Have you met your Inner Team?

When I have to make a difficult decision, I have these voices in my head. One voice that says I should pick this one option, another voice that says I should pick the other option. When I learned to listen more closely, I realized that there are even more voices that have an opinion about the situation. I believe most people experience a similar thing. Have you?

Friedemann Schulz von Thun developed a model that captures this experience, when he was teaching Psychology at the University of Hamburg, Germany, from 1975 to 2009. He called his model “The Inner Team”. I first learned about the Inner Team when I read his book Miteinander Reden 3, probably around the time when it was published in 1998 or 1999. This book was never translated to English, but I would roughly translate the title as “Talk to each other, part 3”.

What I love about the Inner Team is how useful it is in daily situations, as well as showing opportunities to grow as a person.

The basic idea, as I understand it, is this:

  • We all have an Inner Team that consists of team members and a team leader.
  • Each team member has different motivations, and opinions, in a given situation. Some team members might seem like mortal enemies, some are allies, some are hiding behind other team members, or maybe even in the shadows of the subconscious.
  • The role of the ideal team leader is to make sure that all team members are treated fairly and that no-one is overlooked.

Meet your Inner Team

If you want to meet your Inner Team, you can try this. The next time you have to make difficult decision or are in an uncomfortable situation, listen and take notes:

  • Think about the decision or situation and listen for the first voice – the first team member – that speaks up inside you.
  • Try to stay with this team member. As a good team leader you listen to what they are saying. Try not to interrupt, try not to judge. Just listen. Taking notes will help later.
  • After a short while, maybe even immediately, you will hear another voice – another team member. They have a very different opinion, and don’t want to listen to the first team member any longer. Your job as the team leader is the as before: Try to give this team member the space to voice their opinion. Just listen, take notes.
  • A while later, again, somebody else wants to chime in. Maybe it’s the team member that spoke up first, or maybe it’s a new team member. That might not always be clear in the beginning. It doesn’t matter too much. Just listen, take notes.

After a while the arguments will start repeating. At that point you might want to interrupt the discussion of the team members and, as a team leader, review the notes you have taken so far. When going over your notes:

  • Try to identify all the different team members that were voicing their opinions, and give each team member a fitting and appreciative name. You might find you have an inner critic, an adventurer, someone happy-go-luck, someone who is resistant to change etc. The terms I am using here are very generic, which is perfectly ok in the beginning. Try to be more specific if you can. Be creative!

Opportunities for personal growth

Here are some suggestions for working with your Inner Team:

  • Try to find positive, appreciating names for each team member. Remember that your job as a team leader: to treat all team members fairly and make sure that everyone is heard. I bet there will be least one team member that you have given a rather negative name, like calling them lazy something or scared something. If you notice this, that is great! Because it’s an opportunity for growth. Challenge yourself to find the positive core value behind this seemingly negative team member. Maybe they have good reason to be scared, maybe they are actually cautious? Don’t beat yourself up, if you don’t manage to find great, appreciating names immediately. I am still struggling with this.
  • Often there are late-comers to the party, who are not as loud and determined as the other team members. They might take a while – sometimes days – to show up and voice their opinion. Some are so quiet that you can hardly tell they are there. Learn to listen carefully.
  • Try to be as accepting as possible. You will not like all your team members equally, but trying to ignore them will only push away and make them angry and bitter. Worst case, they will stage an underground rebellion when you least expect it. Just like real people in real teams. :)

This is not an exhaustive description of the Inner Team model. It merely scratches the surface, and is very subjective. But I hope it serves as a starting point to start exploring your own Inner Team.

See also