Home/Team Coaching: What Is The Psychodynamic Level?

Team Coaching: What Is The Psychodynamic Level?


My name is Sari van Poelje and I am the Director of Intact Academy. We offer training programs from beginning coach, to team coach, to supervisor. In my business, Agile Business Innovation, we help organizations innovate more quickly than their products, to accelerate time to marker. If you’re interested, go to our websites, and you will find all the information there.


We’re talking about team coaching. We’ve already looked at the definition, the levels of team coaching, and how to figure out where you have to do an intervention. Now we’re talking about the levels one at a time. We’ve had team structure, we’ve looked at team dynamics, and today we’re going to look at psychodynamics, or the level of unconscious functioning of the group. Within transactional analysis, we talk about four main concepts at this level: imago, transference and countertransference, personality as in the influence of life script on the team, and authority structure.


I want to talk about imago this time because it is one of those concepts that are often misunderstood, and used in a way that perhaps isn’t very helpful for team coaching. According to Eric Berne, an imago is a mental picture of what the group is or should be like. Anytime you enter a group, you’ve already got a picture in your mind, based on your previous experiences of a group, based on your archaic ideas of what a group should be, maybe on the things you’ve missed in your primary group, which was your family of origin. You come into each group carrying that backpack, and constantly comparing, and then looking at the group in reality through that lens.


It’s the difference between your imago and the group in reality that creates tension or disappointment. This is the real motor of team behavior. Sometimes people behave in a way in a group that can’t be explained by the structure of the group. It can’t be explained by the dynamics in the group. However, if I look at their archaic imago of how it should function, it could explain their behaviour. Obviously, the difficulty when you’re doing team coaching is that all those mental images are unconscious. You can’t see them unless you use nonverbal techniques or deduce from transactions. We’ll talk about that in a bit.


Imagine how you step into a group, I’m closing my eyes, because I’m inviting you to close your eyes too. Think about what your group should be like. If you think about everything you had in your childhood, in your family, or anything you’ve missed in that time: What kind of picture would that give of your absolutely ideal group, of your dream team, as some people call it? Would it be the dream team where people are close to each other, maybe they’re all friends. That the leader is the best possible parent you could ever have. The people are working together, all towards a higher purpose, which is known to everyone. You not only work together, you play together as well. Any differences are met and discussed. What is your ideal group, your dream team, like? 


Now open your eyes and compare it to the team you’re in. How is that different? How is that the same? How does that explain some of your behavior? How is that a precursor to some of the ways you’re feeling in the team? 


When we think about group imago. We think about the inter psychic image of the group as it should be, and what is the reality. What we say is that people come into groups with an imago. Sometimes you see them behave in a way that causes the team to actually change to fit their imago. That could be their dream team or, it could be them recreating their worst nightmare.


For instance, I was coaching a team and I had someone who was behaving in an extremely provocative way. Every time there was a change in the team, or the leader announced a different process, this person would say, “I’ve done this before and it’s not at all the way it should be. No one is recognizing my competencies in this team.”.  This was really interesting, because in actual fact, the leader was very complimentary about the competency this person brought in. There was a lot of recognition for this person. Still this person felt as if she was not being recognized, and constantly complained about that every time a change was introduced.


At some point, I worked with her and I asked her what was going on? I told her that she seemed very unhappy in this team. Her response was, “Yes, it’s not at all the way it should be.”. When I asked her to draw a picture of how it should be, things got really interesting. She drew a team with the leader and people in that team, but she didn’t draw herself. I looked at that picture and I asked her where she was. She said “I forgot myself!”.


We talked about how she felt inside, when she was in a group. We talked about the difference between that feeling, and the real team where she actually had a very important position. She was constantly surrounded by people who were recognizing each other’s competencies. She realized that the image she had brought in, was one in which she, in her family of origin, didn’t have a place and where she constantly felt as if she wasn’t being seen. Her behavior in the team, in reality, actually re-energized those kinds of dynamics because of the way she was acting. People were starting to ignore her because she created such frictioning within the team. 


Sometimes, an imago works in a positive way. However, as in this example, sometimes it works in a way that reignites dynamics and positioning that you don’t want. It’s important in team coaching to look not only at the structure and the dynamics which are visible, but also to look at what is happening. Why are people acting the way they do? Could it be that they’re carrying an imago inside, that is causing them to behave in a way that they recreate something that they don’t want or that they absolutely do miss. That will give you a depth to your team coaching, which might bring you a step further. 


My invitation to you is to draw your dream team. How you wish your team would look and then to compare it to the team as is. Then write down how this is causing you to behave in a certain way. 

Published On: April 29th, 2021By Categories: Leadership, Videos


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