As with individual clients, the relationship coach will design the alliance with the client in a collaborative fashion. In Relationship Systems Coaching, however, the designed alliance takes on a different complexity because the clients need to be coached to design an alliance with each other first. This is called Designing the Team Alliance (DTA). Since the system is the client, the first step is to get clear about expectations and agreements between players in the system. It is that DTA which the coach then will align within the Coaching agreement.
In creating the DTA, partners (team members or couples) openly discuss what it is that they want for their relationship or culture; how it is that they want it to feel, what values they want the culture to express. The partners’ attention during this time should not be on how they want OTHER to be, but more on how THEY can commit to being and what is trying to happen for them and their relationship.
This element creates the foundational platform from which all other work will occur. In designing the team alliance, the coach helps the system members begin to find alignment on the purpose and “ground rules” for the coaching. In addition, they are taking the first steps in consciously designing their culture and in being co-responsible for maintaining that culture. Designing the Team Alliance (DTA) is a powerful tool.
Research clearly shows that increasing the positivity on a team also increases productivity(Fredrickson & Losada, 2005). It also suggests that teams that create clear conflict and decision-making protocols do better than teams without those agreements (Guttman, 2008). The DTA provides the structures to help teams and couples get clear about their agreements. In consciously wrestling with these questions the team or pair increases their cohesion and alignment. Once the system has formed its alliance, the coach has an integrated system with which to form the coaching alliance.
The DTA Should Address Two Issues
- Creating Culture or Atmosphere — this is space or environment the team members want to create. The advantage of designing the atmosphere is that if circumstances change, (e.g., the project changes, the restaurant we counted on is closed) the atmosphere we designed to hold together (for example the atmosphere of collaboration) still carries over to the new circumstances.
- Sharing Responsibility — this is what the partners can be counted on for. Each person is co-responsible in creating the experience or culture they want for the team or partnership. Co-responsibility and accountability create empowered and leaderful systems.
- What is the culture, space or atmosphere you want to create in the team (couple, or partnership)? How would you know you had that?
- How do you want it to feel? (Empowering, supportive, spacious, oppositional, vulnerable, etc.) For teams or work partnerships: “What kind of culture or climate do you want to create together? What are the values you want to live by as a team? How would you know you had that?
- How do you want to behave together when things get difficult, or when there is conflict? (Who do you want to be together?) What are the team’s conflict protocols?
- What would help the partnership/team to flourish?
- What can your team or system count on from you?
- What will you each commit to for one another? How would you know you had that?
Along with co-creating the atmosphere of the culture it is important for the team or family to have solid behavioural agreements. For teams, what are the agreements around accountability, punctuality, cell phones in meetings, handling conflicts and making decisions? These agreements are the behavioural expression of the culture the team wants to create. For this reason, it is also helpful to ask “How would you know you had that?” as we do in the DTA questions.
The DTA is not only a tool for the initial session; it can also be used by teams and partnerships for any upcoming event. For example, a company may design around a move, meeting or a merger. A DTA is a living agreement that should be reviewed and updated as circumstances change. It is a relationship systems tool to be used on a daily basis in all relationships. Finally, it is critical that the DTA is posted where it can be seen by the whole team on a regular basis and that it is abided by. A DTA is only effective if it is honoured. The team should be challenged to live by the agreements set out in the DTA.
Designing the Team Alliance
1. Creating the atmosphere
- What is the culture/atmosphere you want to create together? (How would you know you had that?
- What would help the partnership/team flourish?
- How do you want to be together when it gets difficult? (Who do you want to be?) How would you know you had that?
2. Creating co-responsibility
- What can each of you be counted on for?
- What’s your commitment to one another?
3. Behavioural agreements