Articles | Course Review

Learning Reflections: Virtual pies and uncovering triggers

22 June 2020
Caroline Sumners

We’re now halfway through appreciating the team pie at the heart of team coaching.  My perspectives and reflections are deepening and broadening in exciting and unexpected ways.  What a delectable opportunity to taste the difference between the whole pie and the individual ingredients that combine together and are baked into a pie.

We came to the metaphor of a team as a pie from the insight that, making a pie transforms individual ingredients into something entirely new, and once made it can be best appreciated as a delicious whole; even a slice of the pie combines all the essential ingredients.  The training teaches us to see the whole pie and understand its components, not only the individual ingredients, but also the processes (the way teams structure the conversations and decisions – perhaps the mixing and baking of the pie), leadership (how power and dynamics play out – perhaps the crust and shape of the pie) and dynamics (what is happening between within the relationships – perhaps the flavours and textures of the pie?)

A team coach isn’t the master baker who opens up the pie to inspect the quality of what’s inside, the team coach brings her tools to appreciate the whole pie, observe from all perspectives, and understand its potential to be the best possible of all pies.

An apple pie is always more than the sum of its parts!

But enough talk of pies and baking, its making me hungry and that is something the three-hour immersive learning sessions with Team Coaching Studio is also satisfying, virtually of course.

As we reach session four the relationships between participants deepen, as with teams who build relationships as they work together.  We’re learning about each other, noticing when the energy goes up and down, recognising that wanting to get on with the next thing means perhaps missing what is happening here and now.  Another reminder of the essential need to be present in the here-and-now as a team coach.  We’re also uncovering our personal styles and preferences, just as we aim to discover when we meet a client team for the first time.  The training offers an opportunity to experience the personal triggers and responses of each group member, and take the opportunity to step out, helicopter above or dive below, the whole group and observe the wider context and practice sensing the unspoken and hidden dynamics of a team. 

Stepping into our first virtual role-play sparks the inevitable performance anxiety that switches off the natural coach inside.  We default to past behaviours and our comfort zones. But what haven’t we talked about that needs to be spoken?  We are learning about ourselves, experiencing the underlying dynamics within a team and about our potential impact on the teams we work with.  This opens a rich steam of reflection on how to approach the deeper hopes and hidden expectations of the team as a route to understanding and their reactions to the current situation.  How to bring this to the surface and put it into words.  The very human responses reveal the importance of a quiet focus on what is hindering the team dynamics rather than naming it directly and risking fracturing a team that isn’t ready to take that pressure.

Regardless of our virtual, online, participation this experiential learning is very real.  As the responsibility for ‘leading’ the coaching of the team shifts over time from the team coach to the team itself, so the training contract is shifting.  Increasingly the group is being asked to take responsibility for the contributions and timings of the group and the experience is salutary.   With so many years of leading organisations under my belt, I find myself thinking again about how I want to show up now as a team coach, how I can take this opportunity to reset my perspectives and embody the philosophy and role of team coach.  My instincts as a seasoned CEO and leader are triggered by the opportunity to step in, but are countered by the opportunity to notice that pull and create the space to let the team step in and own its own processes.  I am enjoying the opportunity to stay present to myself, noticing what I think the team needs, what is emerging, and create a pause that enables a choice about whether and how to step in. 

Team coaching in its truest sense is being able to respond in the moment, and with empathetic responsiveness to note the effect one’s presence is having on the team and not simply mirror what is happening within the team.