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Sociogramming In Team Coaching: How To Map Communication Patterns

Chasing an invisible enemy isn’t easy. Al Qaeda—and now ISIS—blended into the local populace. They didn’t wear uniforms. They weren’t marked as “enemy” or “troublemaker” which made it difficult to discern who was a threat and who wasn’t.

In order to get an idea of how they operated, we made network diagrams to map and track their relationships, movements, and reporting structures. We didn’t know how they were organized so we simply connected the dots (figure 1).


figure 1

As they moved and communicated, bonds between them strengthened. Humans are creatures of many things, and likeability and habit are at the top of the list.

What this meant was that the bad guys did business with other bad guys whom they liked, trusted, and respected (in a “bad guy” sort of way). It also meant that once they found their bad guy soulmate, they continued working with them. The darker dotted lines below represent strong relationships.

figure 2

Then, patterns would emerge (just imagine more lines drawn over themselves). If we label each bad guy with a number (just to keep it simple), we get:

figure 3

And then a whole slew of questions arise, such as:

  • Why is #4 boxed in--was it intentional? Is he someone that 1,2,3, and 5 want to protect?
  • Why do 6 and 7 have limited contact with the rest of the network?
  • Is there a hidden alliance between 1,2,3, and 5?
  • Is #1 a courier of information or is he a decision maker?

Implications For Team Coaching

Here’s where I’m going with this (in case that thought crossed your mind).

Let’s take this practice of sociogramming (mapping social and communication patterns) and apply it to team coaching, and let’s place all these nodes around an awesome imaginary table that I made in Powerpoint (thank you very much):

Now, what if I told you that #7 was the leader? Number seven may be the decision maker but it appears that #1 is the influencer based on the observed human dynamics. So, are decisions really being made by #7, or, is #1 the quiet leader whom #7 relies upon for buy-in? Obviously, this is an example so it's difficult to ascertain anything without context.

The point is, there are tons—TONS!—of metrics to glean from sociogramming that apply to not only team coaching but many more that I won’t bore you with here.

I will, however, share an example of a past sociogram I made during a team coaching session for a team of three. The goal here was to unearth hidden communication patterns because oftentimes what goes unsaid is more important than what is.

The tick marks indicate the frequency of exchange. Meaning, that numbers 1 & 3 exchanged the most often (displayed by the mega sh-t ton of tick marks), while #2 was twiddling his thumbs watching the conversation happen in real time.

Much like the enemy network map, you can track decisions, decision makers, body name it. 

The fact is, what gets measured gets managed and what gets managed gets improved. If you want to improve communication, measure it. If you want to improve decision making, track it.

And it doesn't matter how large or small the meeting is (smaller ones are easier, obviously) you can do so for both.

What’s so important in team coaching for the small team meeting above is that even for a small team—a team of just three people—the unseen communication patterns stayed invisible until they were brought to light. It's easy to get bogged down in the agenda of the meeting; of what needs to get accomplished and the "Why isn't it accomplished yet?!" thinking.

It's much harder (and I would say too much for the brain to process--especially my brain--that's a joke, by the way) to navigate the agenda and human dynamics successfully. You simply can't do it all.

It wasn’t until actually seeing a diagram of how this small team communicated did the intangible elements of teamwork become tangible elements that they realized they needed to work on.

Having this kind of data heightens awareness—about yourself, about each other, and about the team—and I can’t think of anybody who wouldn't benefit from greater self- or situational awareness--myself included.

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