Jane Zhang Interview

By Phillip Sandahl


Jane Zhang is co-founder of Talent Insight Management, a team coaching, training, and HR services firm based in based in Shanghai and Suzhou, China.

Talent Insight is the TCI business partner for China. They deliver the training that leads to Certified Team Performance Coach (CTPC) and actively deliver team coaching to China clients.

Where do you live?

Monday through Friday I live in Shanghai with my family: my husband, my daughter who is 10, and three small dogs. On the weekends we all live in Suzhou, about an hour’s drive from Shanghai where life is much quieter. A change of location is also a change of perspective.

What attracts you to coaching teams?

I came from management positions in HR in the bioscience and semiconductor industries. We had lots of team and OD programs but I really struggled to show the business the real benefit, the ROI.

Also, the initiative for those programs was coming from HR and with team coaching it comes from the team and team leaders. There is more willingness and commitment to align individual success with team success. There is a synergy of energy with the team.

Team coaching gives individuals an opportunity to consciously improve their work life and by the way, life in general. It becomes a way to change the quality of life. It gives me a sense of real purpose.

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

When I was in my corporate HR position, I got curious about coaching and took the training classes from CTI.

When we started Talent Insight, one of the services we provided was training in coaching skills for managers and we saw lots of change, lots of “wow” from individuals but when they went back to their organization, they got absorbed by the system again.

So that triggered the question, “How can we have the team have that change and support each other?” When I met TCI, I could see a way to do that.

What is your special area of interest with teams?

If possible, my preference is to start with senior leadership teams. Working with mid-level teams is sometimes a struggle because team coaching is about culture change so the work is more effective when impact starts at the top. That creates a ripple effect for the organization.

When we started, we did a lot of work with foreign companies but recently, more and more we are working with local, private companies and we are finding stronger, open commitment. More sense of ownership.

What are some of the common challenges you see?

In China, whether it’s a foreign company or Chinese, the primary focus area teams choose is Constructive Interaction. I think this is related to the culture. We’re very polite with each other so we emphasize harmonization a lot.

The other side of that challenge is teams where there is a very strong voice that overpowers the others. We don’t have a culture where people are encouraged to stand up and debate for the best result for the team.

The second most common area we see on teams relates to accountability. Team members focus on their own KPI not the team; this is especially true on teams with matrix reporting.

When problems come up, or there are gray areas, teams often go instantly to fire-fighting instead of cleaning up roles and responsibilities so that accountability in the future is clear. Otherwise they repeat the same fire-fighting behavior.

Also, I’m surprised at how often Communication shows up as an area of challenge for teams. It is such a core competence for teams you would think teams would be better but they confuse talking a lot, or meeting a lot, with communicating and nothing happens.

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

Best candidates for team coaching have pain, or they have a strong willingness for change. “Change” is the first word we listen for. “We want change.” And not that the boss wants change, or HR wants change, but the team wants change. They see the importance.

For you, what does a typical team engagement include?

A typical engagement starts by providing HR with materials for an initial, internal kick-off meeting so the team knows what’s going on and what to expect. We also do interviews with key stakeholders. Then team members take the TCI online assessment.

Normally we do a total of six team coaching sessions: the initial session of two days to reveal team results and engage the team in conversation that leads to selecting three areas for team development.

Then four team coaching sessions, and final a completion session. Two weeks before each team coaching session we meet with the team leader and HR sponsor to see how things are going since the initial workshop, learn about their expectations for the next workshop and share our plans, as a way to build alignment.

The team coaching sessions focus on the three areas the team selected for attention and the last session we focus on ROI. We do that two ways: we look for tangible change—that includes improvement in TDA results plus improved business results that the team can attribute to the team coaching—and intangible change—the impact of team coaching on team dynamics and collaboration.

During the team coaching process we also provide a team coaching assistant to interface with the team or HR. We create a private WeChat online group that the assistant monitors.

It’s a place where teams can post the results of their accountability, report about what they are learning or ask questions. It has become an important way to keep the process connected and moving forward.

What else are you passionate about?

For team coaching, I am passionate about finding more and more creative ways to support teams on their development journey. For one team we created a book, “This is your team coaching journey” and we add materials to the book during the coaching process.

We also want to integrate more team building experiences into the process, and create out of the box ways to stretch the imagination and build stronger, more cohesive teams.

It might be cycling, or sailing, or activities in nature, or working with horses—there are so many possibilities. Personally, my passion is travel, and exploring the adventure in the unknown.

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