How Team, Executive and Business Coaches Can Work with What’s Emerging with Marita Fridjhon, focused on the systemic nature of team coaching. A quote by Peter Hawkins captured this nicely: “Bateson said we misunderstood Darwin. We think the unit of survival (of the fittest) is the individual, or the team, or organization, or nation or species. But it’s not any of those. It’s neither the unit of survival nor the unit of flourishing. Unit of survival is any one of those in dynamic co-creation with its ecological niche. We can’t talk about a high performing team or individual, we can only talk about a team that’s co-creating value with and for all its stakeholders in its ecological niche.” Marita Fridjhon’s episode highlighted important concepts such as the 3rd Entity, Relationship Systems Intelligence and “holonic shifts” as well as the “me, we and it” levels in coaching. Marita’s quote captures this even on an individual level: “The first system is self. If I ever thought that I was doing individual coaching, it’s always been a lie because it has always been multiple selves, multiple parts in me that meets up with multiple parts in you.”  Herb Stevenson’s episode on Gestalt approaches to coaching teams also touched on the systemic nature and dynamics of coaching teams. And David Tate’s session on managing multiple systems within family enterprises also brought a systemic perspective.  The systemic perspective brings the team’s context and relationship with that context into center of the team coaching arena.

Lesson #4 – Leveraging Polarities or Energy Systems in Team Coaching

Cliff Kayser’s episode (#017) on Leveraging Polarities to Drive Leadership and Team Coaching also presented a unique meta-level system’s perspective on polarities as powerful energy systems within teams. Polarities or interdependent pairs (e.g. individual and team; process and task; autocratic and participatory, etc…) are always present in all systems. Coaches can help leaders and teams identify the key polarities at play and to view them “not as problems that can be resolved but rather as energy systems that can be leveraged to drive growth and change.” They are dilemmas that don’t go away but rather that contain energy waiting to be harnessed to drive change. Polarity thinking can help teams and team coaches avoid falling into the trap of false dichotomies and help teams respond in more sophisticated and complex ways to their adaptive challenges.  As Barry Johnson, a founder and seminal figure in the polarity field says in his book Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems: “For every complex problem there is a simple solution, and its wrong.” The polarity map characterized by an infinity loop layered on top of four quadrants–that Cliff discusses on the episode–can be a powerful diagnostic tool for team coaches and for helping team’s map out the polarities they are struggling with.  (Note: A Copy of the polarity map can be downloaded under the “Downloads tab” at

Lesson #5 – Building and Designing High Performing Relationships

A few episodes focused on the critical role that team member relationships play in the team coaching process. Dr. Jacqueline Peters (Episode #012) noted that the science of what drives successful relationships with couples overlaps with the science of what drives successful teams as well as successful customer relationships. Consequently she identified the High Performance Relationship System – A Five Building Block System to help team members develop high performance relationships. The five building blocks include: Safety, Purpose, Structure, Camaraderie and Repair. Understanding the 5 building blocks can help teams understand the complexity of the relationship dynamics at play in the group; can help team members become more objective and to not take issues personally; and can help foster a shift in focus from “I” to “We.” Dr. Peters has a forthcoming book on The High Performance Relationship system. This will be yet another great resource for team coaches. Erin Hutchins’ episode (#014) on The Relationship Engine: Designing the Alliance in Team Coaching also emphasized the critical role of relationships in the team coaching process. The Relationship Engine builds on CTI’s Co-Active Coaching model and focuses on four elements that provide a context of safety and trust in teams: Take Responsibility; Choose; Align; and Commit. Designing a strong alliance with the team up front in coaching really can help build a holding environment, container or vehicle for the team coaching engagement and thereby stave off implosion by the team due to misalignment in the relationships. Jennifer Porter (Episode #016) made a memorable comment about how the relationships aspects and focal areas of coaching often get a lot of attention because its fun and as she said “juicy.” She also spoke about balancing this relationship focus with some strong practical tools. Her episode revealed some great gems such as having behaviorally based operating principles to guide team member interactions, linking up team metrics to the operating principles and also elucidated a powerful technique for sharing diagnostic interview data with a team in a fishbowl type of format. Being a high performing team requires being excellent at both relationships a well as in task areas.

Lesson #6 – Differentiating Group Coaching from Team Coaching

Jennifer Britton’s episode (#011) provided an important distinction between coaching a group (e.g. a cohort of high potential leaders) vs. coaching an intact team. She likened the two as “related siblings” but as two different sub-disciplines within the coaching profession. In group coaching the focus tends to be on each individual’s goals and development while in team coaching the team’s goal and mission tends to be the focus. Other important distinctions between the two types of coaching include: the role of leadership; the role of relationships; the life cycle of the group/team; and what’s at stake. Her book From One to Many: Best Practices for Team and Group Coaching provides an excellent in-depth resource on both types of coaching. In team coaching we are really trying to coach the collective intelligence or mind of the group. In other words, when a team has become more than the sum of its parts, when synergy is happening or when a team is “in the zone or in flow,” that is really an indicator that a real team exists.  This provides a stark contrast to group coaching which tends to focus more on the individual’s development in the context of a group and not on creating the conditions for what Marita Fridjhon calls the 3rd Entity to arise. 

Lesson #7 – Team Coaching Training Programs

Episodes #11 – 20 revealed a number of established ICF accredited team coaching training programs. Only one such program (The Team Advantage Program discussed by D.J. Mitsch in Episode #009) emerged during the first ten episodes. Three additional programs were mentioned in episodes 11 to 20 including Jennifer’ Britton’s online as well as face-to-face group and team coaching certification training programs, Peter Hawkins’ Systemic Team Coaching Certificate and Certification training programs, and Marita Fridjhon’s Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC) Certification Program. These well-developed and tested team coaching programs provide would-be team coaches with robust opportunities to get trained as a team coach. They also offer supervision options to help support the journey to becoming a team coach. Jennifer Britton’s book From One to Many: Best Practices for Team and Group Coaching and Peter Hawkins book Leadership Team Coaching: Developing Collective Transformational Leadership provide valuable sections on what it takes to become a team coach including the necessary competencies to do so.  Herb Stevenson (Episode #018) also discussed a team coaching training program that he has in development and that will be released soon.   As more people invest in getting trained as a team coach, this will likely have a direct effect on the credibility of the field and also on the quality and impact of team coaching interventions in organizations.

 Lesson #8 – Coaching Family Enterprise Teams and Systems

David Tate’s episode (#015) focused on coaching one ubiquitous type of team—family enterprise teams and systems. Family businesses are responsible for generating 78% of all new jobs and for generating 65% of all wages paid in the United States. Teams in such enterprises can be faced with unique opportunities as well as challenges that differentiate them from other types of teams (See our blog post “Teams in Family Enterprise Systems: Crouching Tigers & Hidden Dragons” here for a brief discussion of these challenges and opportunities). David’s podcast highlights three subsystems that need to be managed when coaching family business teams: the management system, the ownership system and the family system. We hope future episodes of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast will highlight coaching teams in specific industries and functional areas well as different types of teams such as virtual teams.  David’s episode provides a great start in providing thinking in one niche area.

 Lesson #9 – Sandbox Clients, Co-Team Coaching & Supervision

Jennifer Porter’s episode (#016) From C-Suite Executive to Leadership and Team Coach touched on the importance for team coaches of finding “sandbox” clients where they can gain practice and experience team coaching in lower risk settings . Co-team coaching also was mentioned in her episode as important for team coaches to seriously consider, as it can really can help both new as well as experienced team coaches manage the complex dynamics of working with a team. In addition, the importance of supervision was noted in a number of episodes and it was suggested that this might be even more important than supervision in one-to-one coaching settings given the increase in complexity when moving from one to many.  Finding experienced team coaches who can supervise new team coaches was explored and a number of names were offered in this regard (e.g. Jennifer Porter Episode #016; Dr. Catherine Carr Episode #013, Jennifer Britton Episode #011, Dr. Peter Hawkins Episode #19, Marita Fridjhon Episode #020).

Lesson #10 – The Wild West of Team Coaching

We end this recap of episodes 11 to 20 with an overarching theme that has been recurrent since the start of the podcast back in January of this year: team coaching is still in an emerging and early stage of development. It’s a bit of the “Wild West” which brings with it both excitement as well a lack of formal standards and guidelines. However in these ten episodes we can see some solid order and structures being forged out of the chaos. Jennifer Britton’s work (Episode #011) on best practices in team coaching is one seminal work in this area while the work of Dr. Peter Hawkins (Episode #019), Dr. Jacqueline Peters & Dr. Catherine Carr (Episodes #12 & 13), and Marita Fridjhon (Episode #020) all point to the emergence of formalized courses of instruction and models that are now readily available to team coaches. Along with DJ Mitsch’s Team Advantage (Episode #009) program, new and experienced team coaches can find guidance, books, models, training programs, mentorship, supervision, community and more.  So while team coaching may still feel like the wild west, those days may be numbered.

In summary, it’s an exciting time in the field of team coaching and it’s exciting to learn from many of the early pioneers who have helped set a foundation and course for future scholars and practitioners in this area.  For readers who wish to dig deeper, the Resources page at the Team Coaching Zone website provides lots of additional information on team coaching including white papers, downloadable PDFs of many of the models discussed in this post, white papers, short videos and more.

We look forward to continuing to release new episodes of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast on a weekly basis. Episodes come out every Thursday and can be listened to for free on iTunesStitcher Radio, or at Also be sure to check out our free monthly webinar hangouts on team coaching, our group on LinkedIn and subscribe to our newsletter.

We hoped you enjoyed reviewing these summary themes and lessons learned. We will be back after the next ten episodes to provide another similar summary. We welcome your comments and feedback which you can direct to and to Until then remember to stay in the team coaching zone!

 About the Bloggers

Dr. David Tate is a Principal at the Tate Consulting Group, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant as well an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University and an Author. Learn more about David at:

Dr. Krister Lowe is an Organizational Psychologist, a Leadership and Team Coach and the Host of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast as well as an Adjunct Professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. Learn more about Krister at:

Post #005: 10 Lessons on Coaching Teams in Organizations: Review of Podcast Episodes 1 to 10

Post #005: 10 Lessons on Coaching Teams in Organizations: Review of Podcast Episodes 1 to 10

by Dr. Krister Lowe and Dr. Sandra Hayes

On January 15th of this year The Team Coaching Zone Podcast was launched.  The weekly show, available on iTunes and Stitcher, features interviews with leading organizational coaches and explores the art and science of coaching teams in companies and organizations.  In this post we would like to share 10 lessons learned or meta-themes that emerged from the first ten episodes.  A summary podcast of these themes is also available here.  The following 10 lessons were extracted from that episode and are presented in this blog post.  They are not presented in any special order.  We hope that you find them both interesting as well as useful as you reflect on your work coaching teams, leading teams or as a member of a team.

Lesson #1 – Team Coaches are Interesting! All the coaches interviewed on the show were really fascinating people and seemed to evolve into team coaching as a result of their natural growth as practitioners.  Many of them tended to start off their careers in fields other than coaching and then found their way into this work.  In addition to being coaches, many came from multi-disciplinary backgrounds that they called upon on when coaching teams.  For example, one coach, Felipe Paiva (Episode #004) who is also a musician and a surfer, spoke about drawing on his multi-disciplinary background when engaging teams in the dynamic process of coaching.  Many of the coaches spoke about the importance of being able to move beyond the “self” in order to be fully present when working with teams. In doing so, coaches model a focus on the collective rather than on the individual—an essential quality of effective teaming.

Lesson #2 – Team Coaching As an Accelerant for Development and Performance:  A number of the coaches spoke explicitly about how they use team coaching methods to accelerate team development and improve performance.  Rachel Ciporen (Episode #003) provided a text book example with one team she coached.  Another coach, DJ Mitsch (Episode #009), discussed how she helps teams move through the phases of forming, storming, norming and performing in a 16-week timeframe—much faster than the two years it took Dr. Bruce Tuckman (1965) to observe and name these phenomena in teams.  Greg Burns (Episode #008) also spoke about helping senior leadership teams accelerate their evolution toward higher performance in order to respond to the adaptive challenges in their companies.  While we know that accelerating development and performance occurs in one-to-one coaching, it is exciting to see examples of this accelerating at the team level as well.   Parkinson’s Law seems to apply here: the law suggests that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” (Source:’s_law).  In other words, the more time we give to a given task the more time it will take accomplish that task.  Steve Jobs at Apple was a master of applying this law to accelerate the performance of his teams.  And this is something team coaches can replicate.

Lesson #3 – Team Coaching as a Vehicle for Organizational Change: A lot of organizations are facing adaptive challenges in addition to technical ones.  Adaptive challenges require that teams push themselves to learn, to innovate and to transform.  Felipe Paiva (Episode #004) and Greg Burns (Episode #008) both referred to the Immunity to Change framework by Kegan and Lahey as being very helpful  when coaching teams through a change process or when dealing with seemingly unsolvable problems.  And Jane Abitanta (Episode #010) mentioned Intentional Change Theory by Richard Boyatzis and Warner Burke’s work on Learning Agility as helpful frameworks when working with teams around change.  Effective team development can also lead to effective organizational change.  Large-scale team coaching can be a powerful approach to organizational transformation. DJ Mitsch’s (Episode #009) example of coaching 60 teams a Sanofi Pharmaceuticals had a dramatic impact on a number of organizational metrics.  Team coaching is a systemic intervention and can be a powerful vehicle for facilitating broader organizational change.

 Lesson #4 – Team Coaching to Foster Leadership Cultures:  Coaching senior leadership teams has the power to transform not only a company’s business but also its leadership bench and culture.  Jean Frankel (Episode #005) shared a powerful story of providing one-to-one coaching with the president of a university and 14 vice presidents while simultaneously coaching the leadership team as a whole.  This story highlighted how team coaching is  breaking down silos among the leaders and helping a new more engaged leadership ethos to emerge.  Dr. Yaron Prywes (Episode #007) shares the story of coaching as C-Suite team using 360 degree feedback and how the leadership culture around learning and development is changing as a result.  Greg Burns (Episode #008) also spoke about helping teams identify the 2 to 3 compelling challenges or opportunities that have the potential to transform the company.  In one of his stories, the leadership team’s effectiveness itself became one of those compelling challenges to transform and how team coaching facilitated a shift in the leadership team’s dynamics and subsequently organizational results.

Lesson #5 – Coach-ability and Coaching Motivation of Team Leaders and Members:   Often times when team coaching isn’t working well, something is not working with the team’s leader.  In many cases. the leaders themselves may not be coachable–may not be willing or able to do the hard work necessary to ensure they are able to lead  effectively.   Change requires risk-taking, vulnerability and trust and team leaders need to create the conditions for those behaviors to emerge. This was a theme mentioned on many episodes (Krister Lowe Episode #002, Felipe Paiva Episode #004, Jean Frankel Episode #005, Greg Burns Episode #008, Jane Abitanta Episode #010).  Dr. Yaron Prywes’ story (Episode #007) illustrates how coaching itself helped increase the coaching motivation among some C-Suite team members who were initially going through the process as a “window dressing” exercise.  We also learned of cases where the leader was on board with doing the hard work of coaching but the team wasn’t.  Sometimes teams want the benefits of being a team but don’t want to pay the cost of what becoming a high functioning one entails.  DJ Mitsch (Episode #009) really challenged one group by asking them to consider what would be different if the team started to tell the real truth about the business and its needs. This led to getting the leaders to make the hard decisions they were stalling on and that once made led to dramatic shifts in the firm’s results.

Lesson #6 – The Role of Supervision and Co-Team Coaching: A number of coaches (Dr. Yaron Prywes Episode #007 and Jane Abitanta Episode #010) discussed the importance of having formal or informal supervisors or peer coaches to help support the team coach during an engagement.  Receiving supervision can really help a team coach stay centered during the challenging and dynamic ups and downs of a team coaching engagement.  When the “storming” phase occurs with teams, it can be easy for team coaches to get knocked off center.  Supervision can help regain that balance more quickly.  Dr. Prywes mentioned how supervision in Europe is a much more prominent feature of the coaching industry than as compared to North America. A number of guests (Jean Frankel Episode #005 and DJ Mitsch Episode #009) spoke about the value of co-team coaching with either a pair of external team coaches or a pair with one external and one internal team coach.  This latter approach provides the advantage of ensuring the business context is well leveraged during team coaching.

Lesson #7 – Partnership Coaching:  Coaching CEO’s and COOs as well as founders of firms can have a dramatic impact on a company’s outcomes and culture given the systemic position and role they occupy. Tom Fumarelli (Episode #006), who earlier in his career had been in the roles of President, COO and CFO of major companies, spoke about the power of CEO an COO partnership coaching that he experienced when he was a C-Suite executive.  Now as an executive coach he provides this type of coaching in pairs as well as trios and the results are quite significant.

Lesson #8 – Differentiating Team Training, Team Facilitation, and Team Building from Team Coaching: While many of the coaches mentioned using team training, team facilitation and team building as part of their team coaching engagements, what differentiates team coaching is the ongoing work of helping teams set goals, take action and hold themselves accountable.  Helping teams focus on their collective task, which helps individuals transcend their own individual wants and perspectives, is one way coaches add value to teams.    Teams perform better when they can be coached to avoid the trap of getting lost in the conflicts and relationship issues that often emerge when individual preferences and wants are clashing.  Also, being clear on what role you are playing (trainer, facilitator, coach, etc…) is critical throughout the team coaching process.  These themes were mentioned by a number of coaches in the episodes (Rachel Ciporen Episode #003, Felipe Paiva Episode #004, Jean Frankel Episode #005, Jane Abitanta Episode #010).

Lesson #9 – Subject Matter Expertise and Credibility:  While having industry expertise and knowing the business can be a powerful way to build credibility as a team coach, it can also bring bias, assumptions and pitfalls.  This was mentioned vividly by Jane Abitanta (Episode #010). Tom Fumarelli often is asked to provide “advice” when coaching executives given his business leadership experience.  He manages this by being clear about which role he is playing in a given moment (i.e. coach vs. advisor).   Greg Burns (Episode #008) spoke at length about doing a lot of homework on his clients and really “learning” the client in order to be able to do his job as a team coach effectively.  Conducting interviews with each team member prior to a team coaching engagement was a common theme that helped the coaches “learn” the client and establish credibility. This was illustrated well by Rachel Ciporen (Episode #003) and Felipe Paiva (Episode #004) among others.

Lesson #10 – Helping Leaders Get Out of the FoxHole Mentality:  Leaders of today’s companies are under so much pressure that they often seem to be in “foxholes” and have a foxhole mentality.  Part of the job of a team coach is to help the leader get out his/her foxhole, get centered and  enabled to lead their teams.  Team coaches can support leaders to lead from a place of strength and empathy with a focus on the collective rather than from a focus on the self buried deep in the fox hole.  Greg Burns (Episode #008) makes this an explicit part of his process when coaching teams.  This insight and lesson helps us understand better why team leaders often can trip up team coaching engagements.  Perhaps team coaches need to work harder at coaching the team leaders themselves and not engage coaching the team until the leader is out of the foxhole and ready to be fully present in the team coaching change process.  Felipe Paiva (Episode #004) shared cogent examples of leaders who were and who were not able to get out of their foxholes to lead their teams effectively.  This said, Greg Burns also urges coaches to bring a healthy dose of empathy to coaching leaders and their teams.   Being able to put oneself in the shoes of the other is an important element of productive coaching and today’s leaders need a lot support and empathy to rise to the challenge.

In summary, team coaching is a very rich organizational intervention that holds significant promise.  The first 10 episodes of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast revealed many powerful lessons.  Here we have captured ten.  We look forward to sharing additional blog posts after the next 10 episodes and to identifying more powerful themes and lessons learned that can benefit team coaches and the teams they are working with. We hope that you found these lessons both interesting as well as useful!  For more information and resources about team coaching go to:


Krister Lowe Ph.D. is an Organizational Psychologist and the Host of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast.  You can learn more about Krister and his work at:

Sandra Hayes, Ed.D. is a Development Consultant and a Coach who leverages adult learning and collaborative negotiation expertise to promote leadership competency and team effectiveness.   You can learn more about Sandra and her work at:

Post #004: Leverage Team Coaching to Build a Leadership Ethos in Your Organization

Post #004: Leverage Team Coaching to Build a Leadership Ethos in Your Organization

When Walter Isaacson asked Steve Jobs what was his most important creation over the course of his career, Jobs responded, much to Isaacson’s surprise, that it was building Apple as an enduring company and added that doing so was more difficult than building a great product (Source: Isaacson, W., 2012, The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs, Harvard Business Review, April).  On a weekly basis Jobs gathered together his senior executive team to kick around ideas and did the same with his advertising and marketing teams.  He was striking in in his ability to be centrally involved in a range of company activities ranging from facilitating yearly off-sites for his top 100 employees where they decided on strategic priorities, to designing office spaces that fostered creativity and collaboration, to getting involved in the most intimate details of product design.  You all the know the results:  Apple has become the most valuable company in the world by market cap.  More importantly however, he and his team succeeded in a creating an enduring culture of leadership and excellence that pervades the company even a few years after his passing.   In their Global Leadership Forecast 2014/2015 and based on a survey of more than 13,000+ leaders, 1500+ human resource executives and 2000+ organizations, DDI reported that only 15% of organizations rated their leadership bench as strong (a decline from 18% as reported in their 2011 forecast).  They state: “Most organizations are not confident that they have the leadership to address current and future needs.” The question then is how can organizations best develop a leadership bench and culture that will help them succeed over the long term?  Is Jobs’ approach replicable or are there other ways to facilitate such cultural transformation? In this post I would like to explore leveraging team coaching as one promising vehicle to build such a culture.

Leadership As A Collective Process

The challenges leaders face today are sometimes described as VUCA challenges (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity).  Successfully adapting to environments marked by VUCA is unlikely if we try to rely on the old model of heroic individual leadership.  Such contexts exert a magnetic pull or desire for strong leaders and many of us are eager to hand over our authority to such leaders in exchange for the security they promise to provide.  However natural that response may be, we risk falling into the trap of “what got us here today won’t get us to where we are going tomorrow.”  In other words while heroic individual leadership may have been sufficient to lead us to the promised land in the past, its unlikely to be sufficient for leading us there again in the present and the future.  The VUCA environment requires collective thinking and leadership in order to respond and adapt successfully. Remember that even Jobs, who was a heroic leader in many ways, relied heavily on face-to-face meetings to leverage his team’s collective ability to respond adaptively.  Jobs purportedly hated PowerPoint presentations in meetings because they inhibited people’s ability to think.  He like free-wheeling meetings which allowed for more creative thinking to occur.  In The Center for Creative Leadership’s 2014 white paper, Future Trends in Leadership Development by Nick Petrie, this shift from individual leadership to collective leadership is noted as one of four essential future trends in leadership development (Source: Petrie, N. 2014, Future Trends in Leadership Development. White paper published by Center for Creative Leadership).

One promising way to develop a culture or ethos of collective leadership is through coaching senior leadership teams.  Combining individual coaching of leaders along with coaching the leadership team as a whole can help break down silos and fiefdoms and create a context that allows for collective thinking.  Such thinking is essential for adaptation.  Organizational cultures emerge through ongoing dialogue and interactions, especially among leaders who exert nonlinear impacts on the organizational system.  These conversations shape collective norms and practices and weave core values into the fabric of the company.  Jobs was adamant about the importance of face-to-face meetings and designing work spaces (e.g., Pixar, Apple’s new spaceship headquarters, Apple Stores, etc.) that facilitated serendipitous and creative interactions–prime vehicles that build and reinforce organizational culture.

In this week’s episode of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast (available here on iTunes, my guest Jean Frankel–Founder and Principal at Ideas for Action, LLC–shares some powerful stories of coaching leadership teams.  In one of her stories (at the 40 minutes 30 second point in the episode), she discusses helping one University President and 14 Vice Presidents make a shift from an individual leadership culture marked by silos and fiefdoms to a team-based leadership culture marked by cross-functional collaboration.  She notes that a collective “leadership culture” is beginning to emerge and that both one-to-one coaching with each individual leader as well as coaching the team as a whole is at the heart of the transformation.  This transformation is now beginning to cascade down within each VP’s organization.  While some leaders like Jobs may be able to take on the role of coaching teams themselves, in one of my previous blog posts on 2015 – The Year of Team Coaching! I cited Peters and Carr (2013) who note that “Many leaders and organizational decision makers remain ill-equipped to create the conditions that lead to high team performance in technical, professional, information and service industries.” In such cases having an external team coach can make all the difference.

In a offsite retreat I was facilitating last week, the executive leader and a large team of 25 participants were grappling with how to best adapt to an environment that was resulting in a decline in traditional sources of revenue.  The leader and team alike felt that unless the team could adapt effectively to an environment marked increasingly by VUCA, their very survival as an organization would be called into question in short order. There was a keen sense that what got them to where they are today might not be enough to get to them to where they want and need to be in the next 5 to 10 years.  The leader of the team made a passionate appeal about the importance of developing a “leadership ethos” throughout the organization and that while formal leaders such as himself could help with organizational adaptation, their success would only be assured if the team as a whole embraced “embodying leadership” as their new modus operandi.  This appeal captured beautifully the challenge many of us face in our organizations: how do we develop a culture of leadership that pervades the ethos of the organization?  The appeal also in a way communicated that “as your leader I’m willing to go all in but unless you go all in as well we won’t make it.  My leadership is necessary but insufficient.”  While I believe that strong heroic individual leaders are still part of the answer, what seems to be emerging is that we need to add more of an emphasis on collective leadership.  It’s time to take our collective leadership game to the next level.  Team coaching offers one promising vehicle that can help bring about such a leadership change and ethos.

For more information and resources on team coaching, visit The Team Coaching Zone at where you can access podcast episodes and blog posts, register for upcoming webinars, download resources and more.


Isaacson, W., 2012, The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs, Harvard Business Review, April.

Petrie, N. 2014, Future Trends in Leadership Development. White paper published by The Center for Creative Leadership.

Sinar, E., Wellins, R.S., Ray, R., Abel, A.L., & Neal, S. (2014). Ready-Now Leaders: Meeting Tomorrow’s Business Challenges – Global Leadership Forecast 2014|2015. Development Dimensions International.

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