Exploring NLP for enhancing team effectiveness

I recently graduated from Advance Coaching Consulting‘s and Magenta Coaching Solutions’ 7-day NLP Practitioner course in Cambridge.  It was a wonderful opportunity to explore some new resources for my work as a trainer, coach and consultant whilst also achieving some invaluable personal developments.  We discovered that the opportunities for applying NLP for enhancing individual and team performance are extremely diverse.

In this blog I will use examples of what we learnt to explore how a trainer could apply NLP tools and techniques when working with teams to enhance their effectiveness.

(N.B. We covered a lot more than is included here.  For more background on NLP and on some of the concepts in this blog see an earlier guest blog from ex-RiverRhee Associate Lucy Loh.)


A mind map of possibilities
A mind map of possibilities

How could NLP be applied to a trainer’s work with teams?

There are many courses and books devoted to the subject of training with NLP so this is very much a snapshot from my practitioner’s learning and experience so far that I have captured in my mind map. The headings in the mind map are courtesy of Bevis Moynan who ran the course alongside Lorraine Warne.

Bev categorised what we discussed in terms of:

  • The strategies we unconsciously adopt for how we go about tasks and decisions
  • Our sensory acuity – the various cues we pick up to detect the responses we are getting from others
  • Language – how we and others use language to convey subconscious as well as conscious meanings
  • The ingredients and magic of building rapport
  • How focusing on desired outcomes can enable you to achieve what you want
  • The sub modalities of how we internally represent our experiences and how we can change those (anchors) to give us more choice in our emotional and behavioural responses

The last bullet point in particular starts to get into very deep material, and is an area we each personally experienced during the course, and which Lorraine also applied in my follow-up one-to-one coaching session with her to great effect.

Strategies for tasks and decisions

Whether we are choosing an item in a shop, or carrying out a complex surgical operation there will be a sequence of internal and external behaviours that determine our approach.  Many of these will be subconscious.  As with driving a car, we may once have consciously learnt the steps involved, but once we are skilled in them they are simply automatic.

A trainer wishing to enhance the work of teams could use NLP techniques to help them break down and identify the sequence of steps they use for all aspects of their work.  They would go beyond the obvious steps in an SOP to the more individual thinking patterns, emotional responses and behaviours involved for example in how they collaborate, share their knowledge and expertise and make decisions.  In this way the team could choose to change and improve on their performance, and also more consistently replicate what they are already doing well.

Using sensory acuity to detect the response we are getting

We know that the words people use are only a small proportion of how we communicate.  Tone of voice and body language account for the rest.  On our course we also practised picking up even smaller visual cues such as changes in breathing patterns, skin colour and facial movements.  These are signals that we might normally detect subconsciously in our interactions with others. With more practice and attention our sensory acuity can become an even better resource for team members who are aiming to achieve a high performing teams.

Making more effective use of language in our two-way communications

This subject is vast! We explored such topics as representational styles and predicates, linguistic presuppositions, meta models and the use of metaphorical storytelling, all of which can enhance how team members communicate amongst themselves and with their stakeholders.

Representational styles are how we take in the information around us and represent this internally.  These representational styles are visual, auditory, kinaesthetic (touch and feel) and auditory-digital (self-talk).  Whilst we are likely to make use of all or most of these at some time, there are often one or two that we favour.  These preferences often manifest themselves in the language (or predicates) that we use, as in the following examples:

  • That looks right to me (visual)
  • That sounds right (auditory)
  • That feels right (kinaesthetic)
  • That seems right (auditory digital)

We can make our communications more effective by listening out for other peoples’ linguistic cues, and using some of them in return. It may aid their understanding of something we are trying to explain.

There are a vast number of NLP meta models – the way people use language to represent what they are often subconsciously thinking such that they may distort, generalise or delete information in their communications.  We learnt about a range of examples and how to challenge them, such as:

  • Mind reading: “She doesn’t like me” – challenged by for example “what makes you think she does not like you?”
  • Presuppositions or assumptions: “If he knew how uncomfortable that makes me he would not do it” – challenged by for example “How does what he does make you uncomfortable?”
  • Universal quantifiers: “He is always late with his data” – challenged by “Always?”

Although we might not encourage team members to be quite so direct in their responses, having a greater awareness of what is happening in these kinds of communications could enhance team interactions.

Finally, we had great fun experimenting with the use of metaphorical stories to convey an underlying message and also to create atmospheres that are conducive to learning.  We are conditioned from childhood to enjoy and pay attention to stories.  Being able to create and use metaphors and weave in the different predicates, as well as using different tones of voice and body language are powerful features of good storytelling. Storytelling is an approach that is already being used in business for such things as knowledge sharing, and managing change – important aspects for enhancing team performance.

Building rapport

All of the tools that I’ve already described in this blog can be effectively used to build rapport within a team and with their stakeholders.  Paying attention to and matching the words, tone of voice and body language in normal conversation will rapidly enhance the relationship between people. However if it’s too obvious it could backfire as people may think you are either making fun of them or manipulating them!  We did not explicitly discuss how to apply rapport in conflict situations so this is an area for me to reflect on further..

Focusing on outcomes

Anthony Robbin’s book, “Notes from a friend”, was one of the ones on our pre-course reading list.  He graphically described how focusing on what we don’t want – such as not to crash into a wall when going into a skid – will invariably focus our attention and result on us crashing into that wall.  So we were encouraged to articulate goals that we would like to achieve in terms of a positive outcome that we were personally accountable for, to represent it as powerfully as possible in visual, auditory and kinaesthetic terms, and to also break it down into the steps for getting there.  This is essentially an enhanced version of writing the strategic and tactical goals of a team, or individual SMART objectives.

Anchoring sub modalities

This really starts to get into Master Practitioner territory!  However we did explore our finer internal representations of likes and dislikes, and states of mind, and were guided through different techniques for ‘reprogramming’ ourselves.  Classic examples are reducing anxiety before presentations, helping with anger management, reducing long-lasting sadness.  These types of applications will be more appropriately addressed in one-to-one coaching rather than as a general team building activity.

So what if you were to apply some of these NLP approaches to enhance team effectiveness?

You may already be doing so either consciously or unconsciously, and might have called your approach by a different name. If so there may be something here to help you do this even better.

If much of the above is new to you, what could you try? What difference might that make to your work?

As ever, I’d love to hear from you, read your comments, share your experiences and learn from you too!


Elisabeth Goodman is the owner and Principal Consultant of RiverRhee Consulting and a trainer,  facilitator, one-to-one coach, speaker and writer, with a passion for and a proven track record in improving team performance and leading business change projects on a local or global basis. 

Elisabeth is an expert in knowledge management, and is accredited in change management, Lean Six Sigma and MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator).  She has a BSc in Biochemistry, an MSc in Information Science, is a full member of the Chartered Institute of Information and Library Professionals (CILIP) and of the Association for Project Management (APM) and is also a Growth Coach with the GrowthAccelerator.

Elisabeth has 25+ years’ Pharma R&D experience as a line manager and internal trainer / consultant, most recently at GSK and its legacy companies, and is now enjoying working with a number of SMEs and larger organisations around the Cambridge cluster as well as further afield in the UK and in Europe.