Team Coaching: Who Has The Power?


My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy and of Agile Business Innovation. If you want to know more about that, please go to our websites: and


We’re talking about team coaching, and more specifically about diagnostics in team coaching. We’ve talked about the different levels in teams, the diagnostic diagrams, about how you diagnose roles and the connection between roles at the structure, the relational and the psychodynamic level. One of the other interesting things I find is, who has the power in a team and what is that power based on? If we look at the structural level, power is based on three different things. One is what we call the “Constitution of the Team”, the other is the law, and the third thing is the culture. At the relational level we look at who has the social influence. Culture is more at the psychodynamic level, because it’s based on often pre- or unconscious values. 


Structural power: A constitution for a team states the purpose of the team, the name, defines the boundaries, and also how you regulate discipline and order within the team. Lastly, in a democratic team, there is always a clause on how to change the constitution. That’s the big difference between autocratic and democratic teams. In autocratic teams this autotelic provision, how you can change the constitution is missing. 


As a team coach, you must understand the statement of purpose, where the boundaries are, or how people administer discipline, but also rewards. The person who can write that part of the constitution has a lot of formal power. Sometimes, that’s determined by HR or by Finance. However, if leadership takes real power, they’re the ones who determine who gets punished and who gets rewarded in a team. I’ll give you an example. In a team where key performance indicators are set on an individual basis, you may assume that this is a group, not a team. If people are rewarded individually, they might hesitate to work together and diminish their chances of an individual reward. In a team where the rewards are set for the team as a whole, you will see an increase in cooperation. 


The name of the group, we call that the existential provision of a team, is also important. What people call themselves. It’s one of the first questions I ask as a team coach, “if you had any choice, what would you call yourself?”. The person who determines the name of the group tells you a lot about who has the real power in the structure.


At the relational level, after acquisitions and mergers, I sometimes see groups that are put together for no apparent reason. The person who puts those groups together and who names those groups is the one who has the most influence in the acquisition or the merger. It’s interesting because as a team coach, that’s probably the person you need an alliance with. 


At the cultural level, the psychodynamic level,  the person who determines the etiquette, technicalities, and character in a group is the person who has the authority in the imago. A culture creates rules about what is acceptable in a group and gives you guidelines on how to deal with the environment, both within and outside of the group. 


Etiquette, that’s what we call the Parent function in a culture, is what you are supposed to do. It is the social contract in a group. This is the way you should behave. The Technicality is about what you have to do. It is the standard operating procedure in a team. The Character is what you would like to do. It has to do with instinct, with self-expression. 


Etiquette is what you should do. How are we going to treat each other? It is about values. Values are interesting for a team coach, because they are guidelines for behavior and problem-solving. As a team coach, we  deduce values from the behavior. If people don’t comply with values in the recruitment procedure, you shouldn’t hire them. I’ve had leaders say “Teamwork and cooperation, that’s our value.”, and then they hire people who are solo players, experts in their field, but lousy at teamwork. Team coaching at that cultural level is helping teams create awareness of  their values. Are you very consistent in applying them? 


At the Technicality level, we talk about methods, concepts, standard operating procedures. What do you have to do? In an engineering team, usually the technicalities are leading for their culture. This is the way we do things around here. Sometimes the technicalities stand in the way of innovation. Standard operating procedures are important because it manages all the operational work. It reduces the amount of thinking power you need in the operational work, and gives you more space to think about other ways of doing things. 


The more room there is for Character, the more space there is to be yourself in a group. It’s an illusion to think that you can be yourself completely in a group. Any group membership entails that you must adapt yourself to the group etiquette and technicalities. For instance, in the military, there is very little character, there’s very little room to be yourself. You’re more a rank and number, than an individual. Whereas in an architectural office, there is a lot of room for Character because they have a need to innovate in a creative business. If you would create an atmosphere with very little Character there, you’d probably get cookie cutter images of what a house should be like. 


We’re talking about diagnostics, we’re talking about roles, and we’re talking about what confirms or supports the functioning of those roles. There are three things that support the functioning of roles: constitution, law, and culture. As a team coach you look at all three to see, “How are these people getting their influence and power? Can I change, instead of just influencing, the rules directly? Can I help them change the constitution and the culture so that those roles have a different way of expressing themselves?”.