Jennifer Porter, Managing Partner at the The Boda Group, Former COO of Circles and Sentient Jet, Leadership and Team Coach, CPCC, PCC

#016: Jennifer Porter: From C-Suite Executive to Leadership and Team Coach

Join Dr. Krister Lowe and leading organizational coach Jennifer Porter for this week’s episode of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast.  Jennifer is the Managing Partner at the Boda Group and a specialist in leadership and team coaching.  The Boda Group helps leaders and teams assess their capabilities, clarify how they want to engage and lead, strengthen critical relationships and skills, and operate more effectively. Prior to founding The Boda Group in 2011, Jennifer was a COO of Circles and Sentient Jet, a leadership coach with Spencer & Bean, a Vice President of Einstein Bagels and a consultant at The Boston Consulting Group.  Jennifer holds an M.B.A. from Stanford University, and has pursued training and certification in: Interpersonal Dynamics at Stanford; Enneagram; The Coaches Training Institute, CPCC; International Coach Federation, PCC; Team Diagnostic Assessment; Harvard University/Kegan and Lahey: Immunity to Change; CRR Global, Advanced Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC). In this episode Jennifer shares her experience making the transition from a c-suite executive to a leadership and team coach as well as stories of hits and misses from her own team coaching practice. Themes explored in the interview include assessment in team coaching, structural dynamics, dialogue and native american counsel practices, team norms and operating principles, virtual team coaching platforms, the distinction between team training and team coaching, the link between business outcomes and team behaviors, scheduling team coaching engagements, discussable and undiscussable dialogue topics, building a “say anything” culture in teams, modeling and being bold as the team coach, finding “sandbox” clients to learn as a beginning team coach, supervision, having a plan while also working in the moment, and more.  This episode is full of value, tips and lessons learned!


Learn more about Jennifer at: 





  1. Crandall, D., & PhD, M. K. (2014). Say Anything: How Leaders Inspire Ideas, Cultivate Candor, and Forge Fearless Cultures. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
  2. Isaacs, W. (1999). Dialogue: The Art Of Thinking Together (1 edition). New York: Crown Business.
  3. Kantor, D. (2012). Reading the Room: Group Dynamics for Coaches and Leaders (1 edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  4. Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2009). Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization (1 edition). Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Review Press.
  5. Senge, P. M. (2006). The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization (Revised & Updated edition). New York: Doubleday.

Coach Training Programs & Other Training Programs/Institutes

  1. Kantor Institute
  2. The Coaches Training Institute
  3. The International Coaching Federation
  4. Immunity to Change
  5. CRR Global




Part 1 – Getting to Know the Team Coach: Jennifer Porter


  • Managing partner at The Boda Group, leadership and team development consulting firm
  • Boda Group helps leaders become more self-aware, authentic and effective
  • Over 20 years of experience as business leader
  • Started career in Boston Consulting Group as an associate and consultant
  • Bachelor’s Degree from Bates College in Economics, MBA from Stanford University
  • Einstein Brothers Bagels – Vice President of operations support and led 450 store roll-out over 18 months.
  • Senior operating roles in high growth companies: COO of Circles, now part of Sodexo. COO of Sentient Jet. 7 years as leadership coach with Spencer and Bean before founding The Boda group in 2011, Managing Partner.
  • Client list: Microsoft, Digisoft, Boston Consulting Group, Vista Print, Parthenon Group, Massachussetts General Hospital.
  • Pursued a lot of training in the area coaching: CTI, Professional Certified Coach from International Coaching Federation, Team Dignostic Assessment, Immunity to Change with Kegan and Lahey at Harvard, and Center for Right Relationships Global and the Advanced Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching Certification.

 More about Jennifer

  • Kantor Institute in Dialogics on structural dynamics has informed a lot of her team coaching
  • Loves the work
  • Married, two step sons, two Labs. Enjoys family time, running, golfing
  • From Rhode Island

 Boda Group – what does the name mean?

  • Eleven years ago spent five weeks in Nepal teaching English to Buddhist monks. In Kathmandu, the place where the monasteries are is called “Boda.” Kathmandu is a busy noisy city not dissimilar to stress levels of many leaders and when you enter the walled area at Boda, it’s totally quiet.  A good metaphor for working the leaders and teams.

Journey to Coaching

  • Went back to consulting after business school
  • Had an itch to run something. When working with clients, noticed that when they got to the heart of the problem, they wanted consultants to leave, and this was very unsatisfactory.
  • Went to industry – Einstein Bagels. Really liked it. Was in operating roles for 10-15 years
  • After Sentient Jet, thought to get another COO role. Got a call from a friend at BCG asking her to coach someone on leadership team. Did it under the condition that if she was terrible at it, friend would fire her but still be a friend.
    • Started coaching, was very successful, and then snowaballed with other clients from there.
  • After two years, realized she’d changed careers and liked it, so went back to get trained CTI and certification as a coach.

Why Team Coaching?

  • Started about five years ago. Met a medical director at a hospital. She asked her to come meet the chief of staff at hospital to work with group of leaders.
  • Leader Forum – work with individuals in team setting. Worked with them for 2.5 years. About a year in their leadership was getting better, but wanted to pay attention to how they worked together as a team.
    • “Sandbox client” – got messy in trial and error, met 4 hours once a month
  • Found it challenging to shift gears from being individual coach to start thinking about the system.
  • Team coaching requires a lot more preparation than individual (which is more emergent), requires more planning to make good use of time, and being clear about objectives

Jennifer’s approach to team coaching

  • Draws a on a lot different elements from her past experience and training
  • Typical engagement:
    • Individual interviews with individual group members about: their experience on the team, metaphors and adjectives and word associations for the team
    • Team assessment instrument online – 20 question to get at most important elements of an effective team
    • Two-day off site, then monthly for half day sessions over 6-12 months.
  • Relies on structural dynamics model from Kantor Institute in Dialogics, dialogue practices (Bill Isaacs at MIT, etc.), operating principles (cultural norms established in team, used to have teams come up with them but now offer 10-12 to try).
  • Monthly team coaching is usually 4 hours.
  • Did video sessions for the first time recently which went well, so will use more from now on. Groups clustered together in certain places while doing the vidieo session helps.
  • Platform for online sessions – used company’s own system, and also use Zoom (can have more than 30 participants)

 Structural Dynamics

  • Structural dynamics is a model created by David Kantor – clinical psychologist and family systems therapist. Now in his late 80s. One of his early books “Inside the Family” (teams and systems). Recently, published “Reading the Room.”
  • Patterns that happen in face to face communications, looks at them structurally without the moral story – like diagraming a sentence, helps you look at the actions without judgment, and allows people to lower the emotion. Helping a system to speak in structural terms.
  • Bill Isaacs at MIT – dialogue practices. Book “Dialogue” – history of dialogue and what it means. It’s a generative form of conversation where people are open to hearing another’s perspective and changing their own.
  • Senge – The Fifth Discipline – created movement around dialogue, also Harvard, MIT
  • Kegan and Lahey at Harvard – Jennifer found their framework useful, especially for individual clients.

Part 2 – Hits and Misses Section

  • Case #1: a “Miss”
    • Pharmaceutical client
    • Leader presented team as really stellar, but wanted it to be more effective
    • Started with interviews, and heard consistently: “I love my job, but I hate this team,” or sometimes people didn’t say anything.
    • Initial sessions went well – issues on table and worked through some. Walked away feeling like it was useful
    • Engagement was scoped for one year – leaders got very busy. Started to unravel, because meetings kept getting cancelled or people didn’t show up. Team felt things were going well enough and didn’t prioritize meetings. Coaches didn’t push back on this enough.
    • Came back together again through a re-work and then they were reengaged, and then pattern repeated.
    • At end of engagement, ended up with a few folks who thought it was worth it, and others not sure.
    • Leader left organization to get a job at another organization. He was happy but maybe not accurately assessing.
    • Takeaways:
      • Be more intentional about naming behavior when it’s happening, without blame, but helping the system to look at what they’re doing and make good decisions about it.
      • It’s coach’s responsibility to give professional opinion and give run down of the risks.
      • When leaders come together, they are often used to training (student mode), but with team coaching it gets uncomfortable, and when they’re uncomfortable, it’s easy to say “I want training because it’s more familiar.” It may feel useful to client to go to skills, but not as useful as if sticking with the original plan.
      • Didn’t help them see up front the link about how the team was operating and their business outcomes as clearly as could have. When things got busy, it was hard for them to justify spending the time (especially when the work is hard).
      • What would you do differently?
        • Gotten clearer in first session on link between behavior and business outcomes (i.e., lack of good communication between teams affecting getting a product out on time)
        • Shorter scope – 6 months instead of 12 at least at the outset. Might have given them more energy for the work
        • Would do a better job of naming progress as it was happening. Didn’t articulate it as often as could have.
  • Case #2: a “Hit”
    • Large media company, working with president and his leadership team
    • Work started end of last summer – individual coaching with all 13 members and with the team.
    • Issues: organization was built through acquisitions, therefore many split loyalties/identities.
    • Needle moved hugely with them over six months: trust higher, better communication, operating principle of “say it in the room.” Ask one another for help, constructive conflicts, operating truly as a team.
    • Why? What was the process?
      • Team was ready and willing for change (though not necessarily ready to work with outside consultant)
      • Started with fishbowl where coaches sat in middle of circle and talked about what they’d heard in the interviews. 75% negative. This modeled that it was safe to discuss tough issues.  Gives message that everyone is safe, coaches can take it, no matter how negative.
      • Then asked for one word emotional debrief: “depressed,” “ashamed,” etc.
      • Exercise of Discussables and Non-discussables (from Chris Argyris)
      • Gave them team self-assessment data about how they scored the team.
      • Identified highest priority areas
      • Gave them work to focus on “me” and “us,” but no conversations about “them” (CEO, Board, etc.)
    • Operating principles idea really stuck. Hold each other accountable to them. Examples:
      • Focus on me and us, not them
      • No electronics visible. Research shows that even presence of a phone can reduce connection between people
      • Start on time
      • Say it in the room
    • Difference between operating principles and groundrules:
    • Groundrules sometimes are infantilizing, or they are abstract and up for interpretation.
    • Operating principles are behavioral, helpful in naming when they’re happening, build discipline.
    • Takeaways:
      • The way of talking together in a group: Develop a “say anything” culture –
      • Doug Crandall has written a book called “Say Anything”
      • Operating principles
        • Be bold in modeling the behavior you want from the group (i.e., truthtelling)
        • For many coaches, the relationship stuff is fun and juicy, but for business leaders, they need to see the link with business effectiveness for the coaching to be motivating

Part 3 – Parting Advice/Resources/Recommendations

  • Find a sandbox client – one that you can experiment with and maybe not charge or charge less, but where you have the opportunity to try things out and acknowledge that it will be messy (but helpful, too). Then work with supervision.
  • How to find supervision: Jennifer does it and enjoys it. Ask team coaches if they are available.
  • Best coaches use supervision
  • Have a plan, objectives, spatial arrangements, contingencies
  • Be prepared to do whatever is necessary in the room (i.e., may need to toss the plan in the moment). There is a danger in over-structuring and not allowing space for what needs to be done.
  • Structural dynamics – Dialogics has been very helpful
  • How to reach Jennifer:

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