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Krister Lowe, Ph.D., Organizational Psychologist

#002 – Macro Frameworks & Micro Tools in Team Coaching

Join Dr. Krister Lowe for the second episode of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast: Exploring the Art & Science of Team Coaching.  In this episode Dr. Lowe shares how he got interested in team coaching and also shares two stories from his own team coaching practice. Through the stories macro frameworks that help guide a team coaching process as well as some of the micro tools used throughout the dynamic process of a team coaching engagement are highlighted.


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Learn more about Krister at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kristerlowe


  1. Wilfred Bion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilfred_Bion
  2. Tuckman’s Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing model: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuckman’s_stages_of_group_development
  3. Schein, E. (1998). Process Consultation Revisited.
  4. Hackman, J.R. (2002). Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances.
  5. Hackman, R.J. & Wageman, R. (2005). A Theory of Team Coaching. The Academy of Management Review. 30(2), 269-287.
  6. Katzenbach, J.R. & Smith, D.K. (2006). The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High Performance Organization.
  7. Lowe, J.K. (2014). Conflict Climates in Organizations: An Integrated Decision Making Model of Participation in Conflict Resolution Training. Doctoral Dissertation. Click for PDF
  8. NBI® Thinking Preferences Assessment: NBICertification.com
  9. Boyatzis, R. (2006). An overview of intentional change from a complexity perspective. Journal of Management, 25(7), 607-623.
  10. Intercultural Conflict Styles Inventory: http://www.icsinventory.com.
  11. SWOT Analysis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SWOT_analysis
  12. Daniel Kanehman (2013). Thinking, Fast and Slow.
  13. TeamCoachingZone Group on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Team-Coaching-Zone-8227188?home=&gid=8227188




  • Deep dive studying organizations through an Organization Psychology Masters Degree beginning in 1998 and then continue digging into with a Doctorate in 2001.
  • Number of influences from graduate training that have served me well in my work as a practitioner:
    • Group dynamics/relations – psychodynamic processes of behaviors in groups (Giants in this area: Lewin, Bion, Tuckman)
    • Process Consultation – skills to observe and intervene in teams in order to impact both process as well as task aspects (Edgar Schein).
    • Small and Large Group Intervention – (Influences: Hackman, Katzenbach & Smith, Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space Technology)
    • Change Management
    • Leadership Development
    • Conflict Resolution – certified mediator, certificate in conflict resolution from the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, doctoral dissertation on “Conflict Climates in Organizations”
  • 2000 started in training (e.g. conflict resolution, negotiation, diversity) and some offsite retreat facilitation
  • 2003 – helped to found C Global Consulting, LLC. – boutique consulting firm in New York City.
  • 2004 – Won a four year contract to develop conflict resolution capacity for UN staff globally; also coaching, mediation and group interventions around conflict
  • Increasing amount of intervention around conflict resolution, performance management, leadership and team member tensions, etc… (small to large groups)
  • Continue doing work with the UN today, also involved in corporate sector (professional services, financial services, pharmaceuticals), foundations, non-profits, and educational institutions.
  • Have worked in over 20+ countries
  • Four catalysts that got me moving into the direction of team coaching:
  1. Wave of coaching swept me up: started to coach leaders and managers and then with their teams. Helped me shift from facilitating learning events to facilitating processes. Pursuing coaching certification at present with the Coaches Training Institute.
  2. NBI Thinking Preferences Assessment – certifying coaches in the NBI instrument along with Columbia University’s Coaching Certification Program. Have certified 300+ coaches, consultants and trainers. Certification offered to coaches twice a year. Often find myself in ad hoc conversations with coaches supporting them on team interventions.
  3. Research-based Intervention – to drive a program around introducing managerial and team coaching to a large global organization. Commissioned to do a 4 month study on the coaching culture of the organization. Interviews, surveys with a random sample, benchmarking with peers in the industry. The need for coaching revolved around a number of themes (improve leadership/management effectiveness, increase performance/results, develop competencies, as an alternative to training, and improving team effectiveness). Subsequent intervention involved an evidence-based program introducing one-to-one coaching to 60+ managers and also team coaching with 8 intact teams. The results pointed to a special potential around the team coaching aspect. The program is now scaling up in its second phase to focus on both team coaching with one-to-one coaching for each team leader.
  4. Doctoral Dissertation: focus on conflict climates in organizations. Conclusion: insufficiency of training and teambuilding events to change behavior. You can train everyone in an organization in a set of skills but it won’t be enough to create a shift in the climate, the culture and the social norms that guide behavior/the deeply engrained routines and habits. Often reactively responding to challenges rather than proactively building resilience in teams.
  • Through the podcast I thought I could learn from other team coaches, to contribute to developing content in the field and take my own team coaching practice to the next level.


Hit – Team Coaching Success Story:

  • Started with a one-day retreat with a large global team of 50 people providing human resources support services. Dynamic retreat: appreciative inquiry, open space technology, use of the arts – brought a singer in, used survey data collection and feedback.
  • Retreat resulted in identifying some compelling areas where the group could focus that would really impact results. One area, which was a bit sensitive, was the leadership team getting its collaboration going. Leadership team was very divided.
  • After the retreat, I did some preliminary interviews with the 6 leaders to identify their readiness for change and readiness for potential team coaching intervention. Found a lot of bad blood and siloing but their mandate required another level of collaboration.
  • In Katzenbach & Smith’s Wisdom of Teams language they weren’t a “Real Team” and maybe not even a “Working Team” but probably a “Pseudo Team.”
  • Took about 8 months for the group to get started and to ripen to start doing some of the work.
  • Wilfred Bion – two aspects of groups (task of the group and basic assumptions of the group which impact the group’s ability to accomplish their task)
  • Was careful in contracting to really make the group as a whole my client and, given past experiences working with groups in conflict, nipped in the bud offline conversations with me on a one-to-on basis. Set some norms that the work needed to be done in the presence of each other rather than through me on the side.
  • Total of 6 sessions (3 to 4 hours each time) over 6 months
  • First session, was a scoping session where I used an appreciative inquiry methodology to identify the end in the beginning (Stephen Covey). What would success look like? Some visioning.  Based on Intentional Change Theory by Richard Boyatzis, tried to induce more of a Positive Emotional Attractor (Parasympathetic Nervous System) in the first meeting than the Negative Emotional Attractor (Sympathetic Nervous System). Focused on finding problems worth solving.
  • Prior to second session I had each leader conduct a SWOT analysis with their own teams that focused on the cross-functional collaboration between the leaders and the respective organizational units. Wanted them to prepare on their own rather than me doing more interviews. I also wanted to build some buy-in and readiness for change and support from their teams as an extension.
  • In the second session, we began focusing on the strengths of the internal collaboration in order to build some momentum and induce more of the positive emotional attractor. What I’ve learned as a mediator is that group interventions often start of positively but then when you get into the weaknesses and shortcomings it can get worse before it gets better. That drawing some of the poison out can help create space for something new to take up that space that has been emptied. So went from a focus on Strengths to a focus on Weaknesses. Needed to do some repair and reconciliation work without going too deep into the rabbit hole.
  • Latter half of Session 2 and session 3 focused a lot on this repair work. A lot of mediation, coaching, some facilitation. Introduced the Intercultural Conflict Styles inventory as two of the leaders had significant differences around culture styles of dealing with conflict (one was very cognitive and intellectually calm and the other was very emotionally expressive). These two leaders would pair up and fight out some of their tensions. Created a good opportunity to coach in the moment and build capacity of the group to learn how to support itself during critical moments or difficult conversations when splitting and pairings happen.
  • Caution around spending too much time on relationships.
  • Began in sessions 4 & 5 to work on identifying a common task and work products.
  • Hackman in Leading Team urges that teams really focus on performance and that a focus on performance can really help shit the focus from the interpersonal relationships to the superordinate goal of the task.
  • Group was emerging from the storming phase and moving into the norming and performing stages (Tuckman’s four stages of group development: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing)
  • SWOT and Intentional Change Theory helped guide the arc of the process. The Ideal self (focused on strengths), the Real self (the weaknesses), and then building on the dynamic tensions looking externally to the Opportunities and Threats in order to identify a few compelling areas for collaboration that would have a significant impact and help them develop some common performance goals/objectives. They identified a few areas and then began implementing those with their teams.
  • Group met alone for two months and invited me back in the 3rd month for a 6th and final coaching session. Reflected on progress and obstacles and bit of process consultation and coaching in the moment especially when tensions were rising. When challenges occur our deeply engrained habits are likely to come to the fore.
  • Key Takeaways/Lessons Learned:
  • Overarching Frameworks – to guide the arc of the coaching intervention: SWOT, Intentional Change Theory, Hackman’s Model of Team Performance, Katzenbach & Smith’s Team Performance Curve, Tuckman’s 4 stages of team development, etc… Frameworks help provide some bearings and holding all the pieces together. A lot science but also art.
  • Micro level Skills and techniques – mediation, process consultation and coaching in the moment, group dynamics
  • Teams that get off to a good start have a much better chance of becoming a real team. This team got off to a bad start and that would likely ultimately limit their effectiveness.
  • Importance of shifting from relationship work to the task work. Being careful not to get lost in the relationship work.   The task work creates a superordinate goal that can channel energy towards a common objective.

Misses – Team Coaching Challenge Story:

  • Worked with a relatively new team leader of an IT team. Honeymoon of 6 months was over and the team was expecting the new leader to step up and lead the group.
  • About 30+ people in the IT team.
  • Had been a history of lack of direction in the group (past leader checked out last two years before retirement)
  • Worked with a colleague on this.
  • Initially hired to do an offsite retreat. We tried to sell the benefits of a team coaching approach which was foreign to the client.
  • Started using a focus group methodology to do some needs assessment to learn about the team’s context, strengths and challenges.
  • Focus group methodology was innovative and combined some appreciative inquiry interviews at the outset prior to the group level discussions. 6 focus groups with approximately 6 people per focus group.
  • Data collection is an intervention in and of itself (builds rapport, builds readiness for change, etc…)
  • Heard in the focus groups that people were skeptical of a team building retreat’s ability to drive real change. The team members were willing to do it but wanted something real to come out of it.
  • Did some 1-to-1 interviews with the team’s leader and senior managers.
  • During interview with team leader, the leader said: “I didn’t realize that when I took this job that 90% of my job would be dealing with people and only 10% on providing technical advise.” Something about this struck a cord internally.
  • “Using the self as instrument” – when something feels off or strikes a cord you should probably slow down and examine that more.
  • Leader was not supported appropriately during his transition. Was part of a management development program.
  • Colleague and I questioned whether team and leader were ready for an offsite. We felt that the leader needed one-to-one coaching and some team coaching for the managerial team in order to crate the conditions for a large group event.
  • My budget was cut in half and so there was financial pressure about doing a retreat, individual coaching and team coaching.
  • We thought that the retreat would be risky but if we could really nail the retreat we could create an opportunity for the leader to win his team back.
  • Communicated clearly with the leader and another senior manager that they needed to go all in and show up as leaders at the retreat and ready to deliver and that running a “feel good” retreat wouldn’t be enough. Recall the leader a bit cavalier about the risk involved – another warning sign.
  • Never was able to get the leader to meet with us prior to the retreat to prepare him effectively for the retreat. Eventually we agreed to meet after Day 1 of the retreat and prepare him for a motivational speech he would give on the morning of the second day of the retreat. – yet more warning signs.
  • In hindsight we should have cancelled the retreat but the momentum was moving forward and we went ahead.
  • First day of the retreat was a blockbuster.
  • When we met with leader after the first day he was really rushed and cut our meeting short. We gave him some ideas to consider for his speech based on what occurred during the first day.
  • Leader gave a speech on the second day. Said some good things but didn’t deliver anything tangible or that really addressed the concerns of the team. Opportunity was lost and the retreat started to unravel.
  • Created additional moments during the day for the leader to step up and lead but it didn’t happen. In his heart of hearts he really probably just wanted a window-dressing, feel good event.
  • Did an evaluation following the retreat and put a report together for the leader. Some tough comments about the leader in the evals which I decided to share with him. Tried to moderate it but felt he needed something of a wake up call.
  • I recommended one-to-one coaching with him and his leadership team to respond to the issues in the group, to help him avoid being scape goated and to share the leadership burden with some of the other senior managers, and to build on some of the positive momentum that had been developed in the retreat. He got pretty defensive and blamed me a bit.
  • Tried to get a three way with the senior HR person and the team leader. Never happened.
  • Had coffee with one of the managers, got positive feedback that my colleague and I did a great job and felt that we were “good leaders” but that the retreat really clarified for the team members the reality of the leader’s capabilities and what the near future would likely hold.
  • Key Takeaways/Lessons Learned:
    • Leaders in transition: coaching for the leader critical prior to large group event. Also team coaching with the leader and senior managers.
    • Being careful when budgets are constrained not to try to over-deliver or swing too big.
    • Didn’t listen enough at multiple points to my inner voice which was giving me hints that something wasn’t ripe or ready. When I don’t listen to that voice I often get in trouble.
    • Tendency to making decisions fast vs. slow. Daniel Khaneman (2012). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Looking at your own decision making strengths and short falls.
    • Hackman’s book on Leading Teams: caution about doing the work of the leader. We started to take on that role and overstepped our boundary. In doing so we unintentionally undermined the leader.
    • Events like teambuilding retreats can be risky if they are not part of a larger team coaching process for example. Timing is critical depending on the readiness, risk and what’s at stake in the group. Challenging the “event” mentality and trying to induce more of a “process” mentality.


  • Enjoyed reflecting on these stories and learned by doing this episode.
  • Team coaching is really an art and science that is dynamic.
  • An area I’m currently interested in is Intentioanal Change Theory and integrating that into team coaching.
  • Excited in the upcoming episodes to start exploring with some team coaches their stories of hits and misses so that we can continue the learning.
  • Check out TeamCaochingZone.com for show notes and more information and resources.
  • Team Coaching Zone group on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Team-Coaching-Zone-8227188?home=&gid=8227188

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