Invisible cracks in teams

Invisible cracks in teams

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.


Team coaching