Ethan Schutz, President & CEO of The Schutz Company

#028 Truth, Choice & Awareness: Designing Space for The Human Element in Teams 

Join Dr. Krister Lowe and leading organizational coach Ethan Schutz for this week’s episode of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast.  Ethan Schutz is the President and CEO of The Schutz Company–a consulting and publishing company and provider of the LIFO Method and The Human Element approach.  Ethan promotes, encourages and directs the use, development and expansion of these bodies of work in the US.  Globally, he nurtures and grows the LIFO and Human Element communities, made up of practitioners and partners in over 30 countries.  He delivers training, coaching and in-depth practitioner training progams to support consultant excellence and creativity.  Ethan worked with his father Will Schutz, PhD, creator of FIRO theory and The Human Element–a body of work designed to improve individual, team and organizational effectiveness through self-awareness and direct, honest communication.

Prior to assuming the President and CEO role of The Schutz Company in 2009, Ethan worked as a manager of training and development for Reuters; as an organizational development consultant for the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and as the President of the Business Consultants Network.  Ethan also worked as an architect for a decade where he discovered his true passion around helping people work more effectively together.  Ethan holds a Master of Arts Degree in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University as well as a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Architecture from The University of California at Berkeley.

In this episode of the podcast Ethan introduces listeners to FIRO theory and The Human Element body of work pioneered by his father Will Schutz PhD and now extended by both himself as well as a global community of practitioiners.  The use of this well-tested and applied body of work is illuminated through stories of coaching teams. Ethan shares two stories from his practice–one a non-profit leadership team and another involving an action learning-based leadership development program in a hospital both grounded in The Human Element methodology. Some themes covered in the interview include: inclusion, control and openness in human relationships; compatibility in teams; rigidity and defensiveness in human interactions; decision-making in teams; process consultation; utilizing team coaching to embed training outcomes into the culture of organizations; becoming a Human Element Practitoner and more.

Team coaches looking for a tested method for helping individuals, teams and organizations become more effective may find The Human Element approach and tools right up their alley!



Contact Ethan:


  1. The Human Element and FIRO Element B: www.TheHumanElement.com
  2. Schein, E. (1998).  Process Consultation Revisited: Building the Helping Relationship.



Part 1 – Getting To Know the Team Coach: Ethan Schutz

  • Background:
    • President and CEO of The Schutz Company since 2009
    • Consulting and Publishing Company and the Provider of the LIFO Method & The Human Element Approach
    • Global community of LIFO and Human Element practitioners in more than 30 countries
    • Delivers training programs to coaches, trainers and consultants
    • Has a M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University, B.A. in Architecture from the University of California at Berkeley
    • Early career: Manager of Training & Development at Reuters; Organizational Development Specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; President of the Business Consultants Network
    • Practiced architecture for almost 10 years; discovered that the part he was drawn to was trying to get people to work together
    • Learned that when you are working as an architect you are building a structure that creates the space for people to live. You don’t live in the walls or the floor, you live in the space. A great metaphor for team coaching; creating a space for people to grow and develop; to feel safe in and dance in.
    • Father was a distinguished psychologist
    • Ethan grew up in the San Francisco Bay area; went to graduate school in New York and migrated over to the East Coast
  • History of Will Schutz:
    • Ethan’s father
    • Distinguished research psychologist
    • Was in Navy in WWII
    • Korean War, Navy wanted to research on teams working in the Combat Information Centers. Some teams worked well together while some didn’t; they wanted to know why and Will Schutz was called in to do some research; reviewed literature and conducted experiments
    • Research revealed a theory coined by Schutz called FIRO – Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation. Looks at how we prefer to be in relationships with others. Created a tool as well called the FIRO-B (“B” for behavior)
    • FIRO theory measures 1) Inclusion, 2) Control, 3) Openness (formerly Affection)
    • The FIRO-B helped explain why some teams were performing well while others weren’t. Was explained by the “CP” effect: Compatibility = Productivity. When people were compatible as explained by the FIRO-B they tended to perform better and when under stress the effect became even more magnified.
    • Navy began to assemble teams based on compatibility and success rate went up from 50% to 75%.
    • Left Navy and went into academia; continued research on this theory; in 1950’s everything in psychology was focused on observable behavior.
    • Instrument when compared with trained observes was 75% accurate; wanted to understand why. Legend is that someone said that “people also have feelings” which was novel in the 1950’s and that was the missing piece in the measurement.
    • Began to experiment with T groups, therapy, body work, psychodrama, experiential methods, psycho synthesis
    • Finally ended up getting a job at the Albert Einstein Medical School: found that patients got better results from the experiential methods and group work vs. talk therapy
    • Went back to California and worked at the Esalen Institute; published a book called “Joy”; began running groups which became quite popular and was featured in a New York Times article
    • Began to pull together all of his ideas
    • Started by developing a graduate studies program called “The Holistic Studies Program”
    • Some of his students encouraged him to take the concepts to the business world.
    • Gave birth to The Human Element program – a series of modules that can help individuals and teams raise awareness and operate more effectively; brings science and experiential learning together
    • Went back to the FIRO theory and FIRO Instrument; refined the instrument and upgraded it and changed 3rd dimension from Affection to Openness; added some additional scales that distinguished between what people perceive they do vs. what they want or would like to do more of
    • Changed the name to FIRO-Element B (Element – each instrument measures an aspect of the person)
    • A number of FIRO instruments exist now, based on the revised theory: behavior; underlying feelings in relationships; self-concept; others focused on improving relationships and an organizational climate survey
    • FIRO-B still out there but the new instruments are the most updated ones
  • The Human Element Program
    • Sequenced methodology
    • An experiential process that helps people to 1) first become more self-aware and then 2) work more effectively together
    • Key concepts: being open and making conscious choices
    • Being Open – telling my own personal truth; what is true for me; what are my full experiences; the more that I’m open in sharing/telling my experience the more effective I will likely be
    • Making Conscious Choices – I’m making choices all of the time and there are consequences and payoffs for that; helps one become more aware of our choices and what results we get from our choices
    • Combines FIRO instruments and experiential methods to help become more aligned with their thoughts, feelings and actions including defensiveness; a focus on helping people become less rigid
    • Being different on teams is great however when there is rigidity about that then we get stuck; being stuck is often about rigidity and not diversity
    • How to have different kinds of conversations, make decisions together, understand human dynamics including relationships with leaders and authority
    • Length: full program 5 days; 3 days on self-awareness and 2 days on organizational solutions and the team compatibility index (looking at crucial relationships within a team; interpersonal work between team members; group decision-making process; leadership in teams); can be flexible and broken up into chunks (i.e. complete 3 days first and then later the 2 days).
  • The Human Element and the modern FIRO Instruments were bought by a Japanese firm in 2001. Will Schutz passed away in 2002 and Ethan was asked to run the firm.
  • The Schutz Company was the successor company that took over and was established in 2009.
  • An international network of practitioners

Part 2 – Stories of Hits and Misses Coaching Teams Using The Human Element

  • Success Story #1 – Non-Profit, Leadership Team
    • Operations in multiple countries; 30 people in HQ in New York with 8 people on the leadership team
    • Budget was tight
    • Newly promoted CEO trying to make some changes with the leadership team
    • Ethan went in during the morning and did a session with the team and then asked to stick around and observe the group and do some coaching
    • Ethan spent some time on openness, conscious choices and defensiveness; then observed the group talk about their strategic plan and forming some sub-teams
    • Ethan employed a Process Consultation technique: stopped them while they were working and asked them on a piece of paper to write how well the meeting was going on a scale from 1 to 5 and also some notes about why they rated they way they did; most rated the meeting a 3 and when Ethan probed deeper the issue came up about the group seeming to make decisions which they end up revisiting and repeating and wondering why; Ethan encouraged some “openness” to help them become a bit more courageous to change the conversation; group began to change the way they were talking; Ethan helped the group with The Human Element decision making model (called Concordance). By the end of the day they made 3 decisions which they couldn’t accomplish before.
    • Ethan came back for a second session and there was a lot more openness and excitement; surface area of satisfaction as well as ongoing frustration
    • CEO at end of the second session decided to commit to the full Human Element program
    • Story reveals a lesson in coaching a team upfront to add some value and to help build readiness for a deeper investment and commitment.
    • Training important but the team coaching piece really can help embed it into the organizational culture
    • Human Element hits on some core dynamics and processes that impact teams (e.g. communication, conflict/difference, decision making, etc…)
  • Success Story #2 – Hospital Case, Leadership Development Action Learning Program
    • Teams of 6-8 (20 total people) doing real projects for the hospital
    • Started off doing the 3 day self-awareness piece and then later did the 2 day organizational piece preceding kicking off the action learning teams
    • Self-directed groups with some Human Element consultants/coaches doing ongoing process consultation
    • Edgar Schein’s book: Process Consultation
    • Process Consultant sits with a team and listens to it and makes interventions to help it become more effective
    • For a lot of groups focusing on anything other than the task is new for them and a skill that they often have not developed
    • Coaches provided container for each team
    • One team found a way to increase revenue by $4 million over a 6 months timeframe
    • Multiple cohorts of 20 people over time
  • Miss Story
    • Part of the hospital leadership program also involved a mentoring component
    • Each cohort had to use the Concordance model to make decisions about mentors for each person; coaches left the room and the group got stuck
    • Ethan and his boss on the project went back; boss gave in to all the group’s demands and Ethan didn’t reveal his concerns about that; missed opportunity to push back on the group and tease out the learning underlying the resistance
    • Story of not relying on one’s underlying intuition; not keeping good boundaries; group wanted coaches to change their process; important not to change the process just because there is push-back or struggle which often can be resistance to change. Giving in can release tension but can undermine the change process

Part 3 – Parting Advice/Recommended Resources

  • For folks interested in becoming Human Element Practitioners:
    • First go through the full 5 day Human Element program (San Francisco in August and Washington DC in November)
    • Second go through 12 day practitioner program offered once a year in the US (next one is December 2015 in White Plains New York)
    • TheHumanElement.com
    • Email Ethan to learn more: ethan@theschutzcompany.com
  • What has Ethan most excited now in his work:
    • Working with Human Element practitioners create “Powered by The Human Element Course” (e.g. Radical Collaboration course which blends Human Element and Harvard Negotiation Project concepts on interested-based negotiation; Customer Service; Career Development)
    • Really excited about a new course called “True Alignment.” Helps companies align strategy with culture
  • Parting Advice:
    • Get trained in group dynamics/approaches in how groups/teams function
    • Watch how people behave with each other and in groups
    • You are primarily there as a coach/facilitator/consultant to help people become more open with each other, to tell more “truth;” one way to do that is to “follow the energy” (e.g. go where the group is going rather than trying to prescribe a rigid agenda).
  • How to contact Ethan:

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