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Navigating the Storms in Teams

I co-teach a Life Coaching Certification Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One of the skills we teach to our coaches is how to ask a powerful question. Recently, my co-instructor and I played Bad Coach/Good Coach in a coaching demo. After our demonstration the student who played the client commented that she would have found value from both scenarios-bad coach/good coach-because she has a trusting relationship with both of us! This was a great example of connection. Even though I (bad coach) was doing coaching all wrong, she was okay with that because of the trust in our relationship.

Trust supports connection and connection will seek to understand. In seeking to 8155251122_d9f65eece5_munderstand, the ‘relationship storms’ blow over much more effectively and quickly! It is no mistake that the second stage of team development is Storming-this is where the relationship is put to the test! I have found this to be true in one on one relationships as well as team relationships. To get through the ‘storm’ you need connection.

So, if trust supports connection then the real question behind connection is what creates trust? And given that this blog is geared toward team dynamics, what creates trust in a group of relationships? In Patrick Lencioni’s book on The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, the first and foundational dysfunction is Absence of Trust. So if a lack of trust and invulnerability creates dysfunction on a foundational level, than how can a team build a foundation that supports trust?

In my first two blogs, I laid out some foundational practices that help to support the building of trust within a team dynamic. The focus was on communication. Getting clear on who you are as a team (not your function alone) is important in establishing a ‘safety zone’. Getting agreement on who does what, what the expectations are, where you are going as a team, what working environment you want to create and what is collectively important to you is your ‘safety zone.’ This is the beginning of trust.

And even within the ‘safety zone’ of communicating the team structure, all those words are meaningless if your actions don’t support them on a daily basis. Moving from the Forming stage, where the focus is on communication, and into the Storming stage, is where we have to put action to our words! This is where trust is really substantiated. It is through our words AND our actions that we establish trusting, connected relationships.

In working with leaders and teams, here are 8 behaviors I have found effective in supporting building trust into a ‘team’ dynamic.


  1. Be consistent

    There is a basic human need for stability.   When laying the foundation of a relationship, it is important to be consistent in your ‘ways of being’ to allow for stability within an ever-changing environment. People need to know what they can hold onto as a stabilizer, especially when the storms come!


  1. Be reliable

    Reliability creates security-another basic human need. Within the team dynamic, if team members feel secure because of the leaders or the teams’ reliability, they will be able to weather the storms of challenges, differing opinions, and power struggles because they feel ‘secure’ within the environment.


  1. Be open and transparent

    People sense when there are ‘hidden agendas.’ Creating an environment of transparency, allowing for authenticity, truthfulness and openness-‘a what you see is what you get’ is imperative to developing the kind of trust that supports connection.


  1. Be a listener

    Everyone wants to be heard. Practice WAIT-Why Am I Talking! We are so quick to tell people what we think they should do, be or know! Listen openly – suspending judgments. Practicing active listening skills, especially in conflict situations followed up by practice #5, will minimize the conflict and get people moving through the storm rather than being stuck in it.


  1. Be a question-asker

    When you WAIT, LISTEN, and follow-up with a POWERFUL QUESTION, you are creating a space for people to not only be heard, they also have a voice. One of the downfalls of the storming stage in relationships is people feeling powerless, like they are not heard and do not have a voice. Listening and powerful questions meet both of those needs and help teams navigate more effectively through storming. A few key points on powerful questions:

A. 5-7 words (Otherwise it turns into your opinion mixed into a question)
B. Begin with What, How and Where. Stay away from WHY questions as they tend to create defensiveness.
  1. Be responsive

    The behavior of responsiveness acknowledges your team members.   Responding says, “I hear your concerns, I care about what matters to you, I respect your time and energy.”When a culture of responsiveness is cultivated among team members, they will be more inclined to work through issues one on one in order to maximize ‘team time’ to focus on team goals.


  1. Be a confronter

    Sometimes team dynamics adopt the Ostrich Syndrome (burying your head in the sand) to get through the storms. However, this always backfires, as the storm never goes away-ALL RELATIONSHIPS move through the storming phase. Avoiding it prolongs it! Confronting the issues, addressing what is difficult and courageously facing the real issues will actually navigate you more effectively and efficiently through the storming phase.


  1. Be Integrity

    If you give your word to something stand by it! Your word is your integrity. When a team forms, developing a ‘moral’ compass for the team will support team integrity.  What is ‘right’ for the team and will help it to function, what is ‘wrong’ for the team and may create dysfunction. When the storms come, tapping into your team’s moral compass, reminding each other what you gave your word to as a team establishes that ‘team integrity.’


Back to my story about my coaching student finding value in bad coaching as well as good coaching because of the trusting relationship. I have found in my work with Leaders and Teams that a foundation of trust (created by the above behaviors) covers a multitude of group dynamic sins! Meaning, that even if sometimes the team is not performing up to par, or the leader is not leading up to par, the team will sustain its viability based on the trust established which creates a strong connection.

Presence…. In Coaching, In Business, In Life

In the International Coach Federations Core Competencies, Co-Creating the Relationship addresses the 3rd and 4th competency. This month we will explore the 4th competency, “Coaching Presence.” And again, we will explore this core competency through 3 lenses: your Profession (actual coaching), your Business (business practices), and your Life!


In coaching, one of the greatest gifts we give our clients is presence. The ICF defines coaching presence as the ability to be fully conscious and create spontaneous relationship with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, and confident. Within the competency there are 7 quantifiers for presence which can be found on the ICF website.  I want to share some practices I have developed over the years that have helped to support my presence with the client:


  • Prior to the beginning of the session, I read over my notes from previous coaching sessions with this client.
  • I clear my desk so there are no distractions in front of me.
  • I have a little mantra I say to myself-No-where but Now-here is what my client needs.
  • The only thing I use my cell phone for is a 10 minute alarm that lets me know that the session is coming to a close. However, I put my phone on silent (the alarm still sounds) and I put it out of sight or face down. I let my clients know at the beginning of the session so they are not surprised when it goes off. That way we are both triggered to bring the coaching to a close.
  • I practice transparency with my clients-if I get lost and am not sure where we are going, I let them know.
  • I do regular check ins to make sure we are resonating.
  • I allow for whatever shows up in the session without agenda or judgment.
  • I go where the client leads and match their energy and language.
  • Even if the client chooses not to be fully present, I continue to hold my presence practices.

I have found these practices help to steer me towards giving my full attention to my client. These practices combined with the quantifiers that the ICF lays out, assist in establishing a co-created relationship grounded in trust and intimacy.

Business – Business Practices

Practices within my business that support ‘presence’ are demonstrated by my customer service standards. Again, the ICF emphasizes “the ability to be fully conscious and create spontaneous relationship with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, and confident” and can be demonstrated by establishing your customer service standards. These may be communicated in your introductory letter. Customer Service standards could begin with an “I will” statement. A few of mine are:

  • I will maintain a flow of communication that lets my customer/clients know I care.
  • I will return all phone calls to my internal and external client/customer within 24 hours.
  • I will bring all communication to completion with a response even if it is just to say thank you.
  • I will be honest with my clients, delivering communication in a gracious way.
  • I will keep my client informed throughout whatever process I am engaged in with them.
  • I will treat my clients as lasting relationships

These translate into being fully conscious in the relationship, allowing for flexibility and openness through a high level of communication.


The most impactful shift in my life has been one of mindful presence. I wish I could say that I gently flowed into mindful presence however, that would not be the truth! I CRASHED into mindful presence! In 2010 my world came to a screeching halt as I underwent two back surgeries in less than a months time. Very long story-shortened; I could not move more than a few steps a day for almost 3 months AND it took me almost 2 years to recover to what I would define as ‘slowski’s pace.’ Prior to my crash, I was the type of person that was always moving on to the next thing, planning for, setting goals and running, running, running.

What my slowski pace brought me was a deep appreciation for the gift of the present moment and all the pleasures I was missing by running right past them! A dear friend gifted me a mindfulness course based on Jon Kabat Zinn’s work which changed me forever! Mindfulness as defined by Jon Kabat Zinn is the practice of nonjudgmental, compassionate, moment to moment awareness. He lays out 7 mindfulness practices:

Non Judgingcultivating the stance of being an impartial witness to whatever we are experiencing, breaking out of the habitual categorizing and judging of experiences which lock us into automatic responses/reactions.

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Patiencea type of wisdom, recognizing that, at times, things must unfold at their own pace; letting go of the tendency to be impatient with ourselves, our efforts, etc.

Beginners Mindcoming to each experience as if for the first time; freeing ourselves from preconceptions and biases so that we may see things in a new light and perceive new possibilities.

Trustlearning to have faith in ourselves and our own intuition, honoring our own feelings, our native wisdom; following our own path, not imitating someone else.

Non-strivingnon-doing, with the intention of creating space for simply being who we are, being with what is already here; realizing that, in mediation, the best way to achieve our goals is to back off from striving and focus on seeing and accepting things as they are, in the moment.

Acceptanceseeing and accepting things as they really are in the present, which reduces the energy drained by denying, suppressing, or resisting what is already here, thus freeing and focusing our energies for positive change.

Letting Gonon-attachment, letting go of our investment in particular thoughts, feelings and experiences; not elevating one thing while rejecting another, but accepting whatever is here in the moment.¹

If you have not explored mindfulness and you find that you struggle with getting present – even to yourself, I encourage you to explore these mindfulness practices.


¹ Adapted from Jon Kabat-Zinn. (1990) Full Catastrophe Living; Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness.  New York: Delta. pp.33-39




Focus Grasshopper

How easy it is to get caught up in the reactivity of life! Oh and the stories we tell ourselves…..especially around business and taking care of issues that come up in the moment. The thing is – there are always issues! If we are not careful, we can get lost in the reactivity and before we know it we are running reactive businesses based on other peoples issues-which believe it or not are usually based on their reactions to issues! You get the point-it is circular. Round and round we go and where we stop-nobody knows! Sounds simplistic and the fact is that there is so much research and methodology out there on how to change this behavior pattern that I am led to believe that it is not as simple as it seems.

I would like to share 3 methodologies that I have experimented with and have found to be effective in finding the balance between reactive and proactive ‘being’. These are some manageable methods to promote sustainable behavioral change.

Gary Keller- Focus on the One Thing

In Gary Kellers book, One Thing, he poses a powerful question, “What is the one thing I could do, which by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary? The great thing about this question is that you can scale it down or scale it up depending on where you are with your goals and or focus. For example, some days, I really struggle with focus. For the life of me I cannot get a grip and I am a pretty focused person. On those days, I simply scale this question down to “What is the one thing I could do in the moment that by doing it will make everything else fall into place.” Instead of wasting a bunch of time in the ‘lack of’ focus, I use the coaching skill of asking a powerful question and then let my brain find the answer. As Gary Keller says, “The amazing thing is when people ask themselves the question, they are almost always accurate. People instinctively know what matters most.”

41y9d4OIRIL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This is also a great question to ask on a larger scale to help narrow the focus.  For instance, if you are in the process of planning for your year and have A LOT of creative ideas down on paper, this is a really great question to bring focus to what may become a priority for the year. “What is the one THING I could do, which by doing it will make all these other things fall into place?”

When you find that one thing-on a small or large scale-protect the time to focus on it. I love Gary’s analogy of going to the movies:

“ Think of it like going to movies. You’re there for ONE Thing—to see the film. Because you’re really clear about that, you turn off your cell phone, you grab snacks in case you get hungry, and you probably even make a pit stop before you go in. All this so you can have an uninterrupted experience.  When you time block your most important work and treat it like going to the movies—you make a stand around avoiding distractions—amazing things happen. When you start thinking of your days this way, the burden of always having to be “on” goes away and you end up accomplishing more.”¹

Figure out your One Thing today and then create an experience around it-enjoy your focus time!

Kaizen Way – Focus on the small steps

The Kaizen way has its roots in the spiritual practice of the two thousand year old wisdom of the Tao Te Ching – “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” It is the art of making sustainable change through small and steady increments. I was introduced to Kaizen by reading the book, One Small Step-the Kiazen Way by Robert Maurer, Ph.D. In his book, Dr. Maurer states, “Kaizen is an effective enjoyable way to achieve a specific goal, but it also extends a more profound challenge: to meet life’s constant demands for change by seeking out continual-always small improvement.” The book does an excellent job of breaking down the ‘big’ myths in and around sustainable change. Here are 2 key points:


  • BREAK IT DOWN: Low-key change helps the human mind circumnavigate the fear that blocks success and creativity. This is key. When I was coaching gymnastics, we took a lot of time to break skills down to the smallest increment we could and then have the athlete repeat it over and over until they were at a place of unconscious competence-they did not even have to think about it. They were in their flow. This really reduced the fear factor in the sport. The same holds true in life and business-break it down, repeat it until you don’t have to think about it. Confidence grows and fear diminishes.


  • SMALL HABITS: Your habits define your life…. are they congruent with your desires or wants for your life and small enough to sustain behavior change? You don’t need to create new, big habits-like going on a restrictive diet or going to the gym 3 times a week. Instead, commit to smaller more sustainable actions. For example, a client of mine works on the 3rd floor in her building-instead of taking the elevator, she uses the stairs 2 or more times a day. Certainly a ‘doable’ habit and one that she has been doing for a year now. She doesn’t even think about using the elevator. This has created a lifestyle change for her because now she is looking for opportunities to create more exercise in her daily activities.

And Finally-The Cram for Focus

So what is the cram????? Well, I have noticed a pattern with my coaching clients-they establish action items that they agree to and then at the last minute before our next session- they CRAM to get them done! So the true method behind this madness may be to Hire a Coach! Or have an accountability system that will motivate you to, at the very least, CRAM to get what you committed to FOCUS on done!


¹ Forbes Entrepreneur; Gary Keller: How to Find Your One Thing; Dan Schawbel, 5/23/2013

Being Intentional in your Relationships by Co-Creating in Your Life, Profession and Business.

In the International Coach Federations Core Competencies, Co-Creating the Relationship addresses the 3rd and 4th competency. This month we will explore the 3rd competency, “Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client.” And again, we will explore this core competency through 3 lenses: your Profession (actual coaching), your Business (business practices), and your Life!


In the context of the coaching relationship we want to establish a space that feels safe and supportive to our clients. I would like to share 3 key ‘ways of being’, which, in my experience, have allowed for a safe and supportive environment for my clients.

  1. Create a non-reactive environment. By not being reactive, my clients feel they can put anything on the table and I am not going to react in judgment, surprise, disgust, or any number of emotions that could be interrupted as negative by my client. By managing my emotions and maintaining a calm presence, my clients feel safe and trust is established.
  2. Practice Empathy. Can you see yourself in your clients story, their experience,networking their situation? Do you remember what that feels like? Connect to that feeling-that’s empathy. It’s as if we are acknowledging and affirming the shared experiences of the human condition. Being able to step into their shoes and connect with their feeling helps to support the growth of trust and intimacy.
  3. Be Consistent. When we show up in a consistent manner, our clients trust in who we are. They get a sense of what we stand for. If a situation comes up where you cannot stand by your word, simply communicate authentically about what is in the way. Consistency and Transparency work hand in hand to build trust and intimacy with our client.


Business practices that support developing trust and intimacy can range from your delivery of services to confidentiality practices. Here are a few practices I have incorporated into my professional practice that have helped my clients see ‘confidentiality’ in action, which of course, builds trust and intimacy:

If I am hired by a sponsor and the ‘client’ is an employee of the sponsor, I ask the client for a personal email address to protect complete confidentiality. This of course is also designed with the sponsor at the onset of the relationship.

I explain that when we ‘complete’ our coaching relationship I shred my notes and delete their coaching email mailbox. In this manner, my clients can trust that confidentiality is not compromised. This also serves as a great practice for the coach in letting go. Now, I have had coaches ask, “But what if they come back to you for more coaching?” My response is always, “Coaching is about where the client is at that time and moving forward.” It is great to start fresh!

I explain that I maintain confidentiality, even to the extent that I do not reveal who my coaching clients are unless they have agreed to give me a testimony or recommendation, and even then it is only through that venue.

When I coach, I am always in a private area. Even in coaching teams/groups, I require a private space. This invariably creates a safeness within the group to explore topics that may not be explored with people coming in and out of the space.

These are just a few business practices that I have found success with in establishing trust and intimacy. If you have found a successful business practice that supports this core competency, please share!


How can we be intentional in our life relationships in establishing trust and intimacy? While we all want it, the human condition lends itself to breaking trust or having trust broken. I have been on both sides of that coin, and have been open to learning new ways of ‘being’ in relationship that support trust and intimacy. Here are 3 practices I have experimented with that have supported trust and intimacy in my relationships.


Take it to the Source! When there are issues keep it between who is involved. Go directly to the person/persons and have a honest conversation.

Stop the Story! This is part 2 of Take it to the Source. Keep the story between the people involved-remember the bigger the audience, the smaller the opportunity for trust and intimacy, especially if people in the audience have nothing to do with the issue. The more you tell the story to others that have nothing to do with the issue the more you create your own circle of chaos. There is not a lot of room in the circle of chaos for trust and intimacy.

Be Bold and Courageous! Speak your truth in love, not judgment or fear. When that level of authenticity shows up in a relationship, it lends itself to trust. People know what you stand for.

These practices are coming from a perspective of what breaks trust and intimacy and gives you some communication tactics to re-build. In the rebuilding, you are creating a trusting environment. I would love to hear what you do to create trust and intimacy in your life.


The KSA’s of High Performing Teams through Communication-Getting Clear on Your Values, Culture and Purpose

Team building and team development are two different entities. Team building is focused on establishing a model and systems that support the function of the team. Team Development addresses ‘relationship development’ with the focus on ‘who’ the team is and not ‘what’ the team is about (function). As more and more businesses are seeing the value of collaborative work, they are supporting forming teams. I find there is a need for learning how to ‘be’ in collaborative relationships in a healthy, functional way that supports success and growth.


Think of a newly forming ‘group of relationships’ (team) as the DRIVER of the CAR. You would not put a driver in a car without making sure that they are trained, know the rules of the road, are aware and tuned in to potential roadblocks and have a clear sense of destination.

The newly forming team (as DRIVER):

  • The rules of road include values and purpose. Being clear on what each team member sees as the ‘importance’ of being together (value), and the motivating force behind forming a team (purpose) is imperative to safe navigating!
  • Being aware and tuned in to potential roadblocks would include an understanding of each other as individuals and what you bring to the team in terms of strengths and values. The ‘in-common’ values form the ‘culture’ of the team.
  • Having a clear sense of destination is the internal vision of the team-where do they want to end up when they are ready to complete the ‘relationship’ trip?

So read on to help you establish the rules of the road and learn how to become aware and tuned into potential roadblocks that would keep you from navigating safe travels to your teams’ destination.


In establishing new relationships, the health of the relationship is directly proportional to each individual having their voice and articulating what is important to them. It is often said that there is no ‘I’ in team, however I believe and research shows that if the ‘I’ in the individual voice is not recognized when in the forming stage of team development, healthy, functional relationships will get lost to ‘group think’-where the loudest voice gets heard and others follow blindly.

Getting clear on the individual voices and then working toward the ‘in-common’ team values gives the newly forming relationships a unity to work from when challenges arise. As a group, they can go back to ‘What’s important to us as a group? What value do we need to honor here?’

There are many ways to glean values. Paying attention to when the discord shows up is the time to ask what is important to the individual in this that discord is being created. If you can focus on the ‘value’ rather than the discord, you can move through conflict with a more positive outcome-identified values.


The most important skill for a leader to have at the forming stage of team development is to support the team in living out their stated values. Culture is created by stated and lived values. A leader needs to be the ‘holder’ of the culture until the team has opportunity to get rooted in their values.


What does this mean exactly? What is the difference between a stated and lived value? If an organization states that they value diversity, yet whenever someone speaks against the tide or comes up with a different way to do things, they balk-is that living the value of diversity? If an organization says it values empowerment, yet the C-Suite micromanages everything, is the organization living the value of empowerment? On the other hand, if an organization says they value connection and they provide numerous opportunities for community (special dinners, festivals, employee day, etc.) they are living their stated value.

In all these examples, a culture is born! It may be highly functional or dysfunctional- either way it is derived from stated/lived values. Of course, the highest and best organizations state and live their values by creating a culture that has resonance with them.



Coaching is all about supporting others in purposefulness toward what they want for themselves. Part of the process of the coaching relationship is helping clients find clarity on their purpose. Coaches do this through the question asking process.

  • What do you see as the purpose of this team?
  • How do you see yourself contributing through your strengths?

Being purposeful is all about setting intention. The clearer the intention the clearer you will be when you are ‘off purpose.’ When that happens, and it will, being coach like means approaching the ‘off course’ with the question asking process rather than getting lost in the blame game. As a team practicing this approach, you will save time and energy while getting back on purpose and as a result, will be setting course to becoming a high performing team and reaching your designation more effectively and efficiently.