Home/Team Coaching: What Are The Links Between The Diagnostic Levels?

Team Coaching: What Are The Links Between The Diagnostic Levels?


My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy and Agile Business Innovation. I help businesses innovate more quickly than their products to accelerate their time to market. If you want to know more about that go to www.agilebusinessinnovation.com. For more program information, or to register for our coaching programs go to www.intactacademy.com.


We’re talking about team coaching. What is a team? What is team coaching? What are the levels of diagnosis? It’s important to understand where teams are stuck, so that your interventions become a “bull’s eye”  instead of a shot of hail. It’s better to be direct about what you’re aiming for with the team, instead of applying very broad interventions, and trying to hit a moving target. 


Previously, I talked about the diagnostic diagrams that Eric Berne uses in his book “The Structure and Dynamics of Organizations and Groups”. I want to go a bit deeper into that. It’s not just the levels you have to look at. It’s also the link between the levels that’s important, to understand where teams are stuck. 


We talked about the structural level, the relational level and the psychodynamic level of intervention. The structure is about boundaries, hierarchy, roles and processes, especially decision-making processes. The relational level is about dynamics, personas, informal structure, and influence. The third level, the psychodynamic level, is about imago, about transference, about transactions and personality. When we look at those levels, separately, we can see the diagnostic photograph. 


You also have to understand the link between the levels, for instance a problem at the structural level causes problems at the relational and the psychodynamic level. I’ll give an example. If two roles are unclear and overlap, the people in those roles at the relational level will have conflict about who has the power, who has the influence, whose work it is, regardless of who it is. That causes problems, at the psychodynamic level for them, because it might remind them of conflicts they’ve had before. The relationship between the levels is also important. As my physiotherapist says, if you have a pain in your neck, it might mean that your hip is not aligned. That’s how the team works as well. 


At the structural level, it’s important to understand what Eric Berne meant by boundaries, by roles and by power. If you look at those three things and the relationship between them, you need an in-depth knowledge of what each level means. At the structural level when you talk about roles, people often ask me, “What roles do you look at? Do you mean job descriptions?”. No, I don’t mean that. Within transactional analysis, we talk only of three types of roles. We talk about leadership, we talk about membership, and we talk about apparatus. Apparatus includes  the functions that support the leadership in an organization. The leadership are the hierarchical formal leadership, the membership are the people who report to the leaders,  and the apparatus are for example, HR, IT, Finance; all those advisory functions in an organization, which help the leaders decide if what they want is possible. 


In the leadership, we talk about three types of leadership, which is interesting because it kind of mixes the structure, the relational, and the psychodynamic. Berne talked about responsible leadership in the structure, the people who are formally responsible. He talked about effective leadership at the relational level, the people who have social influence. And he talked about historical psychodynamic leadership, the people who founded the team, who influenced the imago of the group. 


When we introduce organisational change, just at the structural level in a team, it means that you’re working with a responsible leader. However, you have to take into account that, in the background, people’s idea of who the true leader of that team is can differ. I remember reading an interview with Michael Eisner from Disney and the mistakes he’d made in his maiden speech. After 100 days, he apparently stood up in front of the Disney executives, and he said, “We are in difficult times in Walt Disney. Walt Disney is dead. We have to think about what to do now.”. What he completely underestimated was that Walt Disney was, of course, the ehumerus of Disney. People were still referring to him as the father of the company. If in your maiden speech, you decide to say, “the father is dead, long live the father”, you’re gonna alienate a lot of people. His maiden speech was not a great success, and he didn’t last very long! 


As a team coach, what you look at in terms of roles is leadership, membership, apparatus. In terms of leadership, you’re looking at different levels of leadership. Which leadership is most powerful in that team? The question is not, is Walt Disney still alive? The question is, what would Walt Disney do if he were alive now? That way, you can create momentum for change in a team. 


The second role we look at within the diagnostic is membership. Membership is an interesting phenomenon. At the most superficial level  a member is someone who has accepted the formal contract of membership. In business, you sign a working contract on paper, but rarely does it happen that that’s what you do within a team. There’s also what we call an informal contract. The more I work with team coaching, the more I think there are three contracts that you’re influencing as a member, but also three contracts that you have to take into account as a team coach. The first is the purpose or why contract. Why does the team exist? What can they do that nobody else can do? The second is the work or what contract. What are they doing? The third is the how contract, which is more at the relational level of membership. How are we going to work together to make sure the purpose is realized? 


When we talk about membership, and when you look at membership diagnostically, what you must think about is; Are these the right people? Are they in the right place? Also, do they have the right contract in mind? Diagnostically that’s interesting. Some people are attached to the product, the what, but they don’t have a how contract. They don’t have, what we call, a cooperation contract together, which means that they’re all in it to do their own thing. 


The apparatus in my experience usually don’t know their position in the structure. That causes a lot of problems in the relational level and the psychodynamic level. For instance, HR often thinks they have more power if they’re in the management team and can co-decide. I believe that’s not true. Anyone who’s in the apparatus should be between the higher leadership and the direct reports. The leader decides in the line management, what are we going to do? The HR, Finance and IT have the responsibility to say, if it is possible to do it. They have a very strong advisory power, which they give away if they confuse their role with a deciding task. 


When I look at advisory functions, the apparatus functions, in a diagnostic fashion, I often look at how they are positioning themselves. Are they playing their role to the full? At the relational level for the apparatus, I often look at, are they able to manage a network of connections? Obviously, as apparatus, you don’t have direct power, you must have functional leadership. You influence through your advisory function in the structure, and you have to be able to manage that network of relationships and negotiate in the relationship. 


At a psychodynamic level, often see that the status of an advisory function is overlooked in a team. It seems like the real work is done in the line function. They’re kind of forgotten, because they’re not taking their rightful role in the structure, it causes problems in the imago. That says something about the order of intervention, which we’ll talk about later. 


We’re talking about diagnostics, we’re talking about structure, and we’re talking about having to look at the different levels, but also the relationship between the levels. Now, we’re talking about roles. I could do a whole team coaching based just on a diagnostic of roles and how they play out at the different levels. 


What is the organizational chart like? That’s the roles in a formal way. What is playing out in these roles in the informal structure? Who has the influence? Then think about who has the influence under normal circumstances but look at who has the influence under crisis. Then you can see the informal structure at work. Then think about what roles are there in that group imago. If people draw a picture of the team, which roles appear in that picture? If they forget the apparatus, you know where to start your team coaching. 

Published On: June 3rd, 2021By Categories: Leadership, Videos


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