While a business team coach and a sports team coach are often compared to one another, there is a fundamental difference between the two. Where a sports coach guides, directs, judges, decides for and leads his team, a business team coach is there primarily to listen, observe and playback for the team the coach’s experience of them without judgment. Rather than directing the play, a business team coach watches the game to feedback the experience of the team so they can deepen their understanding of both the team’s dynamics and their own contributing behavior. One of the tools that I use as a team coach to help me make sense of the information gathered is called a sociogram.
Listening and Observing
A sociogram is a visual representation of the relationships and patterns of interaction between team members. Sociograms can help map out the emotional dynamics of a group: Who engages with whom? Who is a “Star,” or someone with many points of interaction and connection? Who is an “isolate,” or someone who does not? Who is left out or chooses not to engage in a conversation? Sociograms are a way to track the conversations both in terms of who is talking and/or how they are talking.
Does language build up the members of the team? Does it tear them down? There are certain keywords that signal to me whether language is used constructively or destructively. For instance, if someone poses an idea, another team member might respond, “I like that idea but it won’t work because of this, this, and this,” or “I like that idea and I think we can address the issues around it.” The subtle differences between “but” and “and” are among those word choices we can look at to determine how language is used in this team.
After observing and creating a sociogram for the team, I will share my findings the team leader. Then, with the invitation of the leader, I share these findings with the entire team. It is often a very powerful tool because I can share in real time as a way to help the team notice how they engage with one another and their own dynamics to work.
This is not about judgment; it’s about observations. The goal is to help individual members and the team as a whole notice. It is easy to do in a one-on-one conversation: you can see if someone is engaged by their body language, by their facial cues. It is much more difficult to do in a group/team setting. The sociogram, because it is very visual and tracks the patterns of their interaction, is one way to facilitate this noticing.
The next step is for team members to begin asking, “With this noticing, how do I ensure that my intention shows up the way I wish it to so it is a positive contribution to the team’s work?” They can begin to move forward toward the desired outcome as a stronger, more unified team.
The sociogram for a team is certainly going to look different after the team coaching intervention than it did before. This is because social and emotional dynamics will have shifted for the better, allowing the team to grow and thrive.