“The games people play in Boardrooms”

by Didier Marlier on Friday October 12th, 2012

Individual coaching is very useful when practiced by a (rare) bunch of truly prepared people. However, the reticence I/we have when invited to coach a single individual, in isolation of their team, is how will we send a hopefully changed person to an unchanged environment?

In a recent post, I had explained that the most frequent cause of the relapse of an addicted person into their vice was their family and friends environment. I was shocked (and took a very firm position) when reviewing the Facebook posts of a bunch of 16 to 24 years old young people in Brazil. Forty of them have been selected amongst five thousand candidates to be supported by an institute, sponsored by a famous telecom company there. Those “kids” are in high danger of marginalization and have been chosen however for their high potential to make a difference for the Brazilian society. I was infuriated when I saw that one of them who had courageously dared to wear a tie and suit on his Facebook ID pic, was being mocked by his “friends”. Another attempt of the group to bring a courageous individual to be his previous self, “so that he doesn’t challenge our own mediocrity”…

The perverse effect of the “dynamics of the well intentioned friends and family” also applies to executives which is why we tend to prefer to coach a whole team to a single individual. In our work, we often see an interesting dynamic, well explained by the theory of Transactional analysis, which to my surprise many executives do not seem to be aware of.

Transactional Analysis (T.A.) is particularly useful when similar patterns of aggression seem to repeat themselves in a team. Rather than hoping for the other person to change, T.A. encourages the individual to question the way they relate to the difficult person in their team.

T.A. suggests that we migrate between three distinct types of roles (called ego states):

  • Parent: happens when we think, behave and feel (Logos, Ethos and Pathos) like our parents or like other authority figures did. The parent can be controlling (judges and seeks to manipulate the people to get them to do what they say) or nurturing (paternalistic or caring, who wants to look after the people)
  • Child: the person thinks, behaves and feel like in their childhood. The child figure can be adapted (when the child has adapted to the demands of the authority figure) or the free child (rebellious who does what they like).
  • Adult: the person feels responsible, thinks in terms of here and now and build on their own experience. They enjoy making their own decision and avoid being judgmental. The adult stage is considered the best and has no negative/positive subdivision attached.

The excellent video here below shows how easily it us to drift from our healthy and balanced adult state to either child or parent, in response to other people’s behaviour or to fulfill our own need.


I strongly encourage you to take the ten minutes requested to watch that video and start reflecting if that explains some of your and your colleagues behaviours. So often, when coaching teams we see, one individual unconsciously taking the parent or child behaviour… The reaction of the others is highly predictable… So being aware of the dynamic in place and avoiding to fall in the trap and react like an adult will certainly help us all a great deal.

In Villars and London this week, mainly busy at starting a new book (main theme around “Leading in the Open Source Economy”) with the help of our partner, Dimitri Boisdet. Have a great week all. Didier

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5 Responses to ““The games people play in Boardrooms””

  1. Great video.
    Thank you for sharing it.

    • Thank you Tania and welcome to the blog. I sincerely hope we reconnect sometimes when I am back in Sao-Paulo…

  2. Didier, thanks for drawing attention to TA. It is a very valuable coaching technique indeed. In addition to TA, I increasingly work with Systemic Constellations, which focuses on re-creating order or balance in the system. This system can vary from your family right through to your team at work. Very much worth your while ! Um forte abraço ! Paul

    • Thank you Paul… Synchronicity, I had the honour of receiving one full day coaching by Olga Curado, the woman behind the mediatic transformation of Presidents Lula and Dilma. In her session, she uses a lot the Systemic Constellation. I am still recovering from the session 😉


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