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Unlocking the Potential of a Team’s Resistance to Change in Team Coaching

The art and science of team coaching is much more complicated compared to one-to-one coaching because of all the interdependent parts within the working team. We cannot transform the behaviour of systems unless we transform the quality of attention that people apply to their actions within those systems, both individually and, more importantly, collectively.

Most of the gridlocks occur at the collective level. As team coaches, our ability to co-create synergy through team coaching conversations, in order to reveal the underlying dynamics of the system, is a critical component to facilitating learning and results. This means the co-creation of the whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts (i.e., team members).

In order for change to happen (creating awareness and designing actions), the collective needs to be able to understand its coaching purpose by turning the spotlight on itself and seeing the whole as a whole by the whole—the collective seeing the collective.

While coaching a team of R&D expert specialists the other week, I stumbled upon this change metaphor, and it reminded me of my experience of the session.

In terms of team coaching context, the system faced a resistance moving forward due to the complexity of the wider organizational settings. We were coaching a distributed, diverse, virtual, expert-leadership, cross-functional team with a wide diversity of trans-European stakeholders.

The Metaphor:

An ageing master grew tired of his apprentice complaining, and so, one morning, sent him for some salt.

When the apprentice returned, the master instructed the young man to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and drink it. “How does it taste?” the master asked.

“Bitter!” spit the apprentice. The master chuckled.

The two walked in silence to a nearby lake, where the master again asked the young man to put a handful of salt in the water.

“Now drink from the lake. How does it taste?”

“Fresh!” remarked the apprentice.

“Do you taste the salt?” asked the master.

“No,” said the young man.

At this, the master sat beside the young man and offered:

“The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container into which we put the pain.

So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things…Stop being a glass. Become a lake.”

During the evaluation team coaching of the first phase of work (a 6-month engagement) and through intensive stakeholder interviews in between team sessions, co-sensing the wider organizational settings, we were able to reframe the team’s burning platforms by coaching it to stop being a glass and become more of a lake (i.e., focusing internally on conflict and running away from systemic issues). The metaphor supported reframing and strategic thinking moving the team’s perspective from the inside-out to outside-in.

The team coaches interviewed the sponsors and main stakeholders of the engagement and we had asked each team member to interview at least two or three interviewees in their own eco-system. By going outside of the team and co-sensing its environment through stakeholder meetings and coaching conversations, the different parts of the system became a lake.

From my perception, one of the single most important leverage points for team leadership transformation is when you witness the team beginning to sense, feel and see itself not only in its current condition but also future potential; you see a shift of consciousness in the social field of conversations in real time—that is, the quality of listening and interaction among the team members.

This article was first published on the ICF (International Coach Federation) blog May 31st 2016:

Bernard Chanliau, ICF Ireland Coach of the Year in 2015 and owner of BC Leadership Team Coaching, holds the Professional Certified Coach (PCC) status since 2011. He has helped hundreds of senior leaders in the last decade (directors and above) accelerate their careers and achieve business objectives in a wide range of industries and coaches teams on strategic and leadership alignment.

Co-founder of the Xenergie Systemic Team Coaching methodology and faculty member on its ICF/AC recognized Advanced Team Coaching Diploma, Bernard mentors team coaches and can be contacted at +353 (0)86 104 38 05 or

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