Episode #072: Christine Thornton: The Secret Life of Groups: A Group Analytic Approach to Team Coaching

How do the unconscious dynamics of a team impact its ultimate performance? What are some practical ways that team coaches can enable the secret life of groups to support rather than thwart team effectiveness? Join show host Dr. Krister Lowe and guest Christine Thornton–author of “Group and Team Coaching: The Secret Life of Groups”– for this week’s episode of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast to discover the answer to these and other important questions!

Themes explored in the episode include:

  • Christine’s journey into group analysis and group and team coaching
  • The origins of group analysis
  • 6 practice elements from Group Analysis that inform team coaching (1. Attending to the Individual; 2. Nuances of Interpersonal Communication; 3. Attention to Context; 4. the Value of Multiple Perspectives; 5. Creative Incorporation of Difference; 6. Anxiety and Leadership Projections)
  • A case example involving a leadership team
  • Christine’s book “Group and Team Coaching: The Secret Life of Groups” (2nd Edition)
  • Christine’s training programs and supervision groups for group and team coaches and more

All team coaches need a basic understanding of group dynamics in order to be able to “hold” a group for learning and performance to unfold. Dive in today and begin your journey into discovering the secret life of groups!

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Resources Mentioned

  1. Website: www.thorntonconsulting.org
  2. Thornton, C. (2016). Group and Team Coaching: The Secret Life of Groups (2nd Edition)  Discount: IRK71 at checkout to get 20% discount
  3. Supervision Groups including Skype group http://www.thorntonconsulting.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=8&Itemid=151
  4. IGA Diploma in Reflective Organisational Practice: http://www.groupanalysis.org/Training/ReflectivePracticeinOrganisations.aspx

Listen to the Episode:








Part 1: Getting to Know the Coach: Christine Thornton

  • Group analyst and organizational team consultant, Thornton Consulting, Institute of Group Analysis, Group Works
  • 25+ years of experience providing consultation to individuals, teams and organizations
  • MSc in Psychology, Full member of the Institute of Group Analysis nad Invited Honorary Member of the Association for Professional Executive Coaches and Supervisors and the Association of Coaching Supervisors
  • Convenor, Diploma in Reflective Organisational Practice, Institute of Group Analysis’ training in organizational work Reflective Practice in Organizations
  • Author of Group and Team Coaching: The Secret Life of Groups (2nd Edition, 2016)
  • Winchester, England
  • Irish, grew up on an island halfway between England and Ireland
  • Reflections on Brexit, disparities of wealth in the world, immigration and refugees
  • Christine’s Journey to Group Analysis and Group/Team Coaching
    • Early experience as a manager and team leader
    • Insight about how to talk to people and make them feel comfortable
    • How people relate to each other
    • Interpersonal aspects of advice work
    • Did some work in training and then management development
    • After having her first child moved into self-employment/freelancing
    • Brief diversion into senior management
    • Interest in the unconscious life of organizations
    • Tavistock and the Institute of Group Analysis
    • Consultation to groups (former term for coaching)
    • Insights from running therapeutic groups were paralleling what she was observing in other groups (teams, action learnings sets, etc…)
    • Science of how people are together in groups
  • Group analysis as a foundation for team coaching but also that connects many other parts of the paradigm interdependence and systems
  • Concept of Holding and Exchange: 2 sides of same coin
  • Group analysis literature: 70 years
  • Context: team as midpoint between the organization and the individual
  • Circles within circles

Part 2: Introduction to Group Analysis

  • Lots of books on teams, few written from a coaching perspective and much fewer from a group and/or team coaching perspective
  • Group analysis origins in therapy for soldiers after WW2
  • Bion and Fuchs (Foulkes)
  • Group analysis: talking therapy for people to help themselves and each other
  • “The relationship precedes the individual”
  • Myth of heroic leader
  • Brings together group analysis and sociology
  • Centrality of context in group analysis
  • All teams are groups but not all groups are teams
  • Study around 2009 on group coaches: 60% working with teams and 40% with action learning sets
  • 6 Practical Elements of Group Analysis that Inform Team Coaching
    • #1: Attends to the Individual: you hold the group but you also hold attention to the individual (figure and ground)
    • #2: Nuances of Interpersonal Communication: only 10% of communication is verbal; how to look for patterns; attention to context
    • #3: Attention to Context: a lot of problems in teams are boiled down to personality issues which actually may really be issues of context; parallel process – was a violence prevention organization and the dynamics of the industry played out in the organization; “what is coming in the door” of a company
    • #4: Value of Multiple Perspectives: helping groups to surface all the perspectives and manage dominant voices; issues involving individual performance management
    • #5: Creative Incorporation of Difference: the experience of challenge and learning; centrality of learning in groups
    • #6: Anxiety and Leadership Projections: authority dynamics in groups; soothe anxiety enough so that people can talk about it; developmental approach to authority as a team coach (i.e. take on authority temporarily to lead and to reduce anxiety until the group can take it back and take over); importance of working well with the team leader; scapegoating – aligning yourself with the scapegoat; leadership as a function of a group
  • Relationship of safety to risk and learning, mistakes 

Part 3 – Case Example of a Residential School for Troubled Children

  • Senior leadership team
  • Long term partnership/client
  • Attending to context
  • Client is a known center of excellence
  • Working with CEO, COO, direct reports and key strategic posts
  • Creating a holding environment for the team to make decisions, manage complexity
  • “What is coming through the front door” has the potential to derail the group
  • Aligning values as a team coach with the values of the organizations we work with
  • Slowing down in the beginning in order to go fast
  • Argyris: contrast between what people say they do vs. what they do
  • Ongoing contracting as a team coaching: the unconscious invitation of the client
  • Fantasizing about being part of the team as a team coach
  • Feeling our way forward as a team coach

Part 4: Parting Advice / Resources / Words of Wisdom

  • Book: Group and Team Coaching: The Secret Life of Groups (2nd Edition)
  • Routledge discount for listeners
  • Institute of Group Analysis – Diploma on Reflective Organizational Practice
  • Runs supervision groups including one on Skype opening in March
  • http://www.thorntonconsulting.org/
  • Parting advice: The disciplined trust of self as a team coach with the aid of supervision
  • Team coaching more an art than a method

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