An Interview with Andy Denne

By Phillip Sandahl

Each month we like to take a moment to shine the spotlight on TCI Faculty members. This month our co-founder Phil Sandahl took a moment to interview Andy Denne, founder of Teaching Team Leadership in Marseille, France.

Where do you live?

I live in Provence, France, with my wife, Isabelle, and daughters Amelia and Angelike, in a little town called L’isle Sur La Sorgues, about an hour from Marseille, the closest airport.

We chose the location because we wanted a fabulous school for our two daughters, to help them achieve their best and believe in themselves and there is a great Waldorf-Steiner school here.

What attracts you to coaching teams?

For me, it’s about unleashing the magical mystery. When people are in really great relationship, working on purpose for something greater than themselves, then love becomes available. That’s what attracts me to teams—to see teams be touched by the spirit of love that can be the team spirit.

Tell us about the winding journey that brought you to team coaching.

I had a very successful corporate job with Reuters in sales and marketing. At the same time, I became aware of and involved in alternative health and well-being. I finally left the Reuters job because of the leader I reported to.

I was approached by an organization called the College of Healing where I had been studying and thought I’d be bringing corporate business skills to healing work. Instead, I found myself bringing healing work to corporate teams.

It was fulfilling and it was frustrating. Teams, after a powerful two or three day offsite went back to work where their old habits were waiting for them. I then found coaching and was in the first coaching course in the UK with the Coaches Training Institute. That was 1999.

From there I led the CTI courses for a few years while coaching executives and teams. I was in the first TCI course in Europe in 2006. Now after years of primarily focusing on teams, I am circling back.

I see the necessity for the individual, especially the individual team leader to be willing to experience transformative change, be willing to grow, to hold complexity in a dynamic dance, and, at the same time, the ability of the team to become a source and support for that transformation.

What is your special area of interest with teams?

Team leadership. I’m interested in how people, as they are promoted, what does that call forth in them? How do they become a coach rather than a problem-solver that gives answers?

Also, how does leadership live on the team as a system dynamic, not just embedded in the role? Consciously creating the conversation that allows leadership to flourish between us no matter who is the nominated captain.

In your experience, what are the best candidates for team coaching?

If I had a magic wand it would be teams that know there’s more, want more, but don’t know how to come to the humble position, “We know we don’t know.” I find a lot of my work is helping teams become conscious of their incompetence. From there they become eager to learn.

How do you prepare yourself?

After the usual review of notes, I want to be clear about the first activity with the team and have some thoughts about the territory we expect to cover, knowing that eight times out of 10, that’s not the territory we will actually cover.

So there’s preparing, and then there’s preparing to let go. If it’s a team I’ve worked with already I’ll also bring to mind what I know about that team and reflect on, “What’s my dream for this team?”

I have a structure that helps me: I consciously drink water, for two reasons: one, for hydrating, and two, as a way to pause and remind myself to not get sucked into the system.

For you, what does a typical team engagement include?

Two ways I respond to a team development request:

  1. When they really don’t know what they want—they just want something—I can do a one-off team engagement as a sample. That gives them a clearer picture of what is possible and what the experience might be.
  2. When they understand that an event won’t get them the results they want—that real change takes place over time—my typical engagement is nine to 12 months where we meet for two days every quarter. Those two days include training, not just good coaching reflection, and practicing new behavior. We will also spend time as the team works on real challenges the team is facing and use that as material for coaching. Very often, after the first engagement teams want to keep going.

The goal is a more open, more courageous conversation. That’s not easy work for most teams. The TCI Team Diagnostic gives teams an easier way to have those conversations because it’s not abstract talk; it’s about everyday interaction that creates the weave of invisible social contact—a richer conversation than just talking about the tasks.

What inspires you about this work?

Making the invisible visible – people touched by team spirit, their team spirit—and by the potential I see as people are inspired—their growth.

What else are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about learning; I’m passionate about being in nature, listening to the sounds of the birds, the waves breaking on the shore, the leaves dancing in the wind. I’m passionate about sailing, and golf –hitting something that doesn’t move and never goes where you expect it to go. It’s very Zen, very in the moment. Good or bad, leave that stroke behind. Move on.

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