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Article 5

How to Empower Corporate Teams and Unlock Potential Through Enneagram Coaching

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    Aephoria Partners

    19 Jan 2024

Imagine a team that is following processes with radical diligence and sticking to their ‘swim lanes’ with unwavering fortitude.  Everyone is seemingly doing their jobs, and yet still not hitting the numbers. Contextual forces aside (this team is based on the outskirts of a major warzone, and therefore dealing with its fair share of logistical, geopolitical, and social tensions), no one can quite work out why the group is failing and where the fault lies.  And so everyone blames everyone else, but secretly, keeping their heads down and looking blank when the leader asks “What’s going on here?”.

We’ve all worked with teams facing this predicament.  Indeed often, it’s exactly why we are called into workplaces.  

Over the past 20+ years of working in large organisations around the world, we have consistently found that a team’s ability to innovate, deal with complexity, and think beyond the daily grind is directly related to their stage of maturity. 

That’s where systemic Enneagram and maturity coaching become a powerful tool. For coaches dedicated to making a transformative impact in their corporate clients’ teams, systemic team coaching provides a way to help clients harness their teams’ full potential.

“Every maturity stage has its gifts and beauty,” says Dr. Simon Kettleborough, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer at Aephoria. Yet, a team stuck in an early maturity stage may find itself unprepared for the demands of a growing organisation in a complex world. 

The Early Stages of Maturity: A Closer Look

“We often find teams at the conforming stage of their maturity development, which is a polite stage, but at a surface level” says Dr. Simon Kettleborough. The team is nice when the team is together, and this facade may seem desirable to keep the peace. After all, employees follow the rules, everything seems easy, and there’s no conflict. The risk here, however, is that the team remains stagnant, and very little gets done.

A team at an early stage of maturity may struggle to make meaningful progress when dealing with more complex issues. This could manifest in long-winded meetings where teams cycle around for hours and everyone agrees publicly while refraining from voicing their real opinions. The result: few concrete decisions are made, and employees walk away indifferent and uncommitted, but seemingly unscathed by difference or any hint of conflict.

The following are characteristics of a team stuck in an early maturity stage: 

Conflict Avoidance

Conflict is seen as dangerous and unhealthy. Differing viewpoints are suppressed. Everyone must agree with a particular view. Sadly, this absence of authentic interaction results in inefficiency and unproductivity, as no one dares to rock the boat. 

The CPP Global Human Capital Report (2008) tells us that 76% of workers worldwide have seen conflict lead to something positive. 41% even found that conflict led to a better understanding of other people, and 33% experienced improved working relationships.

Unproductive Dialogue

Lucille Greeff, co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Aephoria, points out that real, productive conversations are often missing from teams at earlier maturity stages. 

A sales team, for instance, might publicly agree to unrealistic targets set by management in a meeting, but over an employee WhatsApp group or even in the comfort of their own home, they might complain, express doubts, and air frustrations. This lack of honest communication festers beneath the surface in a workplace, jeopardising progress and damaging morale. It also leads to employee disengagement over time. 

Poor Self-Awareness

A lack of self-awareness is common in such teams. Employees fail to recognise their contributions to team dynamics. For example, a team member might consistently dominate discussions, unaware of how this behaviour stifles others’ participation and ideas. 

The problem arises among leaders, too, who cannot see beyond their own maturity stage and the organisation’s maturity. It’s hard to recognise the need to change when you don’t realise your shortcomings. This can also lead to repetition compulsion, a psychological phenomenon in which individuals unconsciously repeat patterns of behaviour, thoughts, or emotions that are familiar, even if these patterns are negative or destructive. 

“Self-awareness is at the heart of change,” remarks Lucille Greeff. “It is hard to be intentional about our development if we cannot see ourselves and our impact clearly.” 

Limited Ability to Handle Complexity

Early-stage teams often find complex problems, uncertainty, and ambiguity intimidating and challenging. Much of this plays out subconsciously, without people recognising that this is happening. In large corporations, team members might resist a more emergent approach in favour of trying to control and communicate certainty.

Similarly, they may be unable to adopt more experimental thinking when faced with complex problems.  This close-mindedness can have a damaging ripple effect throughout the culture of the organisation. Alternative ideas are dismissed, failure is demonised and a control-driven culture slowly but surely erodes the agility of the organisation. Complex problems receive inadequate solutions. 

Defending against feedback

Feedback in these teams is often seen as criticism. Constructive feedback from a supervisor might be perceived as a personal attack, leading to defensiveness rather than taking the information on board.

Employees (often unwittingly) expect authority figures to affirm them and avoid making them uncomfortable. Leaders adopt the role of “good mommies and daddies” instead of constructively developing their employees, and their team goes along with that. 

To continue that analogy, the idea of a workplace as a ‘family’ can lead to inappropriate expectations and difficulty enforcing accountability and boundaries.

Distrust

Trust issues are prevalent in such teams. Lucille Greeff recalls one situation wherein two team members had problems with each other going back years. All it would take to start repairing their relationship and rebuild trust was to sit down and talk through their hurt. Yet they’d avoided this interaction for nine years until Aephoria proposed team maturity coaching. The conversations of repair were hard given how stuck people had become in their position toward each other, but once things were cleared the entire team benefited, and communication and decisions started flowing in the collective in a healthier way. 

Suppressed Opinions

When a team is in an earlier stage of maturity, the benefits of being a team are not harvested. They are unable to collaborate; they’re simply doing their respective jobs. Employees resist speaking up, and leaders are resistant to listen when they do. 

In this scenario, no one disagrees. “And yet disagreement is what we want,” urges Dr. Simon Kettleborough. “That’s the grist to the mill of a more generative, more innovative way of working. High-performing teams can have conflicts and differences in opinions; this leads to something bigger. There is no breakthrough without breakdown.” 

How Early-Stage Team Maturity Affects Organisations

One unfortunate effect of early-stage maturity in a large organisation is how problematic cultural and relational dynamics can be mismanaged. The Workforce Institute (2021) reports that 83% of employees believe they aren’t listened to ‘fairly or equally’ in the workplace. The Aephoria team witnessed this first-hand in an organisation struggling internally with racial issues. Leaders didn’t address differing beliefs or resolve grievances. The result was a staggering number of discrimination claims filed by a single individual. 

There are several ways early-stage maturity can escalate into legal and reputational challenges for an organisation:

  • Oversimplifying Complex Problems. The result: unsustainable solutions that fail to address the core issues. 
  • Resistance To Change. Each time a simplistic solution fails, it reinforces a narrative that change is ineffective or detrimental. 
  • Wasted Time. Picture days filled with back-to-back meetings where everyone nods in agreement, but nothing substantial is discussed or decided. 
  • Stifled Creativity. When teams prioritise safety and sticking to what’s known, there is little room for innovative thinking or developing new ideas. 

Key Influences on a Team’s Maturity Stage

The team leader’s maturity is foundational to their team’s overall maturity. The way they set up agreements, processes and systems – called designing for alignment – can either elevate or sabotage their team, nudging them towards later maturity stages or trapping them in earlier stages.

Time spent together is also crucial for a team’s maturity. Teams need time to bond, understand each other, and work smoothly together. This requires constant agility since external factors, such as hybrid or virtual work environments, might alter the way teams interact and learn from each other. The strength and number of relationships between team members and other stakeholders have a huge influence on maturity. 

An organisation’s commitment to team development is another key factor. Training and development is like investing in good quality soil for your plants – it pays off in growth and resilience.

The market or sector a team operates in also can’t be ignored. In fast-paced, complex markets, teams need to adapt and think on their feet. In many ways, a team’s environment impacts its capacity and the need to mature.

How Systemic Coaching Can Advance Team Maturity

“One of the most beautiful things I see in team and group coaching is when people see inside the lives of other humans in a different way,” shares Dr. Simon Kettleborough. “The Enneagram enables that. The Enneagram supports people to depersonalise some of the stuff they’ve been experiencing with another person, and see it through the lens of personality, rather than as a personal attack.”

Imagine a team where conflicts have been simmering for years, and suddenly, through Enneagram and maturity-based coaching, there’s this ‘aha’ moment. People suddenly understand why they’ve been at odds for so long. Dr. Simon Kettleborough has witnessed team members who haven’t spoken for years come together in authentic and vulnerable ways because they’ve gained this new insight into each other’s behaviours and motivations. This builds real psychological safety. 

This process also brings out a deep level of compassion and understanding. With this understanding comes a sense of empathy and appreciation. It’s like realising that the person you’ve been in conflict with is fighting the same battles as you, just on a different front.

Additionally, Enneagram coaching can benefit team maturity in the following ways: 

Improves Relational Connections

Systemic coaching methods can improve teams’ relational and emotional aspects. Often, teams get so caught up in agendas that they forget the human element – simple things like asking, “How are you?” (and meaning it). Through systemic coaching, teams learn to value and invest time in building genuine human-to-human relationships.

Greater Psychological Safety

Team development builds the safety of the container within which the team works. Teams with greater psychological safety have more honest conversations, know that taking risks in speaking up will not be punished and therefore have more honest, productive conversations and give more feedback. This leads to the team backing collective decisions more. 

Builds Trust and Independence

Mature teams are often more easily trusted by others in the business. This trust translates into more autonomy and less need for oversight from higher management. For example, a CEO might feel more relaxed and confident about a mature team’s ability to navigate challenges without constant intervention, knowing that the team can manage itself and the complexity of the issues they are dealing with effectively.

Fosters Innovation

Mature teams can balance internal and external needs, providing approaches and solutions that are informed by the inputs and perspectives of multiple stakeholders, including clients. Their ability to work with feedback as data points rather than criticism also contributes to their responsiveness amidst changing contexts.

Boosts Agility

Teams in later stages of maturity exhibit greater agility and self-management. They’re less likely to resist change and more likely to embrace change. They are more responsive to their context. The need for control becomes a willingness to enable, which supports an agile conversation between the team’s ways of working and the ecosystem in which they operate. 

Enhances Work-Life Balance

Individuals at later stages of maturity typically derive their self-worth from diverse sources, not just from their job performance. This broader perspective helps them manage workaholism better and maintain a healthier work-life balance, contributing to the effectiveness of their team. 

For example, they understand that being a good Chief Financial Officer is just one aspect of their identity, alongside being a parent, partner, gardener, athlete, and friend.   

Encourages Diversity

Systemic coaching plays a crucial role in the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the Enneagram is a wonderful way for people to connect and create a culture of belonging. It helps break down the barriers of ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and ability. Picture two people of different ethnicities and genders, from different religious backgrounds, finding common ground through their Enneagram personality types. 

These realisations can reshape how a team functions. Fault lines are erased, and teams can embrace a new, more inclusive way of working. Biases, often unconscious, start to dissolve, and people who might have been overlooked for projects before are now seen as valuable contributors.

The philosophy here is quite profound – what we achieve internally can be reflected externally. “If you’re compassionate with yourself, you can extend that compassion to others,” adds Lucille Greeff. And when a team collectively embraces this inner compassion, it naturally flows out to clients and stakeholders. 

How to Mature Teams Through Systemic Coaching

In Aephoria’s systemic coaching, the initial step involves completing the AIM assessment for each team member. This is more than just gathering data; it’s about understanding the unique makeup of a team and the existential issues facing them. This is then collated into a team report that highlights the patterns of thinking, feeling and action in the team from an Enneagram and a maturity range perspective.  

When a coach assesses a 20-person team, for instance, they’re not just looking at individual results and responses. They’re piecing together a complex puzzle of how these personalities and action-feeling-thinking logics interact, what strengths they collectively bring, and where their blind spots might lie. The team’s patterns should always be understood and explored within the context the team operates in. What are the team’s strategic goals? What will they need to achieve this strategy? What challenges are they facing within the team, the organisation and their industry? 

However, Dr. Simon Kettleborough urges coaches to use these profiles as guides rather than strict blueprints. They shouldn’t lead to stereotyping or rigid hiring based on Enneagram types but should encourage teams to address their blind spots.

  • One-on-one Sessions. In these sessions, the coach explains the nuances of the assessment report and delves into each individual’s lived experience within the team, offering a deeper understanding of their role, challenges, development paths, and contributions. 
  • Group Interventions. These coaching sessions and workshops are designed based on the insights from the team assessment and individual conversations. They are dynamic, addressing specific issues identified. They foster an environment where team members can openly discuss, reflect, and grow together, shifting systemic patterns and maturing the team.  

Coaches: Why Use The Enneagram for Team Maturity Coaching

Sustainable Long-Term Development

Systemic coaching aligns with the notion of sustainable, long-term team development. Coaches work with the understanding that maturity and growth are ongoing processes, not achievable through one-off events. This approach allows for continuous development and the ability to measure maturity growth over extended periods, such as 18 months, providing tangible evidence of the coaching’s impact.

Pattern rather than Event Interventions

Experienced coaches bring an ability to recognise and work with patterns in team behaviour. This expertise enables them to offer insights that resonate deeply with team members, often making them feel the coach has closely observed their interactions. This level of understanding enhances the coach’s effectiveness and the team’s trust in the coaching process.

Strategic Organisational Insights

The data and insights from systemic coaching are game-changing for human resources (HR) and Talent Development. They allow for identifying behavioural patterns and themes across different teams and business units, offering strategic insights for broader organisational development. This macro-level understanding is crucial for shaping talent management strategies.

Are you an Enneagram coach ready to nurture tangible change in teams across the globe? We’d love to support you as you make a difference. We offer assessments and systemic team coaching training that you can integrate into your approach. 

Contact us now to start unlocking higher team potential and growth for your clients.