The training that destroyed the team

It is quite common in communication with my colleagues that I hear about the team coaches who held training sessions for the company that broke the entire system of interaction in the team. Indeed, some coaches like to use what I call “excavator technique” to create a new system that could meet the expectations of senior management. However, it may lead to opposite results.

To give you an example, a friend of mine who is at the top of a large company said that it took her two months to assemble and reanimate her team after such training with the “excavator”-type coach. Thanks to her efforts, the group returned to the working mode, but the previous scheme of work did not vanish. The old ways the team had clung to rose from the ashes like a phoenix, and the team kept on working after having acquired some negative experiences with coaches and trainings.

I was given a similar example by a manager after the training in which a team coach wanted to transfer their company to the Tuckman’s fourth stage of team development. At that time, the group was transitioning from the second to the third stage. It was the “Stormy youth” stage when all the team members argued with each other (on the issue of leadership, as a rule), the employees split into interest groups, started fighting for “a place under the sun” and defending their point of view. And it was at this particular moment that they were given elementary team building practices: the coaches tried to get the team back to the first level and started building relationships as if “from scratch”, giving them exercises like “fall for trust”. As a result, an attempt to build all the relationships anew broke the current system, which had already taken shape in the company. Not only everything that did NOT work was broken, but everything that did, as well.

After all those stories, I was happy to realize I didn’t work according to the model “level everything to the ground and build anew”.

How do I work? Let me tell you.

In one of his lectures, Robert Sapolsky talked about the artificially created isolation of a small group from a large group. Due to that isolation, the density of kinship within the small group increased dramatically. As a result, there was a high level of cooperation in that small isolated group. When the small group returned to the “mainland”, the “Creator Effect” worked. The high level of cooperation that took shape in the isolated group was transferred to a larger group and at some point became prevailing.

When I was listening to the lecture, I realized that my work was based on that principle, too. Namely, I start my work with meeting a small group of the company’s senior managers where we learn to communicate and interact in the best possible way, and then they spread the knowledge and skills across to the entire team (this is how the “Creator Effect” works).

I did not invent this method, it was my mentor, Caitlin Walker, who gave it to me (here you can read the most engaging interview with her). It has proved to be the most effective method of working with teams. However, when I start coaching a company, I often encounter a request: “Let’s cause the inevitable good to everyone”. The management wants to embrace the entire company at once and hold trainings for 150 people in order to teach them, for example, the skill of giving feedback. In fact, it does not work like this. Skills like giving feedback cannot be learned by the entire company in one single workshop.

That is why I always suggest starting to work with a small group of top managers. I create very isolated conditions for them where they can safely practice and reinforce the skill. Due to this, in the future, the managers will be able to spread their knowledge among the company staff. It will not only occur directly, like “we sat down, and I began to train my employees,” but it will also get practiced through daily use. That is, the managers begin to apply the new feedback mode, the employees see the results and try to mimic and adopt the actions of the managers. Here, too, the “Creator Effect” works, when a small group get some knowledge, and then this knowledge is adopted by the rest of the team.

In this method of work, there is no need to hold workshops for 50 or 100 people, because the people see by a living example that the system is working. They do not feel like rejecting the new system, as it happens after team building or after the manager’s words: “And from now on we will be working in a different way”. The team sees that the TOPs are using the new system, it works and it can be used.

This tenet, which allows you to achieve the “Creator Effect”, is part of the Clean Language (CL) methodology and System Modeling ℠, and sounds like the basic rule — to act according to the principle of fit. I lead the team to where it is ready and able to go, and to where its focus of attention is directed at the moment.

If, for example, I join a team and understand that it is at the second stage of development (many conflicts, quarrels, no one understands how to give feedback), this does not mean that I will begin conducting workshops at once.

The first thing I will do is hold a briefing with the key persons of the company. Firstly, to see all the angles of view in the team and get to know what is happening in it. Secondly, to understand where the focus is now. It is important to find it out right away, because the owner of the company may strive to “cause imminent good” to the team (for example, to train them the feedback skill), but the team will not be ready for this. So, after training on feedback tools, the team which is on the second stage of development, can only aggravate the existing conflicts with these tools. The result will be that the tool is bad, and the coach is bad, and nothing can ever help us.

Therefore, the second step I make is conduct a survey of the team in order to find out at what level of development they are.

If you want to know the level of development of your team and get recommendations for further development, write to me: with a note “I want to know the stage of development of my team.”

After that I conduct a demonstration in a team that lasts about three hours where I show how I work. In this way, we build trust and understanding with the client. We find out how the already formed system works for them, and then, together with the team, we build a vision of their work in the future. With this understanding of the first and second systems, we construct the path by which they will reach their goal without losing the good things that they have at the moment, and eliminating the bad things that keep them from going further.

If you are interested in trying this principle, sign up for a demo session. I am available for a free on-site demo session for your team which usually takes one day (a few hours), the only expenses you cover are transport and lodging costs for me. Also, if your company does not have a separate training room, it should be rented. On-site demo sessions are held for teams of up to 10 people.

Online demo sessions for up to 7 participants are also available.

To sign up for a demo session with an analysis of your team, email me with a note: “I want a demo session for my team”.

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