Herb Stevenson, Founder and CEO of the Cleveland Consulting Group, Board Certified Executive Coach, Gestalt Certified Coach, Certified Professional Coach, Founder of Natural Passages—a nature-based leadership program, and Author

#018: Stories and Insights from Coaching Teams: A Gestalt Approach to Team Coaching

Join Dr. Krister Lowe and leading organizational coach Herb Stevenson for this week’s episode of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast. Herb is the Founder and CEO of the Cleveland Consulting Group, a Board Certified Executive Coach, a Gestalt Certified Coach, and a Certified Professional Coach. He specializes in executive development and coaching, succession planning, whole and large-scale change and diversity management. Herb is also the Founder of Natural Passages, an organization that offers nature-based leadership programs for men. He has spent the last decade reclaiming his Cherokee and Shawnee Indian heritage and provides workshops across the country on indigenous healing practices.

In this episode Herb shares his journey from working in the banking industry, to making a shift into gestalt consulting and coaching, to founding the Cleveland Consulting Group and also to facilitating leadership retreats for men. Specific themes discussed on the show include: the gestalt approach to systems change; 4 levers to improve team effectiveness: roles, responsibilities, communication and authority; constructive conflict in teams; Tuckman’s four stages of team development including accelerating team development across the stages as well as clarifying the leader’s role at each stage; Hackman’s four purposes/types of meetings: informational, decisional, consultation, coordination; team charters; the diagnostic stage of intervention; a number of assessments (The Team Diagnostic, Extraordinary Teams Assessment, MBTI-Form Q, Thomas Kilman Conflict Styles Inventory, FIRO-Business, Influence Styles and the Intercultural Conflict Styles Assessment); prioritization and ROT (return on time); the ripening of receptivity for team coaching in business; virtual team coaching; co-leadership vs. individual leadership; and the relationship of engagement to leadership, team and organizational culture. Throughout the episode Herb shares numerous stories and anecdotes from his experiences coaching teams from a range of industries including banking, oil & gas, insurance and more.

As a bonus to the episode, Herb shares perspectives from his work running nature-based retreats through his company Natural Passages that focuses on creating constructive rites of passage for men.


Learn more about Herb at: 





  1. Bellman, G. M., & Ryan, K. D. (2009). Extraordinary Groups: How Ordinary Teams Achieve Amazing Results (1 edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Kegan, R. & Laskow Lahey, L. (2009). Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization (Leadership for the Common Good).
  3. Lencioni, P. (2002). The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable (1st edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  4. Wageman, R., Nunes, D. A., Burruss, J. A., & Hackman, J. R. (2007). Senior Leadership Teams: What It Takes to Make Them Great (Canadian ed edition). Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Review Press.



Part 1 – Getting to Know the Coach: Herb Stevenson


  • Cleveland Consulting Group Founder and CEO
    • Consulting group that helps executives and businesses discover new ways of being that lead to profound changes. “Business is more than a problem to be solved.”
  • Board certified executive coach
  • Gestalt certified coach
  • Certified professional coach
  • Executive development, executive coaching, succession planning, whole and large scale change and diversity management.
  • Herb is also the founder of Natural Passages – nature based leadership programs for men, facilitates men’s circles in Cleveland area.
  • On Board of Trustees of American Indian Education Center in Cleveland Ohio and has spent last decade reclaiming his Cherokee and Shawnee heritage.
  • Provides workshops around indigenous healing practices.
  • In earlier life, was in banking industry and understood that if we don’t pay attention to development of executives, success drops drastically.
  • Believes that team coaching is cutting edge area in coaching.
  • Philosophical approaches to coaching: Gestalt background through Gestalt Institute of Cleveland for 30 years. First a student, then faculty member. Organizational and systems development.
  • Gestalt – fully present approach. Based on assumption that interaction between coach and client should be a co-created relationship. Change cannot happen at system level unless you interrupt the system.
  • If more interested, on Cleveland Consulting Group website there are several articles about the theory and coaching.

Herb’s Shift from Banking to Coaching

  • During savings and loans failures, as a 27 year old, was told by regulators that he was in charge of the bank where he worked. He learned how to do a turn-around through this experience. Bank was sold, and Herb became a consultant, later helping with 10 turn-arounds.
  • Realized he didn’t like the technical aspects of the work as much as the people development.
  • Got MA in Psychology and a lot of post-graduate training in Gestalt Institute.
  • Realized only successful turn-arounds are when you focus on the people
  • Priorized ongoing learning: with executive development, industries are changing so fast, and it was easy to get behind. Made a commitment to read more and stay on top of things.
  • Attended many trainings, including Immunity to Change by Keegan and Lahey at Harvard. Dartmouth executive programs.
  • Benefit of doing many trainings is that he can personally recommend them to clients, too.
  • Gestalt levels of work:
    • Intrapersonal
    • Interpersonal
    • Group/Team
    • Organization
  • Had been working at large system level, but realized that he needed to also work with individuals. Used to call it management development, then heard about a new name: coaching.
  • Most people have never learned team dynamics. I.e., Many leaders show up to meetings and don’t ask for decisions, everyone defaults to CEO
  • Executive coaching is becoming very common, but team coaching not so much

Part 2 – Approach to Team Coaching and Storytelling

Herb’s Approach to Team Coaching

  • Essential pieces of approach for Herb: roles, responsibilities, communication and authority. These pieces are important in preventing conflicts, or creating constructive conflict.
  • Tuckman’s work on stages: if team doesn’t go through the conflict stage successfully, they’ll never leave that stage.
  • Working with a client – define and negotiate roles and responsibilities. Conflict goes underground and shows up in bad behavior if it’s not dealt with.
    • Once Herb threw a group into conflict by naming it. Response from group: “You spoke the undiscussable.” His response: Either come out of this as a team or stay as individuals. People tried to blame and shame him because they’d been caught in bad behavior
    • Next day, people still upset and not talking, but they eventually realized that they were shooting the messenger. Were finally able to air everything.
    • Result: came alive and realized their differences weren’t that big. Came up with a charter. Passed through Tuckman’s stages: Storming to norming and performing. Stages came alive to them when they had gone through them.
    • Charter was to help them negotiatie their roles and responsibilities, communication and authority.
    • Ended up developing a very powerful leadership pledge. Came up with term: lazy leadership and asked how it came to be. Did a full roll-out of pledge through 16,000 employee organization.
    • Working with a team in Dubai
    • Oil and gas company that was building new process and hired gun slingers – top experts for 16 slots
    • Superstars often don’t know how to play as teams
    • Taught them Tuckman’s stages.
    • Back in U.S., Herb received emergency phone call from concerned CEO, “What have you done? The whole floor can’t work together.”
    • Before judge it, let’s check into it.
    • Asked “What was going on? Why the screaming and hollering?” Response: “We’re just doing what Herb said we were supposed to do. Storming! At the end, we realized that we agreed more than we thought and came up with a solution.”
    • Many people are so afraid of conflict that they will avoid this crucial stage.
  • Tuckman model (1969) – original theory was for helping teams over a two year period. DJ Mich uses model as well but bending curve to help teams move through phases in 4 – 6 months.
  • Regarding accelerating teams in processes: we don’t have a choice but to speed change up. Have pushed teams through in as fast as three months.
  • Also rely on Hackman (Senior Leadership Teams): Most teams don’t understand how they are formed. i.e., leader inherits direct reports and knows that they’re supposed to meet periodically but no clear purpose behind those meetings. Four purposes to meetings, according to Hackman: infomation, decisions, consulting, coordination.
  • Herb has expanded this:
    • If there’s an ad hoc meeting, ask “why are we meeting?” “when would we dissolve the meeting?”
    • If an executive meeting, leaders need to state on the agenda what kind of meeting it is (decision, consultation, etc.) to help others in meeting to have a relevant conversation.
  • Teams find their focus and length of meetings is improved.
  • Typical flow to an engagement:
    • Diagnostic stage at beginning to determine: what’s the ideal place to do an intervention? Team, individual, organizational?
    • Team Diagnostic Survey (Hackman) – Six steps. Simple and easy. Done as a 360 about the team. Often team scores themselves a lot higher than they anticipate.
    • In one team, nobody was assuming responsibility in meetings so they instilled purposes for meetings, created purpose and vision statement, created a charter about behavior.
      • Results: Dramatic improvement in quality of meetings. Reported 43% growth for three years in a row.
    • Sometimes uses assessment from Extraordinary Groups by Geoff Bellman.
    • With mixed level interventions, three dimensional assessment:
      • Myers Briggs Step 2 Form Q. Strengths plus more specific feedback about communication, change management and conflict style.
      • Thomas Killman Instrument – Conflict Styles
      •  Business – interpersonal dynamics around control, influence and connection.
      • Participants start to see themes individually. Creates massive insights.
      • Often start with assessments individually in order get people to be more receptive.
    • Large insurance company, did Myers Briggs and team analysis.
    • Everyone was ENTP except for an ESTP.
    • Herb suspected from the assessment that most of them loved to dream and loved associative thinking and bouncing off each other. They said it was super accurate. He also noted the difficulty of most group members in getting along with the one group member who asks practical details, and vice versa
    • Created metaphor: pin ball – when you are in your frenzy but you’re all playing the ball at the same time and not paying attention to “what’s the purpose? What are we trying to do? How do we stay out of each other’s way so we can make a decision?”
    • Now group notices if they are doing this and call out “Pinball!” to rein themselves in.
  • CASE STUDY 5 (Conflict Styles):
    • Boss had 100% on competitive style and doesn’t understand why no one else is speaking at meetings.
    • TKI was very helpful in being able to tell him he was supporting himself but not leading his team.
    • Gave him choices for understanding other styles – optimization of style for a team.
    • FIRO-B (Will Schulz) – three categories:
      • Interpersonal preferences around: connection, control and influence
      • Complicated tool asking what we express externally and internally about what we need around those three categories. What people begin to realize is that what they want is often less than what they express outwardly (may actually want less connection, less influence).
      • When people understand it, they are very grateful and apply it beyond work (i.e., to family)
  • Another tool: Influence styles – can do an individual or 360 of this. Many people continue to rely on command and control rather than building relationship. Many people don’t have conscious awareness of their style at all.
  • Herb has found that the most underutilized skill is influence. We fall into trap that if we have the authority we will use the force, rather than build the relationships.
  • Another issue: Speed of change, speed of business makes it difficult to identify priorities.
  • Herb helps with establishing urgency level – number of days till it gets done
  • Related to asset liability management – matching up resources to assets or liabilities. Measure your return on time. Most executives don’t look at return on time and prioritize accordingly.
  • Virtual team coaching is becoming critical – how to manage a team virtually.
  • Advocates video conferencing. If there’s not enough face time, communicating directly becomes a problem.
  • Virtual world heightens the need for establishing purpose in meetings.
  • Another useful tool in globalized world: Intercultural Conflict Assessment.
  • Rate of change in business forces more attention to team effectiveness.
  • Co-leadership sometimes outperforms single leadership. Collaboration, influence and relationship are becoming staples for the most effective corporations.
  • Leadership trends – heroic leadership is coming to an end. Complexity of the world demands team approach.
  • If we can set teams up for success, people would find a lot more engagement in their jobs rather than clocking in and clocking out.
  • Millenials are really pushing for this engagement – they’re asking “why?” They’re more optimistic and want to help their companies, but demand more engagement

Natural Passages

  • Started 20 years ago during, not “mid-life crisis,” but “mid-life correction” when you need to forget what you’ve been taught and begin to define yourself
  • Based partly on Jungian psychology and partly on native heritage
  • In our culture we don’t have rites of passage anymore. We flattened organizations and threw out senior leaders and therefore lost important mentorship in corporations.
  • Built it over 8 years and ran it for 12 years. 4 weekends of 4 days. Go into nature.
  • Many people haven’t had the opportunity know that they can survive in nature.
  • Development processes in the program – based on medicine wheel
    • Courage – how do we muster it and undermine it?
    • Meaning – How do we learn to think and make meaning in the world in constructive ways? i.e., cleverness leads us to devious activities unless we mature
    • Compassion – understanding that it’s not a mushy fluffy thing but an amazingly strong act in the midst of crisis.
    • Wisdom
  • Exercises throughout are based on these 4 processes
  • Has changed a lot of people – many thank you letters from wives who needed their partner to be more present.
  • Feminism helped women to find their masculine energy (courage, ability to take their equal standing). This knocked a lot of men out of balance. Men are trying to figure out how to remain fully balanced and engaged in today’s world.
  • There are audio recordings on website that describe the process.
  • Help men find rites of passage that are healthy and constructive.
  • Through all our education, we’ve been taught that external authority is the defining authority, but it’s not.

Part 3 –Parting Advice/Resources/Contact Information

  • Get training around team dynamics. Need to study old stuff. I.e., Tuckman, Five Dysfunctions by Lencioni.
  • If you want formalized training – Gestalt, International training Center in Cape Cod. Tavistock in UK, and emergent formalized team coaching trainings will be valuable.
  • Check out Cleveland Consulting Group website for material:
    • Free newsletter – 51 prior issues
    • Herb posts updated list of books to read: systems theory, team development, etc. – all available for free.
  • Contact:

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