Just before starting a session I was invited to moderate a couple of weeks ago, during Woman’s Week in Madrid, I was by the coffee machine having a conversation with both the leader of a team we had recently worked with and a woman who was a member of the Board at the same organisation.

During the conversation she mentioned the word “apagafuegos” (firefighters) refering to the members of the team we had worked with. It struck me as a very accute description of what we had seen during our 2 days with them:Centros del Equipo a team dominated by Gut-based types that had difficulty selecting the next battle, since every new “emergency” was addressed immediately, with the consequent dropping of whatever they were doing at the time. Specially if the “doing” that got interrupted and dropped was thinking, or talking through things. We saw multiple instances of this during our work with them. Actually, the workshop was interrupted several times with “emergencies”. So much so, that we had to add another session to get through the material.

So, what is going on in a team where Gut-base is the overwhelming majority (and thus can be said to be the basis of the “grouponality” or group-personality?). In what follows, we will cosider the group as an entity with its own biases, blind spots and tendencies.


First, there is a tendency towards action, towards motion, towards doing and a consequent tendency to avoid reflection before action: body based types feel what needs to be done, and at times even need to be actually moving to be able to think clearly. Past a certain point of mental processing, sometimes they can feel like caged animals if you attempt to hold them back from action, by wanting to “talk some more”, for instance, or “go over it again”. It is not that they are unwilling or unable to think things over, even in depth, but tehy may have real difficulty doing so before they move into action.

It is true that body-based types often may have a particularly keen sense of what needs to be done, a special relationship with their gut, so to speak. But it is also true that they can be trigger happy and move into action without figuring out whether or not it is the right (adequate, appropriate) thing to do. At work we could interpret it as the tendency to start doing something without identifying if this is the best use of our resources right now: time, energy, money… the “problem” would arise when this becomes an ever accelerating cycle where I only feel ok if I am moving, doing something (except, of course, when I am exhausted and need to turn-off and relax or sleep). The important aspect here is the need to move, to move into action. To do something about what’s happening out there.

Second, in our experience, teams where the Gut center is DOMINANT, meaning overwhelmingly so, there is an implied consensus that things should be dealt with immediately. And, since most of the time at work we are not just sitting around waiting for fires to be put out, when new “emergencies” come up, as they always do, there is

a) a tendency to drop whatever I am doing and get on with the new “emergency”, when it arises, and

b) in this group it will consequently be acceptable to do so.

When I say “implied” I mean that it may not be explicit, but nonetheless accepted. In most corporate environments, if you were to ask whether you should just drop whatever you are doing and jump on to the next “emergency” or if you should weigh it against current strategy, needs, etc. they would undoubtedly vote for the latter. But in spite of this, if it is a gut-based team, in the group there will be an understanding of why you did not do this. Everyone, deep down, understands that if something comes up, you cannot just leave this thing just lying around, so to speak.

Our experience with these groups is that they feel like an emergency about to happen, with a sense of waiting to spring into action. And since they create around them this same sense of urgency, people come to them easily with their “emergencies”. During the workshops, we had people barging in constantly with problems to be solved. Most of the time they did not even bother to knock on the door. Not only did no one in the room call attention to the fact that we were doing something else when this happened, but several of the attendees would immediately turn their attention to the new comers, one or two would make to get up, and at least one would leave after looking around as if searching for empathy as to why this was “urgent”. Not only did they not seem to mind, it was almost a welcome interruption (now I can actually DO somehting!).

It was not only that they actually moved into action, but when the person came back, would start telling the ones present what had happened, and what other little emergencies had come up while they were away and had to solve, drawing most of the attendees’ attention. This happened in a sort of vicious circle. It shows also that the energy that lives in the group is more focused on action and its ramifications, than in planning new courses of action (as we were doing in the workshop).

There is also the double-bind issue that because of their bias to jump on to whatever new thing happens to pop-up, the probability of actually following any plan to conclusion is very slim – so… a need to move into action right now is much, much more compelling that a dim possibility of doing something differently in the future.

What does this mean for a team?

We need to be careful about dismissing the possibility of such a group being efficient, but depending on their individual personal awareness and their group awareness, their bias will most likely take over… automatically, although they will generate the corresponding set of justifications if they are called on it. This is clearly observable by how others talk about them (remember the remark made by the woman serving on the Board) and the perception they have of the likelyhood of them actually completing projects or implementing changes. The perception with this particular group was that the shorter the project, the higher the likelihood of it coming to fruition (less oportunities for something else to come up and veer them off course!).

It does mean, among other things, that its reputation might be severely damaged, together with that of their leader. That they will be passed over for consideration for important or mission critical projects, and that there will probably have a tendency to see them as intense, but light-weight, in the scheme of strategical deployment.

Working with the team

The main obstacle in working with groups with one Dominant center (as opposed to teams where the imbalance is that they are missing a center) is that THEY DON’T SEE THE IMBALANCE. The don’t see the problem. The live in a world where this is how things are. It is, so to speak, the ocean in which they swim. Very, very, strongly colored glasses. Since everyone else in the team has the same colored glasess, who are we to say THEY are in the wrong? So, the first step in working with them is to get buy-in to the fact that this is a problem, in the sense that it tends to veer them off course. And we need to get enough buy-in that they become willing to overcome their (and the group’s) innate tendency to react and get into motion. This is the case for all three possible Dominants (Gut, Head, and Heart), but it seems particularly challenging for Gut-based groups, since the “new” doing is, to them, “not doing”.

How easy or difficult this turns out to be depends on a few factors, three of which seem capital: the degree of personal awareness of the team members (and thus the capacity to reflect on behavior in a relatively detached manner), whether this tendency has brought them to uncomfortable situations (i.e. is the careening ship that they are about to crash into the iceberg), and the degree to which the leader has identified this as their most important liability, so hey are willing to invest resources (time, money, energy) in this specific issue.

In working with a team dominated by ONE center, perhaps the most important thing to take into consideration is that we need to adjust our methods to their biases and tendencies and use them when designing the training, so you can leverage their strengths, and help them to start implementing the assets that the other centers can bring to the table.