Rule 7: Carefully plan pod chemistry

Written by Alistair Gordon, 04 Jun 2020

We’ve discussed at length how flexible the small group coaching design can be, and here is a further opportunity to leverage the design: pod ‘chemistry’. By which of course we mean how you intentionally and strategically mix and match leaders into pods.

This is, in our experience, worth taking plenty of time over and thinking through, and sometimes means you need to gather more information than usual about the leaders who are about to become participants. There are a range of different pod composition we use, and no doubt smart professionals reading this paper will think of a few more combinations.

What ways can you combine small group coaching participants for the best chemistry?

Experience chemistry

Matching leaders who have similar length of team leadership experience. We’ve found over time that unbalanced pods – such as having one leader who has 10 years of experience and one leader who has only one year – makes the pod more difficult to manage. It’s better if leaders grouped together have about the same experience of leading.

Job chemistry

Matching leaders doing the same role – and with the advent of virtual small group coaching with video-conference, in countries like Australia and New Zealand, this might mean being able to affordably develop the sales leaders in Western Australia and Queensland in the same pod; or North and South Island located leaders. These types of pods also help establish best practice in specific leadership roles.

Scope of control chemistry

Matching leaders who have similar sized teams or similar types of employees. For example, a leader running a team of 20 being matched with a leader running a team of one is a mismatch will make the pod more different to facilitate.

Collaboration chemistry

Matching leaders from different departments or divisions of the organisation who need to be able to work together (and understand each other) better. Internally we call these ‘silo-buster’ pods, and find that many organisations get a great deal of benefit from having leaders from different parts of the organisations learn so much about what goes on elsewhere, and perhaps see different perspectives. They can also be used to match internal leaders from different cultures.

One of the great benefits of bringing a diverse group of 15 leaders together for a three day leadership workshop face-to-face is the ‘network effect’ – their ability to socialise and learn about the ‘greater organisation’, and also be exposed to different points of view and gather a greater understanding of the challenges different parts of the organisation face.

By carefully managing the composition of your pods, you have the opportunity to replicate this impact, perhaps with a less wide network, but with greater intensity of experience and learning.

You can match up a pod because you think its participants will get on with each other, or already know and like each other.

But actually we suggest taking the opposite approach. The purpose is to help leaders learn to deal with differences, embrace diversity of thought and experiences as well as gender and ethnicity, and be much better equipped to deal with all types of people from all sorts of places.

One key opportunity not to be missed: you can have four pods of three participants, and they might all be different forms of composition chemistry.

In small groups, this flexibility is easy.


We’ve found we have to gather much more information about the leaders in order to help the client in the matching process, and we usually insist on being actively involved, because then the client can leverage our experience.

We also have found that you have more options in terms of mixing and matching the more you commence a wave of pods together. Five pods, 15 people, provide many more opportunities to elevate the learning experience for participants, than starting two pods with six leaders.

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