Team Coaching on Sailing Yachts – A Transformative Experience

Getting a client team to sail a yacht is one of the most powerful tools for team coaching. It can be powerfully integrated with a classical team coaching process, as an outdoor workshop aimed to accelerate the development of the team in terms of cohesion, alignment and performance.

A set of brilliant individuals are often not performing as expected in a team setting: they all can be top performers individually, but together in a team, the team is not a high performing one. The first thing to consider is whether the individuals forming part of a team are indeed a team, or rather a group.

A team can be lacking a clearly stated common goal and an agreed set of rules to operate. Furthermore, some of the five dysfunctions of the Lencioni’s team model can be present: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.

In a classical team coaching process, the intervention includes an initial assessment of the team, and then the coach accompanies the team in some of their regular meetings for a period of time.

The coach observes the team from outside, and can see things that the team is not able to perceive from within, and mirror on what he sees. The team coach focuses on the interactions within the team members, rather than on the members themselves: the team is as an entity in itself, and the interactions, rather than the individuals, shape the team.

This classical team coaching approach is in its own already very powerful. The extra session on-board a sailing yacht accelerates and amplifies dramatically all the beneficial effects of team coaching, because when managing a sailing yacht, the team must operate as a functional team, otherwise the boat is not sailing properly, providing immediate feedback to the team.

In the outdoor session, the team is put on charge of the sailing yacht, facing a set of sailing situations to solve, and the coach facilitates the analysis and parallelism with situations faced as the team they are in their professional lives.

The session on-board can be included ideally in the middle of a team coaching process, so after some initial team coaching sessions, comes the session on-board, and then, the coaching process continues with the regular team coaching sessions.

There are two ways to approach teams, the mechanistic approach (classic approach), where it is assumed that the members shape the team; and the systemic approach (modern approach), where it is considered that the interactions (not the members) shape the team.

The systemic approach to team coaching is based in two principles: a team is a set of persons that have agreed on how to agree when they disagree (so, there are established rules for decision making); and that the structure of the system is the network of its conversations (so, as mentioned above, the interactions, and not the members, shape the team).

Furthermore, the team has two pillars: the goals of the team and the rules of the team. The goals of the team are the performance indicators; the performance of the team will be measured against those goals (for instance, yearly sales budget).  The rules of the team are the commitment indicators; as much as the team is honouring its rules (for instance, “We make ourselves predictable”), as much they are committed to the achievement of the goals.

And, a functioning team will overcome the five Lencioni’s dysfunctions mentioned above by: building trust, mastering conflict, achieving commitment, embracing accountability and focusing on results.

All these aspects of the team (goal setting, rules of the team, interactions among team members, and dysfunctions of the team) can be observed in a very much amplified way when the team is put in charge of the yacht. The interactions among the team, that are essential in order to properly manoeuvre a sailing boat, become completely evident: the boat performance is reflecting the team performance.

In the setting of handling a sailing yacht, the team dynamics is very much amplified. The unknown and demanding setting works as a magnifying glass, were the team interactions become very much evident. This allows the team to be very aware of how the team works, and to work on the spot on the aspects the team requires.

The urgency in the communication, along with the immediate actions to be set and coordinated in order to, for instance, tack the boat (change course), and the immediate feedback that the boat itself provides (the boat ‘demands’ an effective team in order to sail properly), amplifies very much the working mode of the team: on board things are the same than in the office, but far more urgent, much faster and completely self-evident.

This amplification is a great tool both for the coach and for the team: the team becomes immediately aware of which aspects of its interactions to work in, and the new agreed upon working modes can be tested and adjusted in the next manoeuvre, straightway. And the coach can go along with the team in analysing the just experienced situation and its parallelism in the corporate environment. Everything becomes immediate, continuous and very fast: the awareness about the challenges of the team, the definition of the rules to overcome that challenges, and the experimentation with the newly defined working modes.

The effect of this team session is that powerful because it is a stunning experience, it really puts the team outside its comfort zone, and in this demanding situation the really best of the team is called in, there is no place for procrastination and no place to hide. In this challenging environment, is where the untapped potential of the team arises in all its strength.

The effects of the session are immediate; as it is essential for the team to work together in a functioning fashion from the first second, it demands top performance in teamwork, and there is a direct carry-over into the office, because the team skills needed are exactly the same on board and on land.

Another very important aspect of the team session on board is how lasting the effects are. The shared sense of accomplishment creates a very strong bond among the team members; it easily becomes a lifetime bond. A typical comment after this session is: “I got to know more about my work colleagues in the last 4 hours, than in the last 15 years working with them”. The fact that it is part of a complete team coaching process contributes to make its effects and learnings lasting.

An example illustrating these aspects of amplification in the effects, acceleration of changes and permanence of the improvements:  a passage organized for a manufacturer of jet engines. There were two departments willing to improve their cooperation, willing to operate as one only team.

The team members of both departments were already within a coaching process, and in the middle of the process, the outdoor session on-board was included.

The targets of the team for the coaching process were to optimize the cooperation between departments, to improve the communication and synergy among them, and to develop a common plan of projects.

According to the team members, the turning point of the coaching process was, as a matter of fact, the coaching session on board. In that session the challenges of the team were clearly identified and new team rules were defined and tested on the spot. The client team reported remarkable improvements in the information flow, in the self-awareness, in the team cohesion, and in the achievement of its corporate targets.

Apart from the direct feedback from the client, the progress was as well measured by assessing the team at the beginning and at the end of the process by a set of tests, and comparing the results.

We used the tests of Lencioni (the five dysfunctions of the team), McClelland (motivational needs), Belbin (roles of the team), and Thomas-Kilmann (conflict modes). Comparing results of those tests at the beginning and after the coaching process, there were measured remarkable improvements in team functionality, in orientation to action, in affiliation, and in conflict resolution.

Considering all above mentioned, one can conclude that incorporating an outdoor session on a sailing yacht within a coaching process accelerates, strengthens and consolidates the effectiveness of the team coaching intervention.

Mario González Forrellad

Born in Barcelona, he is presently based in Germany. He speaks fluently five languages. He holds a master degree in mechanical engineering, a master in business administration (MBA), and a master degree in executive coaching. He is furthermore a yachting sailor.

During his international career, he managed consulting projects for industrial companies in twenty different countries, located in Europe, North America, South America, Middle East, South East Asia and Far East.

Merging his sailing, coaching and management consulting backgrounds, he integrated executive coaching sessions on board of sailing yachts, achieving excellent results in the cohesion of the client teams.

The trap of knowing what you don’t want

«I do not know what I want, but I have very clear what I do not want, and that is something.»

I have heard this phrase many times in the last few years, it is a believe repeated by most of the people I know, and by many of my clients. I repeated this phase myself for too long.

It’s a trap. Being clear on what you don’t want doesn’t necessarily help you get closer to knowing what you want, it’s not a first step. Quite the opposite.

In my experience, this is just an excuse for not acting, and for not making decisions. By thinking like this, we formulate our objectives in negative. «I don’t want to be stressed out at work.» This is a general, indefinite, and therefore unrealistic goal. The goals that are not clear and defined are only wishes, because there is no decision to act on them. Without action, obviously, it is not possible achieve any goal.

For this reason, when you start a coaching process, your goal must always be expressed in positive. In other words, define what you really want.

Returning to the example of «not being stressed at work» expressed in positive would be answering a series of questions like; How do you express «not being stressed» in positive? How does it feel? What do you see? Why do you want to be “not be stressed”?

Answering these questions forces you to start defining what you really want. It’s very hard to keep moving when you’re connected to what you don’t want. You must flip the coin over, to see the other side.

“If you don’t know where you are, you’ll end someplace else”

Laurence Johnston Peter


In other words, “not being stressed” for that person can mean, for example, feeling calm, being completely focused on what he is doing and that his back no longer hurts. It can also mean he is smiling more, enjoying his work, and also being able to leave work at five to have quality time with his family and friends.

In general, it is more difficult for us to connect with what we want because this forces us to answer questions whose answers may be uncomfortable. These answers can make us see parts of ourselves that we’ve been ignoring. Perhaps answering them makes us face situations and toxic relationships in which we have been immersed and deal frustrations that we have not yet overcome.

To connect with what we want means to leave aside denial and regain awareness. The unconscious danger that we want to protect ourselves by clinging to «knowing what we do not want» is that once we have become aware of these uncomfortable answers, there is no turning back. From this point on, the only way forward is to make decisions.  Those decisions are usually not easy. Sometimes they mean ending relationships, changing jobs, deciding to lead a healthier lifestyle, relocating, forgiving someone or admitting a mistake.


“The only way forward is to make decisions.”


I was given another example of this recently. A woman told me she chose her career by a discarding process. As she did not know what she wanted to study, she began to discard everything she disliked until she reached one that didn’t seem horrible. This person certainly did not study anything that she hated, but that doesn’t mean that she studied something that would fulfill her in the long term. She didn’t choose something she actually liked. This is the middle ground, the gray area some like to live in, in order to feel some sense of security.

At the age when we must choose what we want to study in college, it is perfectly normal to be uncertain about it. We are very young and we are only starting to experience the world in our own terms. We still don’t know who we really are.

Admitting that, at the moment, we don’t know what we want, is actually the first step. It is a more honest and authentic approximation to knowing what you want.

Have you ever been in a conversation where someone pretended to know what you were talking about, but they really had no idea? We do it as reflex sometimes, to avoid feeling inferior to others. However, by pretending to know instead of admitting we don’t, we lose a great opportunity to learn, to make questions and to grow.

The same goes for what we want. Admitting that you do not know, opens the door to exploring, to follow your curiosity and to question things. In this process the learning curve is exponential. It also opens your mind to new experiences, new friendships and new areas of knowledge.

You’re searching, and that’s already acting.

During this learning process you start to define, and put the focus on what makes your heart beat faster and what you love; what gives you bliss. These are key to knowing what you really want.

You also start to identify your values and to connect to them. Our values serve us as a compass, and everything that is not aligned with these values disconnects us. Each one of us has a series of values that are personal and different from others. They have nothing to do with morality, nor with the established social norms. Their roots run deeper.

One of my fundamental values is loyalty. I cultivate it in me and I admire it in others. Everything that means disloyal behavior crates an internal conflict within me. It took me years to understand that this was what failed in some of my personal and professional relationships. Our levels of loyalty were different.

Once you’ve identified your values and passions, as well as the things that make you happy, you’re closer to knowing what you want. Then comes the phase of being honest with yourself. The time to ask us the uncomfortable questions we mentioned before. The point of no-return; when you leave your comfort zone.

When you are clear about what you want, then you need to define your version of success. It’s different for everyone.

It is very important to distinguish between what you want from what others expect of you. They are not the same thing. It is very easy to get lost in what others expect from us. In a way we don’t want to fail them But, do not forget it’s your life, and you always have the ability to decide.

Our definition of success helps us to find indicators to measure what we are achieving. One of my success indicators are the trips I make a year and the places I get to cross out from bucket list. When I feel stuck, I revise my success indicators. If I see progress, great, I’m on the right track. If not, I revisit the plan and correct the course.

Money is not the best or only success indicator. It may be one of your indicators, but it shouldn’t be the only one. You can have a lot of money and be proportionately unhappy. Our dreams are usually bigger than the mere accumulation of things.

Finally, you have to try what you want. If one of your dreams is skydiving, for example, you must do it to find out if you like it. You may find it to be the most exciting experience in the world, or you may be disappointed by it. You won’t know until you try it.

If you don’t like it, you know this wasn’t “it” for you. Being flexible and allowing room for error also allows us to lose the fear of failure, if things do not go as expected.  You can always correct the course, and nothing you learn in the process is ever useless.

Stop hiding behind «knowing what you don’t want» and jump.


What you want exists. Don’t settle until you get it.


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Relocation with emotional and cultural intelligence

Relocation can be a very stressful event. Certainly, starting over again in another country, city, or culture requires an extra effort on our side in managing our emotions and expectations. It’s not easy. You need to adapt to many new things that we took for granted before.

Something as mechanical as to buy the underground ticket works very differently depending on the country you are. Not to mention other issues you will have to deal with, such as legal procedures, house searching or even the language barrier.

You may feel stress, anxiety, confusion, feelings of being lost and out of place. It can even affect the way we think about ourselves and others, the way in which we interact and manage our emotions.

This is called Cultural Shock. This term began to be used in the 1950s in order to describe the emotional and physical discomfort usually experienced by people who moved from one cultural environment to another.

An effective manner to cope with this Cultural Shock is through the tools of Emotional Intelligence and Cultural Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence is our level of self-knowledge, our ability to manage our emotions and our internal ability to navigate intuitively in different social environments.

Cultural intelligence is, on the other hand, the ability to read the map of expectations, traditions, body language, relational dynamics and power structures inherent in a cultural environment different from ours.

In sum, Emotional Intelligence implies looking inward for self-management, while Cultural intelligence looks outwards, to the global environment where we are. Both seek to recognize and interpret patterns of behavior quickly and effectively for adaptation to a specific social or cultural environment.

Emotional and Cultural Intelligence are skills that can be trained and improved, so this change of country becomes a complete success.

In order to help you face these new challenges in a practical way, here are 7 tips that can be your best allies during this transition:

  • Know yourself

As a coach, I am often surprised at how little we are in contact with our emotions. The lack of practice we have in recognizing our own patterns of behavior, in properly identifying what we feel and the situations that trigger certain behaviors. The practice of self-knowledge, of learning to recognize our own emotions allows us even to detect the difference of where they occur in our body. Some people feel the sadness in their stomachs. It literally makes their stomach turn. Others describe it as a feeling of oppression in their hearts. The importance of recognizing emotions when they happen and where they occur is that they offer us valuable information. Information that something is happening at the unconscious level first, and the recognition of it (consciousness) allows us to respond rather than to react.

The difference between the two of them is that reacting can be an unconscious impulse, almost uncontrollable, and does not necessarily produce the desired effects. While responding implies decision-making, where we evaluate the information of the environment and of our own body (emotion) and we choose the most appropriate way to act.

Responding means to reduce impulsiveness and gives you space to be intentional, gives you space to decide. This is one of the keys to emotional intelligence, because it allows us to truly manage our emotions, give them the right meaning, using them as information. This helps us, for example, to reduce the stress of many situations, because when we get to know ourselves, we can develop strategies that anticipate events, in order to use them to our advantage. Planning is a strategy to reduce stress, asking for help and hiring a professional are also strategies for success.

  • Make a plan

Regarding the previous point, before relocating, it is very beneficial to make a plan. To plan in this context involves making a thorough research of the place where you are going, of its customs, the climate, its means of transportation. The currency, the local food, interesting facts about the city, tourist information.

Investigating in advance allows you to get a clearer idea of the challenges you can face. From technical aspects, like the average cost of housing in order to elaborate your financial planning, to more fun aspects like where to practice your hobbies and sports.

It also allows you to detect whether there are organizations, professionals or communities that can help you, and to contact them beforehand. For example, you can join social networks specifically created for expatriates. This can be a good starting point to make new friends.

  • Adjust your expectations

Another key aspect in order to succeed with your relocation is to manage your expectations and to adjust them to reality. The more information you gather, the more realistic they will be. This will allow you to get rid of frustration and disappointment, when your expectations are not met and they will not end up undermining your expected results.

For example, if I consider running a twenty-kilometer race, but I am not used to running, my plan should not be, running 5 kilometers three times a week to start with. What will probably happen is that I will try it the first day and I will notice my heart coming out of my mouth by kilometer 2, and the next day I will not be able to run because every single muscle in my body will be sore. On the third day, it is possible that I will not run either because I will be discouraged. The result will be that I will quit my goal of running the twenty-kilometer race. The problem is not that I am unable to run that race, it is simply that the expectations and the plan that I had set were not realistic. A plan with realistic expectations in this case, would start by going to the gym to strengthen my muscles, improve my physical form, maybe hire a trainer, and start running on intervals. I could start with setting a short-term goal as a five-kilometer race to measure my progress

By creating realistic expectations, we pave the way of our own success.

  • Set especific goals

Another important aspect is to set short, medium and long-term goals. When you relocate, these goals should reflect who you really are, and what is really important to you. For example, be aware of your lifestyle. Your choice of house will not be the same if you are a city dweller that prefers to be in the middle of the action, because you like to go out to have dinner, go walking around and shop or have a drink after work, than the choice of a person who prefers to live in the suburbs. To them it may be far more important to be in touch with nature, have a bigger house for the family and that the dog has a garden to play in. This is why it is important that these objectives reflect who you are and what you want this new life to mean, both professionally and personally.

It is important that small goals are set; daily, weekly and monthly, so you can see the progress and accumulate small victories under your belt. This will help you to maintain your spirits and enthusiasm high during this process.

  • Use curiosity as your best ally

The definition of curiosity is «the desire to know or find out something.» Use this desire to explore with the eyes of a child. Dare to amaze at every new street, with every new tradition and experience. Plan to understand and connect with your new environment. Choose to take this phase with the attitude of an explorer, a traveler who discovers a new world. Live that discovery in the present, without clinging to “your ways» of the past.

One of the greatest mistakes we make when we experience Cultural Shock is to assume that our way of doing things is the standard or better than everyone else’s. This is something that disconnects you from your new culture. Be present and enjoy the moment. This is one of the keys to cultural intelligence, the desire to immerse yourself in the new cultural environment, with the intention of achieving personal growth and enjoyment.

With this intention in mind, it is easier to perceive how the new culture and yours are similar and also what their differences are. This way you can create strategies to assimilate the local values and customs, the accepted social interactions, religious beliefs, and non-verbal language patterns of the place. The sooner you understand them, the sooner you can get used to them and assimilate them as your own.

Curiosity is your best ally because it places you in a mental framework of learning, not of judging and differentiating. This attitude towards change will help you to adapt much faster.

  • Practice self-care

Even though you have already carried out the task of knowing yourself, planning, adjusting your expectations, setting goals and boosting your curiosity, there will be difficult days. There will be days when you ask yourself if you have taken the right choice, there will be days when you miss your previous life, and you may feel lonely. This is normal. You have the right to miss people, to have bad days and to question yourself. But don’t get stuck in that moment. Remember the reasons why you relocated in the first place and give yourself time. Treat yourself with care and respect. Remember that when you sow a plant, you cannot expect it grows and flourish right away. It takes time, you must water it, provide it with compost and the right light. With these cares it will flourish properly. The same will happen with your relocation.

These days it is important to recognize your feelings, and to care for them; It is necessary to practice self-care. This includes sleeping well, healthy meals and maybe some exercise. Talk to people who support you. You can even get in touch with a coach. Remind yourself that it is part of the process. Following with the analogy of the race we talked about before, these days will be those of muscular soreness. You know that muscle soreness is part of the process when you’re training for any race, but they’re temporary. These difficult days will also be temporary.

Part of self-care is to be patience. Rome was not built in a day. A relocation is one of the best ways to test ourselves. Few things happen immediately. Finding a house, the residence permits, buying a car, meeting new friends and even spotting your favorite restaurants or cafes. It will take some time. Apart from cultural barriers, you can also find language barriers. This makes the process more difficult and for this you can do three things, prepare yourself thoroughly, have patience and ask for help.

A day will come when you look back, and you will realize how much you’ve progressed, learned, and the wonderful people you’ve met along the way.

  • Ask for help

It is not necessary to go through this process alone. Furthermore, it is not only unnecessary, but it can be counterproductive. Asking for help is a great strategy for success. You are not an expert in the new culture, or its procedures, traditions, laws or schedules. Asking for help can save you time, headaches, and money. It can help you to minimize the feelings of Cultural Shock from the beginning, reducing stress and worries. It’s a way to take responsibility over the situation, and this is also emotional intelligence.

You can ask for feedback from people you know that live or have lived in your country of destination. You can ask for feedback to a community of expatriates with whom you have contacted to be better informed, as we talked about in the section of the planning. You can also look for a psychologist or coach to help you with the adaptation stage, and above all you can hire experts in relocation to handle the procedures we talked about before.

Let them be your support network.

By implementing these guidelines, you can create your own successful strategy for relocation. This can be an experience full of challenges, but it can also be full of discoveries and adventure. Take advantage of it.

We hope that these tips have been useful to you. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us, and please do not hesitate to share it if you liked it!