What happens during this initial phase of the teambuilding process?
Pacing by utilizing the group’s „technical“ world map with the help of a technical brain teaser. Focussing the group’s attention on the unusual and unexpected. This creates a state suitable for giving certain procedures (here, team building) a special meaning. The bicycle analogy creates the equation „interaction metaphors = real life.“ On an emotional level, the „wow“ effect is associated with future activities. This creates a state of curiosity and anticipation. Words and phrases like „you as a developing team“, „practice-oriented work“, or „cooperating in teams“ are implicitly used. Pacing of the group is facilitated by the use of an interactive metaphor. At the same time, the group process is set in motion on various different levels.
Winston Churchill and Konrad Adenauer used to take walks together that sometimes lasted for hours while they were having the most diffcult discussions. They seemed to have understood that bodily, external movement promotes mental, inner movement. With every step they took during their negotiations, as their perspective on the surroundings shifted, so did their mental positions.
Our bodies give away our emotional states through movement, breathing patterns, posture, voice pitch, etc. These mostly inadvertent ideomotoric body patterns are then stabilized in feedback loops during interaction with others. So when we have seemingly unchangeable conﬂicts with other individuals, our communication tends to turn into a kind of repet itive „conﬂict choreography.“ It may begin with a rolling of the eyes and a sigh at the coffee maker, to which the other person reacts by turning away and mumbling something unintelligible, which in turn is answered by a shrug and a sharp „Phhhh...,“ etc. This is the process level of the conﬂict. It pro vides information about the „how“ of the conﬂict, about its outer appearance. Additionally, there is the „what“ level, i.e. the content level, consisting of contrasting viewpoints, arguments, and perspec tives, which at frst sight often point in different directions. Distinguishing between content and process levels allows the coach to act much more freely. It may prove useful to start off with a discus sion centred on the process, rather than the content level. The process level is an excellent starting point for interventions with interaction metaphors.
A real-life example: SysTEAMing
A team of six members who have been through some interpersonal problems hires a coach for support. Much to the amazement of the entire group, the coach sets up SysTEAMing without even explicitly addressing the content side of the conﬂict. Using masking tape, he has divided the board into three sections of equal size. First, the coach sets an exciting stage for the project: „I would like to start out with an activity that you may fnd a little unusual. I’m going to need your help in this, so please stand up and fnd yourselves a partner.“ After waiting for the sub-teams to form, the coach continues, handing out blindfolds: „One of the two persons in each team, please put on the blindfold.“ After this, the coach places fve fgurines in each of the three felds on the board and explains the procedure to the group: „Your job is to move all fgurines from the one feld in front of you to the next, clockwise. You will be taking turns. During a turn, each team is only allowed to move one fgurine. Ready?“ As soon as the frst fgurine is lifted up, the board begins to swing menacingly back and forth. The group immediately realizes one thing: They are dealing with a very delicate balance - if they are not careful, everything is going to come crashing to the ﬂoor! It quickly becomes clear that each team must be aware of all consequences that their turn will have on the others, and act with foresight. After ten minutes of joint effort, the group manages to move the last fgurine to its designated spot. A job well done! In a happy mood, all sit back down on their chairs. Before the coach can even start the discussion, the team manager bursts out: „Now I can see it! We need to work on our balance...“ A productive, contentoriented discussion about the pillars of team work ensues. The coach helps by moderating the discussion and sharing the observations he made during the activity with the group. - „We depend on each other, just like the fgurines on the board.“ - „If one of us takes an inconsiderate step, we all fall down.“ - „There are ‚blind‘ people in any system: those who have less information than the others. They deserve our special attention.“ - „Let’s always keep our entire organization’s balance in mind!“ Thus, SysTEAMing has provided the group with a new emotional basis to talk about the conﬂicts in a resourceful, content-oriented way. This activity has therefore served as a more positive ‚emotional diving board‘ into the waves of conﬂict than addressing the issues right away would have been.
Ingredients for effective interaction metaphors
Emotional states motional states are inner maps, which the individual as a system creates when interacting with others, with one’ surroundings, and with oneself. They are evoked by modalities of the senses (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory, gustatory). These inner representations can be described accurately via submodalities. A „good feeling,“ for example, becomes describable in a neutral way on the process level. Instead of just „good,“ it may be described as: „I feel an inner movement rising from my body centre towards my head... my head feels light, like ﬂoating...,“ etc. States can change quickly, since they hinge directly on the focus of perception. What someone considers „real“ is the result of what that person is paying special attention to, i.e. it is neither „true“ nor „false“, but instead a clue as to his attention focus. Some elements within the person’s area of perception, which he or she connects more closely with, constitute a subjective reality, whereas others fade into the background and are perceived dissociatedly (Schmidt 2001). In this sense, interaction metaphors evoke states like concentration, excitement, curiosity, joy, movement, etc., making use of all sensory channels. Teams experiencing such an interaction are likely to witness a signifcant change in their mutual behavioural patterns, from problem orientations to solution orientations. In any coaching process, however, interaction metaphors provide an excellent „emotional diving board“ into the waves of the ensuing process.
Designing frames of reference
Frames of reference set the stage for all experiencerelated activities and charge them with meaning relevant to the group, much like a battery needs charging before use. Such frames can, for example, be used to explain the signifcance of the entire training or coaching event, or the relevance of one element within that process. They focus the participants’ perception of the activity in a solution-oriented way and leave a lasting impact.
Isomorphy / structural similarity
The interaction metaphor should be designed in such a way that the fctional world created by the metaphor and the participants’ world maps resemble each other structurally
Humberto Maturana’s concept of autopoiesis has shown that systems react to their surroundings; yet the structure of these reactions is not determined externally but follows the systems’ inner structures (Maturana 1996). A system - a group of people - will not allow itself to be moulded one way or another by external forces, e.g. a trainer, if the group members see no use in such a change. A comparison of costs and benefts of such a change, i.e. between the present situation and the anticipated future solution, must yield a positive tendency to fnd acceptance. In the context of consulting and coaching of teams and organizations with the help of experience-based learning concepts, this means that interaction metaphors are highly effective invitations to change when embedded in a differentiated consultatory approach or a global coaching scenario. Two parts deserve special attention in the planning process: detailed task clarifcation and - the word is out - the creation of lasting effects.
Needs Analysis (Schmidt 2001)
To clarify your task, it is useful to consider the following aspects: For which reasons did the client choose to have a team building or consulting event with experience orientated learning elements? What, specifcally, are the coaches expected to do? How do these expectations towards the coaches impact the teams’ possibilities to create new problem solving strategies. If the coaches meet all the client’s demands, what would be the consequences? Especially, which groups of persons might feel excluded? Are the client’s demands merely a repetition of an earlier, failed problem-solving attempt, and would as such stabilize the problem rather than solve it? To round this process off, client and coaches should jointly decide on which elements will be employed during the event - for example, they should fnd a sensible number of experience-based activities in relation to other elements.
Interaction metaphors are a great tool for leaving a lasting impact, as you will see in the following example:
The group members receive an interaction metaphor in the form of a physically tangible item, which is metaphorically related to their real-life team work. Take, for example, a team whose members have a tendency to get tangled up in confusing discussions and regularly „lose track“ of the real issue at hand during their daily meetings. In a workshop, the team members discover strategies and moderation techniques for improving the outcomes of their future discussions. Still during the workshop, the coach establishes a connection between these new strategies and an actual postcard of a piece of railroad track. At the end of the day, the coach gives the postcard to the group moderator along with a task: Whenever, in the future, the group begins to veer off a discussion topic, he will place the card on the table in front of everyone to get the group „back on track.“ How interaction metaphors work
On the one hand, interaction metaphors evoke authentic behaviour in the participants. As coach, you may witness the informal group leader taking the lead, whereas his shy colleague keeps mostly quiet throughout the activity. On the other, they offer everyone involved the opportunity to try new roles and gain new experiences in team interaction. Interaction metaphors also work on an abstract level. Depending on the group’s reaction and the immediate goal, the coach may decide to either remain at the metaphorical level or address the real topics at hand directly. Interaction metaphors visualize reciprocal communication processes between members of one system. Thus the inherent dynamic of a situation can be identifed. This makes it much easier for the people involved to view their situation from a meta perspective and gain new insights. Interaction metaphors are examples of multi-level communication: By making use of all fve senses, they convey messages with more „layers“ of meaning than could be coded with words alone. Bodily movement and the inclusion of all other senses foster a new understanding of communication: new, creative ways of seeing, hearing, and feeling. Interaction metaphors are, at the same time, instruments of diagnosis and intervention.