Team Coaching – How Do You Diagnose The Problem?


Hi, my name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy. We give training programs for coaches, consultants and leaders from beginner coach, to team coach, to supervisor. I also run a business called, Agile Business Innovation, where we help businesses innovate more quickly than their products. If you want to know more, look us up. 


We’re talking about team coaching, and more particularly about the levels of team coaching. We’ve talked about the structural level, the relational level and the psychodynamic level. Now I want to talk about; How do you diagnose? What kind of diagnostic diagrams do we use in team coaching using transactional analysis? 


Eric Berne talked about six different diagnostic diagrams. He talked about a location diagram. You literally draw a team, where you show the physical situation of the team. In a group, you draw a seating diagram, where do people sit? In an organization, you would draw, what level of the building the departments are situated on. Also, with what other departments can they physically have contact. Often that already gives a lot of insight into why, for instance, decision making processes are difficult. The difficulty now with seating diagrams and location diagrams is that we’re on Zoom or Teams. In Zoom or Teams, everyone is exactly the same size. You can’t see who is sitting next to who because it’s something that the Zoom randomly does. We’re missing a lot of information in Zoom, which would help you see what the natural alliances in a group are through seating diagrams. 


The second diagnostic diagram that Eric Berne uses is called an authority diagram. An authority diagram shows the hierarchy. The hierarchy shows the formal structure. What level of authority people have. That’s important, especially if decision making processes aren’t working the way they should, or people are caught in decision making. I have a team now that says they are caught in the roundabout of decision making. Every time a decision looms for them, and they’re ready to take it, someone goes back to what is the definition of what they are trying to do. You can see that as a dynamic problem. However, in this case, it’s also an authority structure problem, because in this organization, the hierarchy is actually not very clear. They have two types of hierarchy. One is psychiatrists, psychotherapists, social workers, which is different to the formal organization hierarchy, which is CEO, management and staff. Because these hierarchies aren’t aligned, there is a confusion about who can take what decisions. You can see that the authority diagram is quite important, as well as a diagnostic tool. It helps to draw the different hierarchies there are within the team to see where they’re stuck. 


The third diagnostic diagram Berne called a structural diagram, which is the boundary diagram we talked about earlier. In this boundary diagram, we’ve got the major external boundary, distinguishing the outside from the inside, and the major internal boundary, distinguishing the leaders from the members. I always ask myself, “Where are the boundaries? Are the right people in or out? Is it placed in the right way? Is it open or closed correctly?”. Sometimes it is too open and then everyone can just walk in and out. This creates a lot of dynamic in a team. 


Sometimes leaders aren’t taking their place. Sometimes leaders are much too rigid in their ivory tower, Berne called that laxity or rigidity of boundaries, permeability of boundaries. It is important to have a visualization of where there are lesions in this boundary. Where is it too open? Where is it too closed? Is it in the right place? I’m working with one team now, where the leader has actually made a clause in the contracts with members saying they have to do their work on their own, completely independently of the leaders. It is a forming group, I understand if it’s a mature group that you want two people to work independently, but in a forming group, a leader is a central figure. What you see there is that he’s absent in that boundary of leadership. People are starting to form little alliances within the membership. They are taking over the informal leadership. It is quite chaotic to work in a team like that. It helped the leader to draw the boundary and to realize that he was necessary in this stage of the formation of the team. 


Berne draws a fourth diagnostic diagram, which he calls a dynamic diagram. A dynamic diagram is where you draw the boundaries, and then you draw arrows to show where the dynamics are, and how big they are. You have, for instance, pressure on a team, on the major external boundary. You draw a big arrow saying e.g., economic crisis, Corona. Then you draw dynamics internally, for instance, you draw the agitation on the leadership boundary e.g. members are pushing against the leaders because they say the leaders aren’t doing their job in Corona and the leaders are agitating against the members because they say they are not taking enough initiative. 


Then you draw how much cohesion there is actually counteracting these dynamics. If these agitations, intrigues and pressures are bigger than the cohesion, obviously, they will displace the boundaries. If you do not know this then you run the risk of lesions in the boundaries and you will see that the energy goes more towards the internal dynamics, than towards working for the client.


The fifth diagram that Berne talks about is the group imago diagram. We are born into relationships and we’re born into a group. We may die alone, but we certainly aren’t born alone. We’re always born into relationships. In groups the leader is always in the imago, but people have different levels of recognition that there are other members in their imago of the group. As your imago gets more clarified, you differentiate more in a group. The more you differentiate, the more you adapt your imago to the reality of the team as is.  Group imago is interesting because it’s an unconscious, intra psychic thing. Drawing a group imago is difficult. I usually ask people to draw how they see the team. People draw it in very many different ways. I sometimes ask people ; if the group was an animal, what animal would it be? That gives you a lot of information as well. I’ve had one client where the whole team drew the group without the leader in it. That was interesting. They completely blanked out any form of leadership. Truthfully, they did act like abandoned children. Any new leader that was coming in had a problem because they were ignored. Then I realized that they had had six different leaders in the last two years. They’d actually decided to function without leadership. 


The last diagnostic diagram that Berne talks about is a transactional diagram. You could call it a form of a sociogram. It is a drawing of the way people transact to each other. If you would draw the ego state what kind of transactions would people have? Are they more parental transactions? Are they more Child transactions? Are they more Adult to Adult transactions? We look at the way people transact because it betrays how they experience the group intrapsychically. 


My question to you is, if you would draw the six diagrams of the team, what are your top three hypotheses about where this team is stuck?