Where the desire to become a team coach comes from

My name is Tatiana Smirnova, and my manager’s career pushed me to become a team coach. It was in 2009 that I started my work as a manager. Total working time that I spent in the offices of different companies amounted to five years. I have seen a lot of things, but what affected me the most was communication among the staff members.

Isn’t it possible to work without quarreling, abusing or threatening one another, bullying, humiliation, pressure, rent-seeking, bribery, extortion? After all, they could hold an effective meeting or brainstorm, couldn’t they? — rather than waste hours on the war of words among the customers and administration or give no hearing to anyone but the top management. I did trust it was possible! To tell the truth, nobody took me seriously at that time.

There was once a financial failure in a project, and it was then that I was staying calm while listening to all the yelling and screaming as well as threats from the bosses, and swearing and insults from the contractor on the phone, after which I got down to thinking over the solution to the problem. One of the bosses came up to me after a while and asked ‘why I was not worried about what had happened’. Apparently, I should have cried, ripped my hair out and got hot and cold at my desk. But what I was up to was just sitting and thinking how to cope with the problem. The boss then said something like “those around you will think that you don’t bother yourself with the job and that you haven’t drawn any lesson from it”.

However, her words sounded like Chinese to me. It was because I could not make out why I should waste my energy and effort on emotional distress, wrangling or tries to find a good excuse for myself if it never helped to solve the problem. At the end of the working day, I came up with a financial scheme which allowed us to ‘get out of the rain’ and sustain minimal losses. The scheme was put into action after a few-hour’s consideration, and so the problem was solved. There were also bonus payments, suspended in an illusory cloud, for which I ‘ploughed’ 12 hours a day with occasional night overtime. I can recollect how I was struck by a thought that my contract would have been considered more promptly if only I had taken care of a box of candy or some other souvenir for the lawyer. It was no sooner than after a couple of years that I sorted out that the matter was not in the lawyer’s desire to get bribes (she was a nice and kind person). However, she was working in isolation, and the system overloaded her up to her limits. She had to stay overtime at work in order to make it all. She kept company with staff-oldies because nobody introduced her to new staff members. And yes, souvenirs helped her to set priorities, but only because there was no other way to find out who could be trusted or who was really reaching the deadline, and who was just talking bollocks. Now I’ve got a good idea what could have been done for changing the atmosphere at that company and making a difference in it. But back then, I decided to become a freelancer.

However, it was even there that I kept facing tormented employees of advertising agencies who could be ‘briefing’ with me on Skype till 2 a.m., and I felt like I was on ‘hotline’ for their complains about customers and life as a whole. At the same time, my offers to help were taken as a call for subversion or mocking. Even in a wonderful team of like-minded employees where everybody respects the others and strives for mutual understanding, I was present at an hour-long meetings with 20 people who didn’t listen to or hear each other. They wasted 20 burden-hours a week, but my remarks that it was ineffective were not heard.

Hyper Island (a school in Manchester) became a sniff of fresh air for me. It was there that I got a useful feedback for the first time. It was when the visiting lecturers spoke about how they created the company’s mission and values, how they made sure each and every employee got the message and was on the same page. It was when one of the large company top managers said that if an employee had to work overtime — it was the management’s mistake. I could hardly hold back my tears at that lecture. So those words were receptive to me!

Then I got to know such techniques as Agile, Clean Language, System Modelling, Nonviolent Communication, U-theory, Spiral Dynamics, Turquoise organizations. All these added to my confidence that I am not crazy. Changes are already taking place around me, aren’t they? There are companies, even in Russia, that are ready for transformation, for communication free from tears, yelling or bullying. That is why I am so happy today that I have got a stock of knowledge in my mind and enough confidence to help such teams.

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