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The Path Less Travelled

The Path Less Travelled

By our fieldexpert Chris Jackson
Accredited Team Coaching Lead, Belbin UK : Coordinator, IDG UK Capacity Building Network : Director of Entrepreneurship, Purple Shoots.


For the biggest part of my adult life (to date) I have run my own enterprises. In accepted parlance, most would probably label me as an ‘entrepreneur’, but that’s another discussion altogether. For now, I’ll just sit with it.

As an ‘entrepreneur’ in the UK, I feel that I’ve earned the right (through lived experience) to comment on how what I’ve seen and experienced on my journey so far has shaped the way that I now think – but more of that in a few moments.

This is the story that I like to share with you today.

In 2014, I moved from the West Coast of Scotland to rural Lincolnshire – trading seascapes, mountains and horizontal rain for rolling fields and less horizontal, warmer, rain. The plan was, there was no real plan; for one thing I know is that no change is likely to ever happen until we do something. And this was one of those times. Life and work in Scotland had run its course. It was time for a change, largely determined by a pin in a map and a need to move on.

Something else that I know – people do business with people. Lincolnshire was a far-off galaxy to me and I now ‘boldly go where’…etc, which I did, seeking out local networking events, simply to explore ‘what happens in Lincolnshire’. And yes, it was unexpected, so I wasn’t disappointed. (More good learning from lived experience – always expect the unexpected!). I was also engaged in one of my favourite pastimes – dot collecting and dot connecting.

A series of conversations led me to one of the local universities where they were also ‘boldly going’ and embarking on the delivery of an undergraduate degree programme which was to be ‘team coached’, not taught; students were ‘team entrepreneurs’, learning about business by starting and experimenting with small ventures of their own –  ‘learning by doing’.

Now to me, this made perfect sense, as it was basically a reflection of the previous 30 years of my life, condensed into three years. I was asked if I would like to ‘get involved’ and I said yes. Curiosity and a sense of adventure are great entrepreneurial traits.

I need to skip a lot of detail here, as it’s not important in the context of this story, but I was told that I would be offered the opportunity to train as a ‘team coach’ which would involve travelling to Finland and Europe. They didn’t need to ask twice.

At the time, this was a new concept to me, but I was introduced to the Finnish ‘Tiimiakatemia’ programme where the practice of team coaching students through a ‘learning by doing’ process had been gaining momentum for around 25 years. It is now well-established and supported at several universities throughout Finland, as well as Europe, with global interest growing annually.

On a visit to the incredible Mondragon Univeristy in Bilbao, Spain, I had a chance meeting with the founder of Tiimiakatemia, Johannes Partanen. As we chatted over lunch, it struck me that 25 years-worth of students is a sizeable number. What happened, I wondered, when young enthusiastic minds that had been engaged in a process of self-determined learning were released into the world of work? Did they all go on to start and run their own enterprises? Surely not? What about the rest of them?

This, in turn led to visits to not only emerging programmes in other countries, but to commercial organisations that were being run as ‘team companies’.

At which point, we need to briefly take a dive into my past again, where (alongside running my own organisation) I have worked as a business advisor (fashionable in the 90’s) and a mentor (more fashionable after the Millennium), usually for business support organisations in the UK. What I was now seeing first-hand with the Timmiakatemia, or Team Academy, process of ‘learning by doing’ suddenly made even more sense.

So, what?

What did I now see? What was I thinking?

Based on past experience of being on both the receiving and delivery end of ‘business support’, I was beginning to think that – in general – business support in the UK is no longer fit for purpose.

Ouch. Now that’s going to ruffle a few feathers, but perhaps it’s time for a wake-up call. Again, not for further discussion here, but pertinent to the overall article.

In order to ‘make sense’ of what I was seeing and experiencing, I then seized an opportunity to undertake formal academic research into the ‘what, why and how’ of this team coaching ‘thing’. And every which way I turned became an ‘aha’ moment.

Obviously, as part of the research, I was also exploring what was going on outside of academia as the world wakes up to the team coaching tsunami. After all, why should the academics have all the fun?

As such, I would suggest that there appear to be three main team coaching camps: those inside of academia who continually strive to convince faculty or sponsors that it is a viable alternative to talk-and-chalk lectures while curating a process that they know encourages transformational learning; those inside of or aligned with academia who are engaged in the dissection, analysis and theorisation of the process of team coaching, attempting to distil it into models and frameworks; advisors, trainers and coaches who are keen to discover more and either reinvent themselves as ‘team coaches’ or bring it into their own practice.

In amongst this melee are those who have experienced, as I did, that team coaching is more of a phenomenon than a defined, model-led practice, and it can be approached in different ways to sustain deep learning and transformational, sustainable change.

Now what?

In 2022, I decided that my collision and dalliance with full-time academic engagement had also run its course. It was a place where I no longer should be as I couldn’t build an authentic practice that added real value to the lives of others. It was preventing me from thriving, or ‘being’ in a way that is meaningful. Once again there was no real forward plan, but there was mission, values and purpose. I needed to continue my journey.

Then what?

I knew I didn’t have to worry about ‘work’, which seems to appear when needed from all of the right places. As part of a vibrant international network of thinkers and doers, ‘stuff happened’.

2024 saw the launch of a commercial Team Coach learning programme for Belbin Team Roles (UK – Head Office) UK. Belbin are renowned globally for their Team Role Theory which provides a refreshing approach to how groups of people can become effective teams by considering natural, observable behaviours.  I had begun a conversation with Belbin some time earlier, seeing a potential opportunity for them to work with their global network and offer a learning (not training) programme that would encourage new ways of engaging with and empowering teams.

Somehow, I appear to have collected the title of ‘Team Coaching Lead’ for this programme, for which I feel very privileged. However, the programme was co-created and is supported by an international team of experienced practitioners*, who are all part of this amazing journey.

And then what?

We’re being very clear about where we stand with regard to our philosophy of team coaching at Belbin and that this is a learning programme, not a training programme. We acknowledge that Team Coaching is still an emerging field; that there is no ‘one right way’ to introduce this process to groups or teams; we emphasise that participants are embarking on a learning journey that will enable them to make sense of Team Coaching in the context of their own work or practice.

Hopefully, in doing this we will help to raise not only the profile of authentic Team Coaching practice but the fact that it has its genesis in transformational learning for individuals, teams and organisations. It is not an ‘academic’ process, it is a social process that is studied and used by some academics.

Perhaps in embracing this way of working together, we can discover that we all have the capability to in some way bring positive change to the world in which we live; that there is a real and urgent need to act responsibly not in the service of ‘more’, but in developing more sustainable and ethical ways of coexisting with others in support of the ecosystem that supports us all.

Thank you for reading my story.


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