Team Action Potential

Over time, teams settle into a “groove” that tends to maximize operational flows and minimize interruptions. These action patterns are “dispositional states” of a dynamic system. These states also show up as propensities for certain types of actions, because members tend to amplify some aspects of their experience, while dampening others. It is useful to think of these propensities as potential for various kinds of collective action, or team action potentials.

Since these patterns emerge from implicit dynamics and the tacit meaning beneath what people normally talk about, surveys that speak to the generalized intellect rarely expose them. Sensemaking tools are specifically designed to help reveal these otherwise hidden patterns.

Our TAP profile is a sensemaking survey that is easy and intuitive to complete. It profiles teams along three key parameters that shape team action:

  1.  Autonomy & Identity
  2. Communication and Shared Meaning-making
  3.  Experiment and Discovery

Steps in the process:

  1. Survey the team
  2. Facilitate team-level sensemaking around result
  3. Identify key criteria for shifting toward more future-ready team dynamics
  4. Implement team development training
  5. Resurvey


The TAP survey is designed to visualize the deeply embodied, implicit understanding of team members. It is based on advanced research that tells us sensemaking in complex environments is primarily situated first in the action of embodied beings, and then only secondly in narrative exchanges. The leading thinker in organizational sensemaking is Karl E Weick. His work with team dynamics in HRO (highly reliable organizations) looks at environments which are unanalyzable and shows there are two discrete pathways for human sensing. In equivocal situations, where there are many competing narratives, or many plausible explanations, people search for cues in the environment which will cull some of the narratives, and sharpen others. Eventually a single or a few actionable choices emerge, which continue to shape a shared meaning. Alternately, in ambiguous situations, where there is little or no information, people turn toward deeper, subtle sensing based on feeling and intuition. These subtle levels of sensing are even prior to linguistic structures, and therefore sensemaking technologies based on semantic mapping of narratives (Such as Snowden’s Sensemaker) cannot get at them. Needless to say, these deeper capacities are very distant from rational decision-making. Weick refers to them as action-rationality. Furthermore, research in neuro-affective dynamics confirms them as part of the affect-laden intentional-motivational streams in the embodied body-mind. They are crucial components of sensemaking in organizations, because, as the philosopher Eugene Gendlin’s decades-long work proves, the felt-sense and the IU (implicit understanding), are sense-making modes that are exquisitely tuned at a very fine level of detail and precision at the intersection of world (reality) and mind (understanding).

There are many layers in the intentional-motivational system of people. There are biological, psychological, and social patterns that prime the individual for certain types of responses over others. These patterns are associated with affect-laden neuro-chemical-electric processes in the embodied mind-brain. While it is possible to reveal these deeper motivations, through practices that borrow from mindfulness training and meditation, there is a short-cut we can use. Understanding that people are highly responsive, adaptive and evolutionary beings, we can adopt the principle that people are always solving the problem that matters most. Of course, there are many problems, and what comes to matters most is a complex, fluid matrix of process of participation among humans themselves, and within the environment. Adopting this view, we can say that what we do, how we act, already entails or perfectly reflects these complex patterns of participation. Let me give an example. We all know what it is like to be working on something at the office, and for some reason, without thinking about it, we find ourselves interrupting someone at their desk, or walking to the water cooler and bumping into someone there. We take these minor interruptions as trivial, and discount their meaning. But if we look carefully, we see that the ways we prod, probe, irritate or connect with others, already carries meaning forward. These many many ordinary inter-acts are like the particles of the wave-particle system. They are, on the one hand, atom-istic, individual acts.

Yet in the complex processes of human relating, they become waves of experience that carry us forward. It is on these waves of experience that we enact new environments and realize new futures. On the collective level, these waves determine the patterns of team action. They set the possibilities that teams will act in these ways, and not others. This is why we consider teams as the self-organization of collective action potential. These action potentials can also be thought of as action-logics that emerge only at the collective level. When we reflect on what people actually do in teams, we have a perfect translation of what people are actually sensing at the very fine, atomistic levels of interaction. The team is functioning like a tuning fork, or a satellite dish, sensing through tiny instances of somatic awareness, and embodied response. The TAP survey enables people to reflect on what they actually do at work. It provides a way to discover the underlying context that people are acting within. Is it a context that drives people to seek out autonomy? or to connect in relationship? or to act without knowing? Self-determination theory shows us that these are the “Big Three” in determining how people organize themselves into patterns of collective action-potential. Weick has shown that some patterns are associated with environments where people need to make sense before they act; while some patterns are associated with environments where people need to act in order to make sense. Our TAP survey can “get at” subtle shifts in environmental contexts by revealing which environments teams are intuitively sensing. The TAP survey can show us when, where and how the action-potentials of the team are varying with the subtle changes in complex environments. Are they invariant, co-variant or disassociated?

The TAP survey can be used as a tool to train teams to become more sensitive, more critically reflective, and therefore more future-ready. Coaches can help team members move from stale action-logics of social anxiety and resistance that lead to collective inertia, to action-potentials that welcome surprise, are curious and experimental by nature, and lead to breakthrough insights. Furthermore, because TAP is an aggregated survey, it discloses how the collective composes itself, and shifts the burden away from individuals (which research shows, time and time again, prevents learning and development) and toward non-linear, complex processes of relating. When enabled by OPO principles, and allowed to self-organize, richly textured patterns of power, trust and action emerge, and team performance is optimized toward synergistic flows. Lastly, TAP is an instrument when, supported by rich dialogue and conversations that matter, can deepen the kinds of intimacy that Weick has shown, is necessary for accelerated learning, problem solving in complex environments, and reliability in high risk arenas.