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Ep 79: Teams in Trouble – A Conversation with Kathryn McEwen

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Introduction: Kathryn McEwen is the Global Lead at Working with Resilience. She is CEO and Founder of Resilience at Work (R@W) Toolkit and Team APP. The App is the world’s first team resilience App using tech, scient , real time data and powerful questions to help teams better together in pressure, complexity and uncertainty. Kathryn’s background is an organisational psychologist, coach, leader and mediator. She is also author of three books, Building Team Resilience, Building your own Resilience; how to thrive in a challenging job and the Resilience at Work Toolkit. 


  • Podcast Episode Summary This episode features the work of a Team Coach working at the intersection of social justice, common ground and resilience for teams in trouble using a strengths based approach. Kathryn describes how she understands teams in trouble and the approach she adopts to support teams thrive. She also shares what teams can expect to see by employing her R@W model, toolkit and App. Points made over the episode
    • The red thread that weaves through Kathryn’s life is social justice. This theme shaped Kathryn’s research and approach to work. 
    • Kathryn grew up in Wales on a council estate and can remember petitioning with her Mother on issues she was too young to comprehend. 
    • At 16 years of age she moved to Australia. 
    • She works with teams at the coal face, often teams in trouble, facing very difficult work. 
    • Teams in trouble means “stuff has gone down” there is a history on the team that can include bullying & unresolved issues that make it difficult for the team to do meaningful work together. They cannot find a way out without assistance
    • The referral source will often indicate the health of a team that can include bullying, stress leave, complaints about the Leader etc..
    • Teams in trouble often require a restorative piece of work in advance of what we might traditionally see as team coaching. 
    • The first step requires the setting up of a Leadership team that will work alongside the Team in Trouble and one that will take up or assume responsibility for organisational themes that surface
    • Education is often required to make clear the multi-faceted and multi-layered plan that needs to be fulfilled. Kathryn is keen to understand all the pieces of work that are taking place to support people such as mediation, stress leave, performance management etc
    • The next step is the discovery piece Kathryn conducts 1:1’s with all members of the team and stakeholders. She is careful not to set out a plan prematurely. 
    • It is important that the Team Coach is positioned as a resource not an assessor. 
    • Buy-In for the Teams work happens when the team believes you are going to work on their concerns and needs and that stuff is happening with the parallel team on some of the process structural pieces. 
    • Team Coaches are holding hope for the team. They are definitely not giving a perception that the team is hopeless. It is important to focus on strengths and the idea that strengths can be over played. 
    • As a Team Coach don’t advice on anything, instead shore up the themes and offer suggestions for approach but allow the team to self-determine what is important 
    • The notion of a Tipping Point is something Kathryn looks out for, that is where people on the fence can be pulled down into a negative space with those that are detractors. Kathryn works to create a space where people who might not normally speak up or who have not been willing to speak up before can call out bad behaviour and begin to help the team course correct. 
    • Holding Trust is a vital component of the team coach’s work-holding confidences can be tricky but it is important to be able to do so to see the whole. 
    • As practitioners we must not over complicate our work with teams. Learn to dance in the moment, don’t worry about content instead learn to work with people
    • Humour is vital especially when life on teams in trouble can be so miserable 
    • Kathryn shares a story about a particular team in trouble. It is memorable by way of the ugly behaviours the team members displayed. Team members wore sunglasses in meetings so they did not have to look at the Leader and some confessed that “we eat our own” 
    • Kathryn shared that it would be so easy to run down the avenue of performance management and codes of conduct, instead she focused on strengths. This particular team were amazing at advocacy and creativity but they used those same skills against their work system. Kathryn helped the members see how they could influence for change and fight battles where they were particularly passionate. 
    • Resilience on Teams looks at the ingredients that enable teams to thrive. Essentially they comprise practices and actions that are a flip of teams in trouble. 
    • There are 3 facets to Kathryn’s model. At the individual level a person is held accountable for the way they show up, adapt and be proactive especially with the challenges they face. 
    • It is a misnomer to consider that working at the individual level with respect to resilience will mean team resilience. Team Resilience is about alignment. Aligned Purpose, Aligned Values, Aligned Work load. 
    • The Leadership facet looks at how a Leader can create a subculture where the team can thrive 
    • This is a systemic approach where the model supports what the individuals are doing, with the team and leader to create a mini microcosm of the entire system to be the bests it can be. 
    • There are many practical actions involved in the use of this resilience model. Team resilience for example includes a sense of connectedness, care and asks questions like “what does it look like when we care for each other?’ 
    • Kathryn is very proud of the Network that has been built out of her work, a network that is global. 
    • Kathryn’s parting words included nuggets for team coaches to trust intuition and judgement, to be able to dance in the moment and not overcomplicate things. 

    Resources shared 

    • Building Resilience at Work by Kathryn McEwen
    • Building Team Resilience by Kathryn McEwen
    • Building Your Resilience: How to thrive in a Challenging Job by Kathryn McEwen
    • Whitepaper: resilience at Work A Framework for Coaching and Interventions 

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