Invisible cracks in teams

Invisible cracks in teams

Team coaching

Internationally certified (team) coach Angela van Dorssen shares insights from her daily practice. She has been a certified neuro-transformational coach since March 2020. 

For me, everything is information.That’s how I approach team coaching. I start with neutrality and curiosity, observing, questioning and ‘tasting’ the atmosphere. What is going on here? And where does the team want to go? In the case study in this article, six months after the introductory meeting with the team’s manager, a crucial piece of the puzzle seems to have fallen into place, highlighting a painful chapter from the past that continues to divide the team.

When the past is still relevant

One question I pose to teams concerns the historical events (both positive and negative) that continue to influence their interactions. AndThis can include reorganisations, acquisitions and past employees. 

In this team, during the individual written intake, several members referred to a time roughly ten years ago when a former owner and manager led the company. Without knowing the details, from the start of the team coaching, I realised that the impact of an apparently destructive leadership style had led to a sense of insecurity among the team. Every piece of information is valuable and  I trust that the necessity to address this issue will become clear later in the process.

Indeed , it did. Deep-seated emotions from that time resurfaced during one-on-one conversations, which I facilitated. We held talks to clarify misunderstandings and improve the current level of cooperation – a parallel process to the group team coaching sessions. Being challenged on behaviour brought back intense emotional recollectionsto the extent that further cooperation seemed unattainable. Only when the individuals involved bravely shared where these emotions were coming from did a climate of compassion and mutual understanding develop, accompanied by concrete agreements and a relieved handshake at the end. 

Organisational trauma hinders the potential of teams

Surprising? No, not at all. Painful? Undoubtedly. And if left unaddressed, these emotional wounds will continue to surface. You may have heard references to ‘old pain’ within the company,indicative of organisational trauma – those deep, invisible cracks below the surface. 

Signs of organisational trauma include:  

  1. Extreme, sudden emotions that seem disproportionate to the current situation. 
  2. Recurrent references by multiple individuals to a specific issue.
  3. A stagnation in decision-making and change, despite constructive conversations.

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix or a one-size-fits-all solution. As a manager, it helps to be curious about the signs and explore the stories behind them. Ask: What has impacted you? Or what past events continue to influence the present? 

Feel free to discuss these matters among yourselves as well.


Everyone has a breaking point

Everyone has a breaking point

Team coaching

Internationally-certified (team) coach Angela van Dorssen talks about her daily practice. She has been a certified neuro-transformational coach since March 2020.

I was recently asked to work with a small MT in the SME sector. They were all lovely people, but they were no longer able to work together. Things were getting pretty heated. The conflict between them was already apparent in the initial meeting. Believe it or not, that was a good sign for me as a team coach. It told me the team wanted to be a better version of itself, but wasn’t able to take that step yet. The team was stuck in repetitive patterns of behaviour that keep triggering conflict.

An intake with all MT members individually enabled us to get to the heart of the problem. It became apparent that past business decisions were the seeds of conflict between the team members.

The pain of powerlessness

What emerged so painfully from the intake session was a shared sense of powerlessness and frustration. They didn’t know this about each other. Up until now, they had only seen that decision-making was slow or not taking place at all, communication was strained, MT members were at odds with each other and trying to convince each other of their own point of view and that explosive situations were occurring on a regular basis, which led to even more tension. And there was work to be done when it came to behaviour.

One thing leads to another

A destructive pattern had arisen due to the sense of powerlessness. That’s normal human behaviour. Anyone will start behaving in an annoying way if they are provoked enough.And that’s where collaboration goes wrong. If someone pushes your red button of powerlessness, the Wi-Fi connection in your brain is lost and you want to protect yourself. One person will hit out blindly, while another will implode. Yet another will prefer to run away and pretend that nothing’s wrong for fear of confrontation.

And that’s precisely what was holding this team back. The violent explosions and the necessary judgements of some team members were causing other people in the team to implode. And that reactivates the red button of powerlessness. Others were quietly watching the game being played out from the sidelines, even though they are actually involved in it themselves. And then suddenly the glass of confidence breaks. The pressure is too much.

Back on track

Once this team saw the dynamic that had been created and the impact it was having on their results and future, they chose to do something about it. To sweep up the broken glass and to put the problems on the agenda. We are now working with each other to put together a coaching plan that will help them tackle their problems in a logical order.

I’m making each team member responsible for his/her own impact. I’m training them to work with ‘the antidote’, a tool that will ensure each individual recognises his/her own red button and continues to communicate in a constructive manner. Slowly but surely, the mood

in the team is changing and everyone is laughing with relief. Everyone’s on the same side again and playing their role in the game.

If you think I might be able to help you, or if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch.

The ivory tower of the leader

The ivory tower of the leader

Team coaching

Internationally certified (team) coach Angela van Dorssen talks about her day-to-day practice. She has been a certified neuro-transformational coach since March 2020.

A recurring theme when I work with teams is that people are reluctant to speak out and call others to account. And if you also need to do that within a hierarchical structure, that appears to be even more nerve-racking. Fear may be a better word. I hear employees saying things like: “This will come back to haunt me in my performance review.” And even more often: “I’m not doing it anymore. It’s pointless anyway. They are sitting up there in their ivory tower!” Talking about the manager is therefore the norm in teams.

Don’t leave it at that

Avoidance is normal human behaviour, but it is also a shame. In this way, you block innovation in organisations. After all, you ideally want to be able to communicate openly with each other in teams; that you can speak out, even if you have a different opinion than your manager. You want to be able to call your manager to account about content and behaviour, without worrying about harming the relationship or fearing reprisals.

Dear leader, you can turn this around…

Trained to respond in terms of content

For one leadership team, it was something of an aha moment when they discovered that they were so used to responding in terms of content that they were failing to notice the signals of their employees when they were called to account for their behaviour. A group of employees had plucked up the courage to give them feedback on their behaviour. Instead of responding to the feedback, they zoomed out to the content and came up with a solution to a content-related problem that had not been requested. The employees left disillusioned: “See, I told you it was pointless.” They then talk with each about it anyway and send the managers to their ivory tower.

As a leader, do you have the courage to allow something to affect you personally?

Feedback only makes sense if you are actually willing to listen AND actually take in the message. If your employee gives you feedback about your behaviour, tell him/her what effect that has on you and compliment them for making the effort. It takes quite a lot of courage to climb the metaphorical ivory tower. It doesn’t mean that you agree with it. Ask yourself these questions: ’What impact am I having on the other person? What do I think about that? And what can I do to increase my impact?’Respond, in any case, to the feedback given. You don’t have to do so right away, but let the person know when you will get back to them.

Wrong expectations

Employees can also play their part in ensuring more open communication. I hear them express the expectation that the manager should always act on the feedback. What they see is true. In my view, there is a mismatch in expectations here. It is up to you to convey the feedback as explicitly and constructively as possible. It is up to the other person, in this case the manager, to assess what he/she will do with it. An open conversation, followed by suitable feedback, is a more realistic expectation.

Feel free to get in touch if you would like brainstorm one time about your team or about your own behaviour.

The consequences of avoiding conflict

The consequences of avoiding conflict

Team coaching

Internationally certified team coach Angela van Dorssen talks about her daily practice. She has been certified as a neurotranformational coach since March 2020.

Some time ago, I received a call from a director in my network requesting mediation. Two colleagues were in conflict with each other and the situation had spun out of control, causing emotions to run high. They refused to work together, with one of the colleagues even calling in sick. The whole team was affected by this tension and their work was suffering as a result. Before getting started, I always like to gain a better understanding of the actual problem. And as I suspected, it extended beyond these two people. There were issues throughout the team. When I asked them how long this conflict had been going on, they replied, “nine years”!

Conflict will explode when left unchecked
There are, sadly, no exceptions to this rule. All too often, clients call me when the trust between the parties involved has already fallen to dangerous levels or even been eroded. Which is a shame, because it’s easier to lose trust than to gain it – if the latter is at all possible.

Managers and team leaders find it difficult to deal with tension and heated emotions like anger and sadness. We just don’t like conflict. We prefer to avoid it and push discomfort away. However, differences are to be expected in teams and, therefore, so is conflict. It would be nice if people could discuss their differences openly with each other and get to the heart of the matter. Instead, we take them personally. As a manager, do you allow irritations to persist, do you accept gossip, and do you see poor results due to insufficient cooperation? Chances are this conflict will explode if left unchecked in your team, probably at the worst possible time and at great cost to the relationships. And that’s what happened here after nine years.

Are you willing…
In this case study, I started working with the team and at the same time the two individuals. They weren’t keen on talking to each other again. When asked, “Are you willing to reinvest in a better collaboration?’, the initial response was “no”.I couldn’t force them;it’s their choice. By giving them space and explaining the consequences of saying no, they eventually opted for coaching. This takes courage, as they had little confidence things would turn out well. The role of the manager is crucial here.

Tentative steps towards recovery
In the sessions that followed, they were both given the opportunity to talk about what was causing them so much pain. Venting and acknowledging emotions is an important first step. The details come later. Only when someone gets things off their chest can they be open to listening to others. They said their apologies and expressed their feelings. Unexpectedly, they discovered that they share the same passion for their profession and decided on their own initiative to collaborate on a project. This was a last minute turnaround; things could have easily gone the other way.

What can we take away from this? Dare to have the tough conversations and don’t let conflict fester until it explodes.

Toxic positivity in teams

Toxic positivity in teams

Team coaching

Angela van Dorssen is an internationally certified coach who has been qualified in neuro-transformational therapy since 2020. She tells us about her work.

End of the week. Friday morning. I’m facilitating a team in the financial industry. We’re dealing with psychological safety, at their request. It’s not an easy subject. A lot of teams avoid talking about it, but, if you follow the news, you know it’s extremely relevant. In order to create a sense of security and to reduce any awkwardness, everyone had filled in an online questionnaire about how psychologically safe he or she feels in the team. The results give an anonymous impression of the current situation. An open dialogue ensues.

Don’t be so negative

And then the question that has been hanging in the air since the team saw the broad spread of the results: “Who only gave it a three?” Every score, high or low, is worthy of examination from my point of view, but we are programmed to just look at the low numbers. After a short silence, someone has the courage to speak out. They are emotional. The unease in the room reaches its climax.

We still believe that feelings do not belong in the workplace, apparently. Emotion is ‘unprofessional’ and should be kept to yourself, if you have it at all. And once the emotion’s out there, we want to get everything back to being harmonious and positive again as quickly as possible. We don’t like it, we don’t know what to do with it and it causes a great deal of unease and awkwardness. Focussing on the positive is a lot easier.

And the reaction came: “You mustn’t look at it like that. You can also look at what’s going well, can’t you?” The person concerned dried their eyes, nodded in accord and said nothing more…

Toxic positivity

The psychotherapist Whitney Goodman (2022) describes the impact of toxic positivity: “Positivity can be extremely toxic and bad for your mental health if it leads to you repressing negative feelings.”

She does not say that you always have to give your emotions free rein and that you have to express them everywhere, but she does bring a refreshing perspective to the long-term effects on our health of repressing them. When listening to someone, we might think that we are supporting and helping them by playing down what they are feeling, but what we are implicitly saying is: “Don’t talk about what you are experiencing”. They then feel entirely unsupported and unacknowledged.

Holding safe space

It’s actually simple to break the pattern if you are just courageous enough to feel that awkwardness. This what you can do:

· Focus your attention on the other. Don’t start talking about what you have experienced.

· Recognise the emotions and the impact on the other.

· Ask open questions and listen to the answers.

· Ask about needs rather than just wanting to resolve the issue: “What do you need?

Nobody gets in your way on a desert island!

Nobody gets in your way on a desert island!

Team coaching

Internationally certified (team) coach Angela van Dorssen talks about her daily practice. She has been a certified Neuro-Transformational Coach since March 2020.

On a beautiful autumn day, I am working with a management team (MT) from a healthcare organisation. It is a big team with various disciplines and backgrounds. They are faced with an enormous job with a high degree of complexity, as is often the case in healthcare. In the two preparatory talks, it emerged that they wanted to work on improving the connection in the team and on strengthening mutual collaboration. The different regions were now working primarily in isolation: everyone on their own island.

Team or group?

So-called ‘rake structures’ are drawn in organisations, also referred to as organograms. Tasks are clustered and teams are formed. And then it turns out that teams don’t work together as a team. You see that happens when things become tense. In that case, team members prioritise their own interests at the expense of the team result. Yes, this doesn’t help with achieving objectives AND it can be logical that it happens as collaboration does not happen automatically if a team actually turns out to be a group of people.

Definition of a team: ‘People who are dependent on each other AND have a shared identity or goal.’ If one of these elements is missing, then it’s a group. Collaboration is possible, but it is more of a choice than something that is automatically encouraged by the way of organising.

The definition proved to be a good starting point for this team to have an open and honest conversation: Where are we dependant on each other and where not? What is our shared goal? The interesting conclusion was that according to the definition, they are a team, but that they experience it as a group. Now, they can build on mutual collaboration.

A team is at the expense of autonomy

The song by the Dutch children’s choir Kinderen voor Kinderen puts it into words well: ‘Op een onbewoond eiland, loopt niemand voor je neus. Ja, je voelt je d’r blij want, lekker leven is de leus.’ (Nobody gets in your way on a desert island! Yes, you feel happy there, because living freely is the watchword). On your own island, it is brimming with freedom and autonomy. And this is the crux of the matter.

According to Patrick Lencioni (2002), focusing on team results, above one’s own status and ego, is one of the conditions for performing optimally as a team. And that is at the expense of autonomy. This means that when necessary, each team member abides by a decision made by the entire team, even if it’s not the best outcome for their own business unit.

1st step = island hopping

Start small and visit, as it were, each other’s island. What works well there and why? Which challenges is this business unit experiencing? Once all islands have been visited, together determine the framework within which you want to work as a team. What will you do together? And where can the different departments make their own choices?

If you are looking for a travel guide, feel free to call!
06 1985 0504

From ego to alignment

From ego to alignment

Team coaching

Internationally certified team coach Angela van Dorssen talks about her daily practice.

One of the most common issues that I come across is a lack of alignment in management teams and on management boards. The inability to take a decision together. When personal interests are prioritised over the collective result. It’s logical, when you think about it. The bigger the team, the more interests there are. The more that is at stake, the more challenging it can be to take decisions. And if you take a decision, you’re responsible for its outcome. When things go wrong too! So it’s more appealing to not make a choice or to continue defending your own position. AND it costs money and leads to frustrations.

Going round in circles

Last week I had a talk with a board of directors in the agricultural industry. The aim of the meeting was to decide on the content for a training for all of the company’s staff. Staff who don’t meet agreements, who don’t discuss issues with each other, and who take offence at feedback. The thing that struck me most during the talk was how divided the board members were. While this is usually a good thing, in this case we were unable to arrive at a specific outcome. I asked them: “To what extent do you have a collective idea of what the training should achieve?” This hit the nail on the head: they didn’t, so we spent a lot of time going round in circles.

Your team does what you do

Suddenly, the penny dropped. They realised that if the board doesn’t have a collective idea, the staff will put their personal interests first, copy their behaviour and nothing will change. They decided to work on this first and to park the training for a while.

Unanimous decisions are a utopia

Alignment is not the same as an unanimous decision. It means that you support the decision. You say ‘YES’ and you do ‘YES’. If, once you’ve discussed the matter properly, you can’t decide unanimously, the next step is to arrive at the best possible decision. Also if this means setting aside your own interests in order to a safeguard the team result.

Feel free to phone me for a chat 06 1985 0504

I decide for myself where I work! Right?

I decide for myself where I work! Right?

Team coaching

Internationally certified team coach Angela van Dorssen talks about her daily practice.

Since last September, an entirely new conversation has emerged in teams: “How and where will we (soon) work?”. In some cases, this led to heated arguments within teams. Or precisely the opposite: teams that reached clear agreements with each other, and took responsibility for the team themselves. It remains a matter of trial and error. It is interesting to see what impact the employer’s policy has on this.

It would appear that when an employer leaves things completely free and provides no framework, AND there is limited trust in a team, individual interests take precedence over team interests. In the long run, this leads to friction, irritation, and conflict in teams. It is time for an honest conversation!

Connection vs. freedom

The number one reason for wanting to return to the office would appear to be that of missing social interaction with colleagues. Informal moments, meeting one another face to face and sharing things other than work content. Employees are fed up with back-to-back online meetings. Interconnection is sorely missed in teams. Managers have already used up all their creativity, and online coffee mornings are no longer attended. So, exactly how do you establish a connection in your team when COVID-19 is holding us in its grip ever longer?

Interestingly, there is another side to it as well. Employees report feeling over-stimulated at work, and being less productive, precisely because they are ‘constantly disturbed’, and they want to use their time efficiently. Furthermore, they are not always willing to invest time in commuting and social connection if it means giving up their personal freedom.

Teams that succeed find the right balance between connection and the freedom to decide for themselves where to work.

What appears to be working?

· Employers must provide space within clear frameworks

· Give teams responsibility and task them with reaching mutual consensus.

· Make individual differences negotiable and build bridges based on the manner in which we deal with different needs as a team.

· Work on building trust in the team by getting to know one another personally

Feel free to phone me for a chat 06 1985 0504

Teams that slow down are more productive

Teams that slow down are more productive

Team coaching

You might not expect it, but slowing down can be profitable. Yet in a world where speed is associated with success, we find this quite an uncomfortable thought. Internationally certified team coach Angela van Dorssen explains why.

I work with teams in various fields. The topics are diverse and always focused on improving team performance and cooperation. To build a team, trust and a sense of security are essential. I deliberately slow down at the beginning of a process. Often, I can sense restlessness and even resistance. Which is not surprising, I think as we can all feel the adrenaline of the planning of the day – the tasks ahead of us as soon as we finish the meeting. Phones lighting up, activating our brain and making us feel restless. We have come to believe that ‘being busy’ and ‘staying active’ are linked to being productive. However, this is not true.

Popcorn decision-making
The performance of a team is reflected, among other things, in the quality of the decision-making process. I look at a number of things: who does the talking – who doesn’t? How are ideas brought forward and how are they assessed? How does the team deal with differences of opinion? Are decisions being made and are they clear to everyone? Is there common ground and how is this achieved? To what extent are decisions concrete and explicit?

For convenience, I like to compare what I see on a regular basis with popcorn. Put the bag of kernels in the microwave. Set the timer. The temperature is rising and in the meantime the bag of popped corn is bulging. The result is a bag full of steaming hot popcorn. They are barely contained in the bag, but one is already almost escaping. Back to decision-making in teams. Ideas pop up, but no one is listening or considering them. No time, because the next idea is already being floated. Sure, it is high-paced. The heat is rising, with irritations bubbling up. It then becomes a crossroads, where everyone is heading in a different direction. Some people become silent, some were already silent and will now do absolutely nothing, and some will continue to talk and defend their own positions. Or no decision is taken, and the subject is back on the agenda at the next meeting. Or the manager has had enough and moves the decision forward. The question is, will everyone agree and, more importantly, will everyone act accordingly?

Wisdom in silence
By slowing down, you can see more. When you see more, you will have more knowledge and more options. By weighing up the pros and cons and considering different angles, a team will reach better decisions. Challenging each other on content, while maintaining trust and a sense of security, creates an environment where you can work together to achieve the best possible results. Learning to deal with the discomfort of being ‘stuck’ and of reconciling differences is key. It is challenging and that is exactly the point. Whenever teams grapple with the content, I see an increase in confidence.

Slowing down = speeding up
Teams that can slow down save time and perform better. And meetings become much more enjoyable in the process.

Would your team make the grade?

Would your team make the grade?

Team coaching

Internationally certified team coach Angela van Dorssen talks about her daily practice.

When I started 7.5 years ago, individual coaching was still associated with dysfunction. Now it is almost absurd if you, as a professional, do not have a coach. Team coaching is somewhat lagging behind. Whereas in America every high performing team works on cooperation and ongoing reflection, in the Netherlands I am usually called up in the event of trouble or when results are not being achieved. Or perhaps the team thinks we are going to build rafts. While this is certainly good for team building, team coaching is about much more than that. In team coaching, you work on team goals that contribute to better cooperation AND a better team result.

I often tell my clients that I’ll “have a look at what’s hidden under the carpet”.

What needs maintenance?
I don’t do this myself. One of the first steps is letting the team itself report on what is going well in the team and where challenges remain. A comprehensive intake is carried out and a report is produced on the team. The dialogue that follows is crucial and not necessarily easy. Suddenly everything is on paper. The next step is identifying what the team wants to work on. Concrete goals and results are recorded in a coaching plan.

Every team has growth potential
A colleague and I recently worked with a police detective team. The results of that team’s own self-evaluation prompted an honest open discussion. This is difficult to achieve in daily practice. This is only natural, because the next day these team members have to be able to rely on one another in their police work. And saying what you really think makes you vulnerable. By being vulnerable on that day, real issues were exposed and clear agreements were able to be made.

Within a high school department, it was exciting to read what was really going on in the team. No topic is off limits as far as I am concerned, since I am confident that every team wants to be/become the best version of itself. Education is characterized by strong autonomy, which was getting in the way of cooperation. They discovered their commonality through their passion for the subject and for the students. Now, six months later, this team is working resolutely to improve its processes and is increasingly discussing and dealing with issues.

Team MOT checklist
Do you, as a manager, want to get to work with your team yourself and gain insight into where your team needs support? Send an email and receive the Team Health Audit Checklist free of charge.

Teams that regularly audit themselves (or have themselves audited) function better and stay ahead of the competition!

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