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Performance Management
The geopolitics of the team
Giuseppe Ando
August 27, 2021
5
mins

The peripheral role that a team coach must play when working with a group of people gives, as is well known, great advantages to the coaching activity. His / her "external" position allows him / her to place himself in a "panoramic" position with respect to the same group. Among the advantages of the "panoramic" position, there is one particularly interesting: the possibility of drawing the "geographical mapping" of the team members.

Each team has its own configuration and I refer exactly to the arrangement of people in space. People rarely occupy random spaces, even when they are fully convinced they are. Whether you are around a table or a room with chairs arranged in parallel rows like in a theatre, people tend to occupy spaces that reassure them and represent them. There are several possibilities of "clustering" (a horrible term, but effective):

  1. Favorite relationships
  2. Antagonisms
  3. Coalitions
  4. Clan
  5. Departments
  6. Divisions.

As I said before, the geographic positioning of team members in a group meeting should never be considered a "chance". Indeed, the position of the team members in a meeting context offers a series of indicators on the plot that intertwines the network that underlies the "real team". Perhaps, rather than "geographic mapping", we could speak of "geopolitical mapping", or rather a real interactive team network. It is also very important to never jump to conclusions. A single "geopolitical" layout can reveal different underlying team dynamics. A good system for a team coach is to draw up a map for each match and check the constants. For example:

  • Who sits next to whom and in front of whom?
  • Who regularly gravitates alongside the leader?
  • Who sits opposite the leader?
  • Who moves a lot?
  • Who, gradually, went to the margins?

These questions, and corresponding observations of the team layout, both during work sessions and during breaks, can provide excellent indicators of systemic balance and network dynamics within the team. A circumspect team coach regularly repositions and moves within the "geography" of the team. Take advantage of all opportunities to swap places with team members leaving their position. Move your chair to get a different view of the room. In some cases, the coach may explicitly ask team members to swap places, or the leader to approach or stand in the center.

Indeed, simply moving the leader often changes everyone's perspective on the team's "geopolitical" disposition. Anyhow, even when there is no identified leader in the team, it is good that the coach is on the sidelines or in the position of a simple participant. An interesting challenge would be to show team members the results of observing their arrangement over the course of more than one session and stimulate their observations.

Almost certainly, the majority of them will consider their positioning completely random, but it could be an opportunity to propose a different and more mobile team geography. Observation of their disposition over the course of more than one session and stimulate their observations. Almost certainly, the majority of them will consider their positioning completely random, but it could be an opportunity to propose a different and more mobile team geography.

About the author

Giuseppe Ando is a C-Level & Executive Coach - Associate Partner at the acclaimed Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching. With a career that presides at the crux of the Venn diagram of Passion, Skills, and Experience, Giuseppe’s reputation as top executive coach has spanned decades. Among his many accolades, he is also recognized for his unique ability to understand and inspire those he coaches to excel professionally and personally while also delivering their organization’s desired results.

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