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Team Coaching: Imago And Post Crisis Leadership

It’s a reparative experience to be in a group where the boundaries are clear, where the leadership holds their task, where the members have their place, where people work together for a common purpose. This is especially important now that we are coming out of crisis.


My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy and of Agile Business Innovation. You can find us online at www.intactacademy.com and www.agilebusinessinnovation.com. We help businesses become agile and innovative and we teach others to do that too. If you’re interested, go to our websites www.intactacademy.com and www.agilebusinessinnovation.com we welcome you with open arms. 


I was talking in the last blog about the relational development stages of groups, and it goes together with this unpeeling of your imago. Eric Berne, the Founder of TA had a very specific idea of this. You have to remember that Eric Berne was a psychiatrist and that he worked in psychiatric groups. For him, looking at his patients, he realized they came in with a transferential imago, an idea of what a group should be. Usually, if they’re psychiatric patients, it could be a nightmare of what a group is going to be. Sometimes, his patients came from families where all of that was either missing or very mixed up. It might be working with patients where maybe there were no parents, or the parents were abusive, or the children had to take their parents place, or it wasn’t clear what the family was doing together. His idea is that as his patients adapt their old memories and their old imagos to the group as it is, they will heal their old assumptions of the group. 


It’s a reparative experience to be in a group where the boundaries are clear, where the leadership holds their task, where the members have their place, where people work together for a common purpose. 


His context when he was talking about group imago, was this whole clinical idea of the adaptation of imago as a sign of health, as a reparative experience. Within business we hope that groups are a reparative experience. Every group reignites your old memories, and at the same time, you’re there, between hope and fear that it will be different this time. Unfortunately, most people choose groups and partners based on their previous experience. Sometimes they recreate their own worst nightmare. For example, someone comes into a work group and they imagine that every leader is dictator-ish, or very dominant which results in them having nothing to say. Maybe they recreate behavior so that they’re not seen, or they do things that aren’t recognized and they think, “It’s the same as it always was!”. They simply reconfirm what we call their group script or their team script. 


What you want in a work group is a good enough experience, good enough to be able to work together, good enough to get that excitement of being in a team and of belonging. I won’t say that work groups are always the reparative experience that Berne was hoping for within his psychiatric groups. However, I would say that within a work context, you can create something that people dream of, and that people remember. The moments in a group where you feel, “we’re in flow together!”. The excitement of doing something together, perhaps racing against the clock to get something done, getting the pizza in and still being there at night, but finishing in the morning thinking, “we did that together!”. 


I was a director in various multinationals for 23 years, where we’ve had memorable group experiences, usually under pressure, with inadequate resources, trying to do things which were above the norm. Don’t tell anyone this, but I would argue that actually giving groups less resources than they expect, creates extraordinary group experiences. You think differently if you don’t have enough resources to get it done. 


We can see that during Corona times as well, none of us were resourced for this and yet many of us survived. Some businesses actually thrived within this time, rethinking their purpose, rethinking their structure, accelerating their decision-making processes, giving people a sense that they were part of a group that was doing something that was bigger than the group goals, the immediate group goals. 


The problem now is that we’ve switched imago, there was an imago as is, and then we went into crisis mode. Now people are coming back from these times, and they’re having to readjust again. How do you readjust from a crisis? What I can see many of my clients do is that they are so addicted to the adrenaline of being in a crisis, it’s very difficult for them to readapt to a status quo, to produce at a regular pace. Some leaders have such a hard time switching that they’re creating an artificial crisis just to keep on having that high. 


I would argue that as a team leader you really do have the power and the possibility to lead by example, and to create a group experience where people do have a reparative experience Together you can achieve  something bigger than you can achieve as an individual. The second thing is to be very mindful at the moment, because we are going back to a steady state, albeit in a very volatile and uncertain environment. However, this immediate sense of crisis, as a leader you have to dim that down to create an imago where people have belonging, even if they’re not running on fumes of adrenaline. 


What a leader can do is to go back and to reinvestigate what the purpose of the group was. What have we learned from this Corona time? Not to do everything differently, but just to accelerate that process of integrating people, of working (perhaps) at a distance, of being able to connect despite everything, and decide more quickly, and at the same time, embrace again, the fact that we’re going to a state in the world where we will go back to some form of the production we had before. 

Published On: August 12th, 2021By Categories: Leadership, Videos


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