on your inner game, says former Harvard tennis captain Tim Gallwey as he serves
up his team-building ideas to Patrick McCurry
What has tennis got to do with teamworking in organisations, achieving
cultural change and improving management coaching?
A great deal, according to Tim Gallwey, a US teambuilding expert visiting
the Industrial Society’s School of Coaching this month.
The core of Gallwey’s approach is what he calls ‘the inner game’, the idea
that whatever outer goal you are trying to achieve there is always an inner
game being played in your mind. "How aware you are of this inner game can
make the difference between success and failure in the outer game," he
His ideas were first presented in a sports coaching book, The Inner Game of
Tennis, published in the 1970s and based on his experience as captain of
Harvard University’s tennis team.
"The publisher thought it would sell a few thousand copies, but it
ended up on the bestseller lists because corporate managers realised the ideas
on tennis coaching could be used by companies to help people learn and
Companies such as IBM, AT&T, Apple Computer and Coca-Cola picked up on
the approach to help achieve cultural and behavioural change among their
employees. Gallwey says the philosophy centres on helping individuals become
more aware of their behaviour, in a non-judgmental way, before expecting them
"It’s like learning to improve your backhand," he says. "The
individual must first become aware of where they are now before they can set
goals for the future. Change happens best from the inside out, not when it’s
imposed by someone else."
The job of the coach in an organisation is to help staff become more aware
of their current behaviour, but without judging that behaviour as ‘bad’, and to
help them overcome the inner doubts or self-limiting views that prevent them
changing. But it is about helping the individual gain the awareness, confidence
and desire to change and not about imposing a set of behaviour, says Gallwey.
"If a coach or manager tries to force or manipulate staff to behave in
a certain pre-conceived way there will always be resistance. People have to see
for themselves the benefits of change."
In recent years he has been developing these ideas for teamworking in the
consultancy IGEOS, which he co-founded with Valerio Pescotto, an expert in
group dynamics. After speaking at a one-day coaching conference at the
Industrial Society this month, Gallwey and Pescotto will return in May to run a
five-day team training course.
Traditionally there are two approaches to teambuilding, says Gallwey. First,
the academic route in which managers decide what behaviour they are seeking and
‘teach’ them to teams. The other is the experiential route, such as raft
building, in which teams are encouraged to bond and work together on a specific
But neither really tackles the habitual behaviour of team members, argues
He uses simulations in which the team is set a task and then observed.
"They’ll set about it in their habitual way and the usual problems surface,
such as not listening to each other, splitting off into sub-groups, not taking
risks and so on. "As they get more frustrated they become more willing to
look at their behaviour in a non-judgmental way."
At this point the observers help the team flesh out principles that will
improve the team, such as genuinely listening to colleagues and expressing
their own views clearly.
"We often see dramatic changes," says Gallwey: "For example,
at the outset team members will usually speak for up to 50-60 seconds on
average, but by the end that falls to perhaps 10 seconds, which shows they are
now thinking about what they want to communicate and doing it clearly."
Other key elements of the teambuilding include encouraging team members to
take responsibility for decisions and not blaming others, he says. "The
simulations help teams become more aware and ongoing coaching helps them
maintain this at work."
It is easy to interest companies in these ideas, says Gallwey, but much
harder to get them to put the ideas into practice because they are challenging
deeply ingrained habits and behaviour patterns.
IGEOS is currently working with a large UK multinational, which Gallwey will
not name, but he is excited about the new links with the Industrial Society:
"It is passionate about changing the quality of work in the UK."
But in today’s semi-recessionary environment, it is very tempting for
companies in the UK and globally to take a "command and control"
stance and try to impose top-down change. But such an approach is likely to
fail in the long run, argues Gallwey.
"When companies or individuals are under a lot of pressure that’s often
when the worst comes out in teams and people find it hard to work
Some companies will respond to increased business pressures by cutting
training and coaching, but others will take a more enlightened view, he says:
"They realise that it is in the difficult times that they really need to
make a difference in the way their teams work together."
Top tips for teambuilding
Make a serious personal commitment to
the development of staff that report to you directly and develop your own
Recognise that building effective
teams is the critical variable to corporate success
Assess your teams’ clarity of purpose
and identify blocks to effectiveness
Identify the cultural and systemic
obstacles to learning and coaching