A PRACTICAL LOOK AT CHANGING CULTURE THROUGH TEAM COACHING


I had the pleasure of attending Jill Malleck’s session about Team Coaching for Culture Change at the HRPA 2015 conference. I like pragmatic sessions that give you clear actions you can try right away, and Jill’s session gave us that.

In the session, Jill spoke about Integral theory – a way of looking at the world with multiple layers, which allows for individual and collective behaviours on the team. She shared two techniques that you can try right now: Building Group Metaphors and Team Habits.

Walk with me through these activities, which Jill shared with us in the session. I suggest you actually get out a paper and pen (or your ipad and stylus if you prefer) and make notes as we go along.

Building a Group Metaphor.

First, think of a dysfunctional team in your organization – If you can’t, tell me where you work because they are all around! Maybe it’s your own team, or one of your client groups. Chances are, the leader has said there are communication issues or personality conflicts. As Jill said:

Communication issues or personality conflicts are code for anything wrong in teams.

Using a metaphor helps us get clarity on what the real issues are – beyond the code words.


Start by creating a current metaphor for the team in your mind.
A metaphor is like a word picture – like an aligned dragon boat team rowing in sync, or a group of energetic cats being herded without success. Notice there’s a positive adjective at the beginning of each of these. Jill explained it’s not enough to say “cats being herded” but that you need to honour the team and the qualities that have brought them this far.

By attaching a metaphor to the group’s current behaviour, we are able to see something that’s difficult to describe. We can go beyond “personality conflicts” to make sense of things. People are able to self-identify and to link themselves to the metaphor in their own way, with some agreed upon characteristics as the shared foundation. The metaphor gives people safety to admit what is wrong – they are now able to stand back from it and take it less personally.

Once you have your current metaphor, think about what the future metaphor would be. What do you want the group to become like? What does the team need or want? Now you’re able to create a new metaphor. Let’s say that we change the energetic cats being herded without success to the aligned dragon boat team rowing in sync, for example.

In the session, Jill shared her “GO, SEE, CHECK” method for building metaphors, which you can find in a great chart in her slides (which will be available through HRPA).

5 Steps to Build Group Habits.

To build a habit, start with a goal. For example, you may want to build trust. It’s somewhat conceptual, but the 5 steps help turn it into something more practical.

  1. What needs to be improved?

Consider what the team needs to get better at. It might be a goal brought on through your metaphor activity. It might be somewhat conceptual – like “we need to trust each other”. The steps will help turn it into something more practical.

  1. What capability or competencies, specifically, are you going to work on?

Break down the goal into specific skills. For example, to build trust, you might research trust, find out the competencies and skills within trust. Perhaps one is to see the good in others, or to have open conversations about vulnerability, or to know what each of your team members are doing and to see the competency in each of them.

  1. DO what?

There must be a DOING in every habit – you can’t just “think about” it but need to take action. Think about habits that can be practiced often – every day or eevery other day, not just a few times per year. For example, a habit to build trust might be to speak to someone every day about something you know, or to say “I don’t know” out loud, or to invite people to proof your work instead of working independently all the time.

  1. Shine the light on what?

Consider what people should be paying attention to. What should they reflect on as far as the impact they are making with their actions? Give them reflection questions. For example, you might ask them to write in their journal each day: who they spoke with about what, what happened, what was the impact and how did it feel?

  1. Discuss with the team

Discuss the habit they tried to implement with the team. Ask:

  • How was that?
  • Did it work?
  • What is building now?
  • How will you go forward?
  • Do you want to cascade these new habits to your own teams?

By working through these two processes, you will start to see culture shift. The impact of making habit changes with a team is much greater than one person at a time, and can actually change culture much faster.