The Zen of Agile Leadership, Episode 3: Being Cause in the Matter with Teams and Systems

Zen of Agile Leadership-01Episode 1 in this series addressed being authentic with yourself and your own life, and Episode 2 addressed being authentic with others. In this Episode, I now help you as a leader explore being authentic with teams and organizations, being cause in the matter with them and enabling them to “occur”.

Nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished on your own, you’ll remember. No man is an island. Consider that as a leader you are responsible for creating teams and systems. When you as leader are creating teams, you are creating a system of human interactions.

You ARE the clearing for teams and organization to occur.

Every single human being is a complex system and when you create a team and system of humans the complexity multiplies greatly. Keeping this in mind, how can you be cause in the matter of teams and systems?

Just as with being cause in the matter of yourself, being cause in the matter of teams and systems starts with increasing your awareness. Being cause in the matter of teams and systems means being aware of the interactions within your environment. To help you achieve that, this blog will touch on four topics to help increase your awareness of interactions within systems:

  1. Being over Doing
  2. Karpman’s Drama Triangle
  3. The Empowerment Dynamic (TED)
  4. Manage Systems, Coach People

Being Over Doing

All of life is created inside of communication. When you interact with another human, you have the power to create and destroy that relationship — all through the power of your words.

Teams are no different. Think of a team as a collective entity. Within an organization you have teams and team interactions. The collective voice of the individuals on the team make up the voice of the team, the voice of that system.

Now ask yourself, as the clearing called leader, the following questions:

  • “How do I communicate and show commitment to my team?”
  • “How do I communicate and show them that they matter?”
  • “How real or vulnerable am I with my team?”
  • “What do I create with my team?”
  • “How do I listen to my team and their collective voice?
  • “How do I create trust?”

To have trust you must do trustful things and this is only accomplished authentically when you are the clearing for trust to occur. You have to BE trust and trusting. Humans generally operate in this manner:

Have » Do » Be

Flip it around and you have a model for achieving trust by trusting others, which requires a shift in mindset (e.g., to be trusted I have to be trusting).

Be » Do » Have.

Throughout this whole series I have been communicating “being the clearing…” As leader, you are the clearing for everything: you, others, teams, organizations, entire systems. That process is at the foundation of this model: being.

Everything starts with being. We often think we have no choice in our state of being. Often we are in the world of “doing” thinking that “doing” is enough. But that really is a choice: you are choosing to do something over doing something else.

Being fully present with yourself, others and teams is a choice.

In my own personal life, I do a bit of service assisting friends and organizations, and the question I started asking myself was, “Who am I being as I’m doing this service?”

When we are in the world of DOING and REACTING over BEING and TRANSFORMING, we can fall into the Human Drama Triangle.

Karpman’s Drama Triangle

In the late 1960s, Stephen Karpman, M.D., introduced a social model of negative interactions to the world called the Drama Triangle. Since then it has used in both structural and transactional analysis of people and organizational dynamics. The three roles humans have been indoctrinated to play when they experience negativity (whether from individuals, events, or even “the universe”) are Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer.

The Victim views his or her self as being targeted purposefully in the situation. Words to describe the Victim include: oppressed, helpless, hopeless, powerless, ashamed, indecisive, trapped, etc.

The Persecutor views his or her self as controlling the situation. To a Victim, Persecutors can take any shape: human or other (events, non-human entities including animals, god(s), etc.). Words to describe the Persecutor: controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritative, rigid, superior, etc.

The Rescuer views his or her self as contributing positively somehow to the situation, even if indirectly. While Rescuers tend to cast themselves in a positive light, they are also enabling both the Victim and the Persecutor in perpetuating their roles.

Karpman's Drama Triangle-01

The triangle presumes drama—negative situations that ratchet up tensions such that people assume the role they feel most comfortable in. In the absence of drama, people even create their own drama. In the absence of the corresponding roles, individuals seeking that fulfillment will search for others who are seeking a complementary fulfillment. A Victim will seek out Persecutors, Rescuers will seek out Victims to “help”, and a Persecutor will seek out Victims to “hurt”.

The triangle again presumes that individuals willingly inhabit their positions. However, since drama is an artifact of human interactions, humans can counteract it. People think or assume they have power over others or over a situation. But the only thing they can actively control is their reaction to others and to situations or events.

Our silliness as humans is in thinking we can’t choose our reactions. You might hear often, “YOU made me angry!” But all that is going on here is that that person is choosing to be angry as a reaction to some catalyst: a communication, event or activity that occurred. In a vacuum, the communication, event or activity doesn’t necessarily cause anger—unlike the sun, which even without anyone to perceive it, radiates heat and light.

There is the reality of something and then there is our interpretation of it. The delta between the two lies in our focus or point of view. We can react or we can choose intentionally who to be in any moment (e.g., someone who does not act irrationally to some stimulus).

Transformation away from reaction comes from being and choosing. Life does not happen TO you; you are responsible for it. You create life through your reactions—or, if you so choose, the lack thereof.

The Empowerment Dynamic turns the Drama Triangle on its head, making it a powerful tool for leaders and followers alike.

The Empowerment Dynamic (TED)

The Empowerment Dynamic (TED) was released in David Emerald’s 2005 book “The Power of TED”. TED describes the alter ego of each of the actors in the Drama Triangle:

Victim » Creator
Persecutor » Challenger
Rescuer » Coach

A Creator is someone who sees the world (point of view) as possibilities and creates outcomes, as opposed to seeing the world as problems to solve. Victims have a “poor me, life happens TO me” way of being, while Creators have a “what next? I create life” way of being.

A Challenger is a person or situation that is a catalyst for the Creator to clarify their needs so that the Creator can take incremental steps toward achieving a goal. Human Persecutors dominate, blame and control; human Challengers focus on outcomes and provoke action. In contrast to Persecutors, Challengers may bring the best out of the Creator by challenging flawed assumptions. Challengers encourage growth, learning, and improvement.

A Coach is a person who guides individuals away from the self-assigned role of Victim toward becoming a Creator by asking the Victim to self-reflect. Rescuers fear not being needed and enable Victims to stay where they are. Coaches see Victims as capable of making choices and of solving their own problems through inquiry, and thus become a Creator, an empowered individual capable of overcoming obstacles and growing as a result.

Same Triangles, Different Perspective

TED and Karpman's Drama Triangle-01Now let’s expand the model to encompass systems of human interactions. Teams and organizations, as human constructs, may fall into the same Drama triangle. Frequently these human systems (and the individuals comprising them) will change roles many times within interactions. The Delivery Team will blame the Product Owner for inadequate prioritization, the ScrumMaster will rush in to the rescue. Meanwhile the entire group will feel like the Victim of the business’ whims, which are often incomprehensible. Leadership passes down edicts that come across to the Victims like a curse, to Persecutors like vindication, and to Rescuers as a toll of the difficulties they will have to save future Victims from.

But just as individuals can break out of the cycle, so can organizations, with the right leadership. As a leader, you are responsible for transforming your organizational systems from a Victim mentality to a Creator mentality. As with Karpman’s Drama triangle, your role in the Empowerment Dynamic will vary according to the needs of the situation. Choose in the moment: Creator, Challenger, Coach.

Manage Systems, Coach People.

Managing people is hard because people don’t need to be managed and, frankly, some traditional management is degrading. But teams do need coaching and leadership; they need you to create a system in which they may succeed. “Reinventing Organizations” by Frederic Laloux provides excellent insight into how you might go about doing this.

Consider creating a coaching stance within an agreement framework. All human systems live within an agreement framework whether it is implicit or explicit. Working agreements or designed alliances in an Agile framework are a great example of an explicit agreement.

Taking cues from Bill Joiner’s “Leadership Agility: From Expert to Catalyst“, as a leader, you want to catalyze change without behaving as an expert on everything, including the change itself. Expert leaders live in the realm of ego (e.g., “Others follow me because I am authority”) and scarcity (e.g., “Few others can do what I can, so they need me”). Expert leaders see others, events and circumstances as problems waiting to be solved. Do you see both Karpman’s Drama Triangle at play here?

Catalytic leaders, on the other hand, live in the realm of inspiring vision, empowerment and encouraging growth. Catalytic leaders operate more in line with the Empowerment Dynamic than with the Drama Triangle. Catalytic leaders create the clearing for teamwork to occur.

You as leader are responsible not for managing people but for managing the system. Inside of managing that system, you are cause in the matter of the success of the people inside that system.

When you look at the system, you notice you, the other person, the space between you, the space around you. When humans come together, we create a field of intelligence. The Organizational Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC) framework describes this as RSI or Relationship Systems Intelligence.

In this framework there are three fields of awareness:

  1. Emotional Intelligence (EQ) — You
  2. Social Intelligence (SI) — You with others
  3. Relationship Systems Intelligence (RSI) — You with systems


Being cause in the matter with your organization means understanding your impact, not only on who you are being but who you are being with teams and the entire organization. You as leader are the clearing for the entire system called your organization.

Having system awareness means that you, as the clearing called leader:
1. Create a system awareness for you and the team.
2. Have a “We”/Collective mindset.
3. Notice that experiences and emotions are an expression of the system.
4. Understand that motivation is held collectively: everyone in the system motivates each other.
5. Notice you, notice others and hold that your focus is on the system and how you impact the system

Because you are cause in the matter of it all.


Closing this blog series, I leave you with an acknowledgment: I acknowledge you for reading this series. I acknowledge you for your interest in transforming who you are with yourself, who you are with others and who you are with teams and other systems of human interactions.

It takes something for you to take the time and read this. So thank you.

Now, go: create you, create others, create teams … create life.


Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux

Creating Intelligent Teams by Anne Rød and Marita Fridjhon

Turn the Ship Around by David Marquet (YouTube)

Karpman Drama Triangle (Wikipedia)

The Empowerment Dynamic by David Emerald

Leadership Agility: From Expert to Catalyst by Bill Joiner

SolutionsIQ now offers a “Managing in Agile” workshop where you’ll expand upon and share your experiences,  as well as leverage systems thinking, Agile leadership principles, effective feedback and communication techniques to take management and leadership in your organization and teams to the next level. Fill out the form below to get started now!