It’s Not About the Players. It’s About the Team

How understanding Relationship System Intelligence dramatically impacts your output

Jan 12, 2022 - 5 min.

By: Pierre Verstraeten
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Would you be able to pinpoint what makes a team performance?

Many people would say the signs are targets being met. Or team members with an impressive level of individual expertise in their area.

It’s true that these factors are essential to delivering performance within a team or organization. Often, leaders forget – or aren’t aware of – the role of system intelligence.

System intelligence shifts the focus to the relationship within a team, group, or system as a whole. Not just looking at the individual KPIs, but the quality and constructivity of the dynamics of the environment they are in, and constantly co-create.

Human beings are complex, with functional roles and emotional roles, dreams, fears, external pressures, and reactions to situations. And no matter what work we do, we are always in a relationship, with ourselves first, with individual people and the team on a broader scale.

Relationship System Intelligence (RSI, based on Daniel Goldman’s work and developed by ORSC) is the ability to read, understand, and shape those relationships proactively. Once this is achieved, team members will be able to work productively within the emotional intricacies of a relationship system.

What System Intelligence Means for Leaders

A team has its own intelligence and soul. It has its own generative and creative power.

When leaders become aware of that fundamental concept and shift their attention from the individuals to the team, they become able to connect to a resilient energetic force each team member can rely on to solve their challenges or reach their North Star.

Fueling and receiving from the team intelligence to achieve a common goal becomes the practice for teams with high RSI, instead of focusing on individual performance or behaviors.

Signs of an Unhealthy System:

Poor or toxic communication patterns throughout the team.
These can be identified through regular and unproductive disagreements, ineffective and confusing communication.

Unproductive or low team morale and positivity.
When the team is low, this can be a result of poor relationships and dynamics.

Conflict avoidance or poor conflict resolution.
Turning a blind eye to conflict is a sign of ineffective communication.

Low creativity, productivity, or team synergy.
When a team isn’t ‘flowing’ well, this can present itself in a lack of creativity or productivity, indicating poor team synergy.

Role confusion.
Team members should always be clear on what their role is and entails. When this is unclear, it’s often a result of a lack of communication and understanding within a team.

Being mindful of the team as an entity and your role within this, both in an emotional sense and professional sense is vital to system intelligence.

Understanding The Four Toxins

Relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman, identified four specific behaviors that impact the success and likelihood of effective communication and flourishing collaborative relationships.


  • Blaming

This consists of when a team member attacks a person’s character, rather than questioning their behavior or perspective. It can make the other person feel under fire and rejected.


  • Defensiveness

The problem with defensiveness is it’s similar to blame at its core. A defensive person is trying to protect themselves from criticism and deflect responsibility. As a result, the often go-to response is ‘it’s not me, it’s you’.


  • Stonewalling

Stonewalling is when a person shuts off from the situation rather than resolving it. This can present itself in many ways, such as suspending communication, turning away, ‘being busy’, or the dreaded silent treatment.


  • Contempt

Rather than the passive-aggressive nature of stonewalling, contempt is an outwardly aggressive toxin. This consists of mocking, belittling, eye-rolling, and ridicule, which makes others feel bullied.


A team with high Relationship System Intelligence develops the ability of its members to detect the toxins and align on the strategies to adopt when they manifest so that healthy communication can be restored.

The Role of Conflict Resolution

Relationship systems are in a constant state of emergence.
As change is the constant, from within or from outside, conflicts are nothing more than a sign that change is needed.

The leadership change proposed here is the shift from “who is doing what to whom” to “what is trying to happen in our system”?

Therefore conflict shouldn’t be feared, but managed correctly.

There are many frameworks for managing conflict constructively, but some common denominators are across the board.

  • Firstly, it’s essential to be clear on why it’s important – to all parties – to resolve the conflict.
    What is the common goal for solving the issue? How will it improve things for the team?
  • If there are disagreements that involve multiple parties, you need to avoid side conversations happening – hidden agreements or commitment would ultimately jeopardize the conflict resolution process.
    Prefer transparent and honest discussions.
  • Avoid side conversations that border on gossip.
    This is extremely toxic for a team and can be divisive. Instead, the conflict should always be discussed with the person/people it involves.
  • Feedforward the change you want to see happen, rather than focusing on the issue and going round in circles.
    What is a productive change?
  • If a conflict can’t be resolved at a peer-to-peer level, you might want to get help from a supervisor or a systemic coach.

It’s vital that whatever actions are determined when resolving conflicts are always followed through. Individuals and the system as a whole need to be held accountable for conflict resolution. Communication is key here, as team members need to feel comfortable to remind others of their responsibilities within conflict resolution.

Why System Intelligence is More Important Now than Ever

It’s a complex world with many challenges faced by leaders, especially when you are trying to scale your business – as most of our customers do. Systems Intelligence gives leaders the tools they need to tap into the true potential of collective human intelligence and productivity as the company transforms at a fast pace, reducing friction among egos.

Leaders, as they develop their Relationship System Intelligence, need to put the framework in place to enable their team members to stand shoulder to shoulder, rather than against each other.

And this is where real change starts to happen.

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