Over the years, engaging with organisations, I have come to understand that they are complex systems with many moving parts. It is not enough to work with one small part of the system, it is important to understand that the people I coach, within the teams I coach, are part of departments, that are parts of organisational functions, that are parts of the larger organism, that are part of a larger ecosystem. Organisations are complex organisms that are affected by internal and external forces, and these in-turn have an affect on the internal and external forces. Nothing is simple in a complex adaptive environment.
With the overly complicated description above, of the messy and overly complicated systems we are apart of, I want to share a work in progress. This is my attempt at making a little sense of the systems that coaches are hired into, whether they are hired in as Executive Coaches, Team Coaches, Transformation Coaches, Individual (performance) Coaches, or Agile coaches; they will all face challenges that may, in part, be address by the framework described here:
Systems Thinking Approach to Internal Coaching and Mentoring (STATICaM)
Having worked as an internal coach for several years I have faced a few issues that, I am sure, many other coaches and mentors within organizations have come across. After reflecting on some of these issues and looking at various sources of research, I thought I might begin to formalize my thinking and share with others in a similar situation.
Being hired as a full-time internal coach is a very fortunate opportunity and gives so much opportunity to grow quickly and develop. It also brings with it a set of circumstances, that are not unique, but occur on a much more frequent timeframe.
As an internal coach your focus is on Human Development, but your awareness needs to encompass the wider operating model. The system within which you work will impact and influence the conditions under which you meet with coachees, mentees, and teams. A pragmatic approach is required when you consider engaging as an internal coach. It is a good idea to reflect on your own values before taking such a contract as there may be times when you will need to be comfortable with ambiguity and at times challenges to your internal values. Internal coaching can be a tightrope walk between serving the coachee / mentee and the organization that employs you both.
Issues relating to ethics, conflict of interest, fix-that-employee requests, diversity & inclusion, trust, integrity, and other issues arise on a regular basis*. Internal coaches may also find themselves in a position of influence with all the responsibility and potential impact this entails. Serving Coachees and Mentees when your position may provide undue influence is something that needs to be addressed and reflected upon – how do I as part of the system impact on the system? And do I become part of the issue in the system by being part of it? These are questions you need to ask yourself if you wish to be impartially effective in this environment.
As an avid learner I have drawn on the work of several prominent thinkers in the Coaching, Mentoring, and Business fields. My work with the EMCC’s Diversity & Inclusion, and Mentoring Review groups has also helped clarify some thoughts around the fields of inclusion and coaching / mentoring.
Working as an internal coach, I think of myself as a Coach-Mentor and not just a coach due to the ‘stances’ I must take during the working day. The terms ‘stances’ is borrowed from ICAgile where they define the stances of an Agile coach as being any one of a number of roles: Coach, Mentor, Facilitator Teacher, Agile Expert, Subject Matter Expert (Technology, Business, Transformation). These stances may also be represented in terms of the coachee / mentees growth or direction towards (organizational) goals.
Internal coaches work inside a System that has been established over time. The coach must find their way in this system and understand where they are in relation to the people they work with, the management structure around them, and the organizational goals that they are tasked with achieving. Sometimes this may be an uncomfortable place for a coach to stand. Working within a system is complex with many influences, drivers and relationships.
To help me navigate through this complex environment, I am in the process of developing a Framework. I do not refer to this as a model, it is a framework that helps you navigate the work of an internal coach in relation to the wider system. It may also indicate the models or approaches that may be needed where you are standing.
The Framework is divided into two parts. The Meta Framework deals with the Organizational System while the Mesa Framework deals with the daily work of an internal coach and mentor. * See section on Challenges at the end of this document
The Meta Framework deals with the Organization in which the Internal Coach practices. The framework looks at the Organizational level at which your coachees / mentees operate. The coach needs to be comfortable working at this level (or multiple levels) and understand that the coachees at these levels may have different expectations depending on if they are in leadership or working in a technical team or somewhere in-between.
An understanding of the wider system is important. This may not be known when joining as a coach but will be learned (become familiar with) over time. With an understanding of the Culture of the organization, the people structures and Influences within, it makes it easier to adapt to and work in the environment. Relative to the level of the people you are working with will be the level of expertise you are expected to show in relation to the business, this may also relate to your level of experience as a coach and the coachees you have previously worked with.
There may be exceptions, but in my experience, it is rare to find an inexperienced coach working with senior leaders in an organization or internal coaches without some technical experience working as mentors in technical environments. Exceptions may include Reverse-mentoring or Cross-generational mentoring. As a coach you may need to reflect on how you fit into the system.
With a little understanding of the wider system, you can be a more effective coach and mentor to people you work with. Whether you are working with individuals, teams, or both it can help to understand the pressure points, influence factors, and politics in the organization. This will also help the coach to reflect on how they interact and function within this system.
Things to consider in these complex environments are the boundaries you expect to hold, for example, are you expected to report progress with coachees or mentees? If this is the case, how has this been contracted with the coachee / mentee? How does this affect confidentiality? Are the boundaries clear for those you report to as an employee to a manager?
An important consideration when accepting a role as an internal coach or mentor is to understand how your Supervision will work. Is this included in your employment package? Or is this something that you need to manage yourself. Working as an internal coach with regular daily / weekly sessions has a high requirement for Supervision hour. Once per quarter minimum or every 32 hours of coaching / mentoring.
Understanding the level of the organization where the coach is engaged is important – a coach should have the skills and / or expertise to work with people at various levels of seniority in the company. This may determine the type of engagement for an internal coach / mentor. It is unlikely that a coach without leadership experience would be hired to coach the leadership team, so it is incumbent on the coach to reflect and recognize their skill and expertise level when considering roles. There are always exceptions but as a coach we should take a realistic approach to an employment offer and our ability to impact an organization and the people within the organization.
Understanding of how the larger system works is important. What drives an organization to change, is it a proactive approach to change and progression, or is it a reaction to changing market circumstances? Knowing this helps you, as a coach, to appreciate the level of pressure or fear that exists within the organization. If an organization is taking a proactive approach, then their value system may be one of growth and development for themselves and their employees. An organization driven by external forces may alter course mid-stream generating confusion and anxiety for those affected. Understanding these pressures or drivers help you to recognise the expectations and potential conflict placed on your role as an internal coach.
What is the culture within the organization and what are the sources of influence? Organizations, like organisms, have microcosms that evolve, change, grow, and dissipate. Understanding how these connections (or systems constellations; family therapy – Hellinger / System constellations as tool supporting org. learning and change processes – Birkenkrahe 2008) alter and transform is a critical part of how a coach can be effective within the environment. The structure of the organization may mean that silos compete for resources, or that communication and collaboration are difficult due to differing silo driven priorities. How will this potential conflict within the organization affect your role and ability to perform?
The area of the organization where the coach is engaged may also influence the skills and experience required by the coach. Is the organization working through a transformation where experience in working with change is important or is it a specific area of the business, finance or IT where domain expertise is necessary, or a technical area where expert knowledge is important.
As a coach it may be unlikely that you have ‘Positional’ Power within the organization – it is usually an undesirable factor to have as a coach. However, ‘Expert’, ‘Referent’, and ‘Charismatic’ Power (French & Raven, Six Bases of Power, 1959/1965) may be useful in your role when you are attempting to influence the culture of the organization. Contracting will form a large part of your decision to use these types of power as it will not be your choice to decide on the direction of the organization.
Joining an organization as a coach is a great opportunity to use your passion for coaching daily but it also means considering very carefully what this means in terms of contracting (CI 80). When fully employed by an organization, there may be an expectation that you work for the company and towards the company’s goals. How will this affect your ability to contract with the individuals or teams within the organization. Is confidentiality going to be compromised? Is the coach empowered to deal with Ethical issues, able to live D&I values? This is something that the coach should reflect upon before signing an employment contract. It is also something that should be explicitly stated when contracting with the individuals and teams.
Is Supervision included in the employment contract? Or will you need to invest at your own expense? This is quite often overlooked by aspiring coaches.
These are all considerations that need to be understood by an internal coach. Mapping this out (as fully as possible) is important before accepting an internal coaching engagement.
At the Meta Framework level, the coach/mentor needs to understand and consider what is being asked for by the organization. To operate within this environment means taking time to reflect on the coaches own internal motivations, being realistic about what they offer the organization, and understanding the challenges they may face.
The Mesa Framework describes five pillars that an internal coach can use to structure their approach to work with individuals and teams. This is designed as an iterative process where reflections (retrospectives and outcomes) are used as a learning input for further work with the coachee, mentee or team. These five pillars are the result of learning, experience, and influences including concepts from Lise Lewis (Relational Feedback), David Clutterbuck and Peter Hawkins (Team Coaching), Lyssa Adkins (Coaching Agile Teams), Taiichi Ohno (Toyota Production System) – “The Spirit of Kanban: To change your actions in order to create an environment where everyone can reach their true potential.”, Patrick Lencioni (The Five Dysfunctions of a Team), Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence), Richard Boyatzis (Intentional Change Theory and PEA’s/NEA’s), Michael Porter (Porter’s 5 forces), Dr. John Kotter (Eight Step Process for Leading Change), Kurt Lewin (The Three Stage Model of Change), Amy Edmondson (Psychological Safety) among others. (CI 73, 99, 102)
The iterative approach to this framework means that outcomes of an iteration may form the inputs to the next cycle (CI 79). The issues, improvements, learnings of the previous cycle are taken as actions for the new cycle. Preparation may begin with these actions in mind.
The Preparation pillar focuses on the readiness of the coach/mentor to engage with individuals and teams in the organization. As a coach/mentor there is certain preparatory work we need to complete so that we may work in service of our coachees/mentees to the best of our ability. Without observing and understanding the needs of the organization we will not be able to work effectively in such a complex environment.
Some of the reflections and outcomes of the (previous) iteration may mean that we identify things we need to work on in ourselves as coaches. Feedback from our coachees/mentees may cause us to reflect on our own behaviour, beliefs, and assumptions so that we understand our impact on coachee/mentee interaction (CI 101). This can sometimes be difficult as we confront how others perceive us. Being prepared for this feedback requires us to manage our own emotional states (CI 74).
As a coach we also observe the impact these actions have on the individuals and teams we work with. This helps us decide on the interventions we wish to take in the next cycle of growth and development.
As a Coach/Mentor you need to be able to recognise your own emotional state, manage how you behave, react, or respond to stimuli in the environment and in session. You must also be able to be with the coachee and manage your own state of being to match the coachees. Being able to have conscious access to what is going on in the session is an important ability.
As an internal coach you may have knowledge about organizational issues that are unknown to your coachees, knowledge which may impact on them or the organization. You should be able to sit with your coachee to attend to their wellbeing while managing your own emotions (and confidential knowledge) and reflecting on what is happening in the session. (CI 74, 100)
Observing the system, the people, the influences, and the environment can provide insight into behaviour within the system.
How processes flow, how people behave, how management interact with teams, the feeling within a team, the nuances of interplay between individuals, teams, management and the wider organization may provide clues or context for how things are in the organization.
Being able to observe without judgement and sense the emotions and relationships between the people you work with may provide fertile information that a coach might find useful.
As a coach, being outside of the management structure, you may have access to information that would otherwise be unavailable to a regular employee. With this potential knowledge comes a responsibility to hold confidentiality in the highest regard.
As you observe and reflect on what you see, hear, and feel, it is important to be as non-judgemental as you can. Issues may arise from this that may need to be explored in a safe supervision space. Self-management will be critical in times when you may feel emotionally conflicted due to confidential information you may have access to.
Readiness for Feedback
In this pillar the coach reflects on their own readiness for feedback (CI 79). The output from the Reflecting pillar may have information the coach needs to act on. This information may contain feedback on the organization, team, or the coach themself. As a coach are you ready to receive this feedback, reflect on it, and make the adjustments that your Coachees, Mentees, or Teams ask of you? Being able to sit with this feedback, reflect non-judgementally, and adapt to the team’s expectations takes courage on the part of the coach but is essential to ensure growth and development of both coach and coachee / mentee / team. (CI 83, 101, 106, 108)
Choosing a Stance
For an Internal or Agile Coach there are times when your coachees/mentees need more than a coaching approach. This is especially true if you are engaged as an Executive, Career Development, Leadership Development, or Agile coach or mentor. Contractually (by employment) you will have obligations to the organization to develop the people you work with.
Choosing the correct stance in the next encounter is important if we are to create the best environment for growth. In the case of an internal coach / mentor we need to form a tentative plan for how best to help the individuals and teams.
Identifying learning and skills gaps in the organization and ourselves (CI 102) may lead to the development of learning plans and teaching interventions (CI 76, 82, 95). Conflict in teams or underlying tension may need a facilitation role to aide their healing process and rebuild trust in a team or teams. Role modelling the behaviours we wish to instil in the organization may also be appropriate. Depending on context and contract, as a coach/mentor you may also be asked to provide training on relevant topics related to the learning objectives.
Keep in mind that our primary responsibility as a Coach or Mentor is to the coachees and mentees we work with.
Inputs from Reflection
The Retrospective / Reflective practice at the end of the iterative cycle encourages the coach, individuals, and teams to reflect on what has happened over the past period. This encourages the organization to look at how they might improve themselves, their processes, and interactions. This is a feedback loop for the coach where they can critically review and reflect on what needs to change.
This is also an opportunity to identify areas that may be discussed at future Supervision.
As an Internal Coach, it is important to contract and re-contract with each engagement. This may sound excessive but will benefit both coach and the individual or team that the coach works with.
Inputs from Reflection may mean that we need to review our coaching style or approach when dealing with an individual or team.
We may work with one or many people in the organisation. As change happens, the interventions our coachees request may also change. It is important to ensure that we are serving the coachees needs. For this to remain fresh for the coachee, we may need to re-contract to ensure we allow the coachee to set the agenda. The Inputs from Reflection at the end of the previous iteration can be essential in building the relationship into the future.
Teams and parts of teams in the organisation will face myriad issues as they form, work, dissipate, and reform. The circumstances for a team may change frequently as projects change, markets change, and internal / external factors affect the team. To ensure we allow the team to set the agenda, we may need to re-contract on a regular basis. Again, the Inputs from Reflection at the end of the previous iteration can be essential in building the relationship into the future.
Organizational change is much of the work of an internal coach and without knowledge of the space between *constellations[i], the coach may find themselves ineffectual. When working with internal coachees or mentees, it is important to understand the parts of the system that may affect them and their environment. An organizational coach may also have knowledge of the system unknown to the coachee/mentee that may cause conflict within the coaches own cognitive processes. Working within a constellation requires a certain amount of discipline within the coach to respect the organization, system, and coachee/mentee. The management of the internal coachs’ emotional state, in relation to cognitive dissonance, may make it difficult to work within the system and will likely be the subject of Supervision conversations. Constellations relate to the system, and the individuals operating within the system: the organization, the coach/mentor, and the coachee/mentee.
Working with an individual or team, there is important information in the emotions that arise during your interactions. The emotional state provides guidance and insight into how the person or team are feeling, expressing, and reacting. Using the knowledge of these emotional states can lead to better outcomes of the intervention (CI 81, 103, 104).
It is also important to understand how you, or the person/team are emotionally affected by the interaction and understand how these emotions affect the work you do with the person or team.
What are the emotions in the team? How are the emotions affecting the team? Are we now in an objective or subjective space? Do we recognise the emotions?
Important questions may arise, like, how are my emotions affecting my response to the person or team? Am I affected positively or negatively by these emotions? Am I able to remain objective in these emotions?
The nature of the organization and how things are in the system may have an impact on the coach, coachee or team. How can we pay attention to what may be impacting on the relationship from the wider system? Can we recognise these sensations and explore them? Can we conjecture on what the relationships may be or how it may change based on how we evolve the situation?
When the coach can feel and understand the impact of the system on themselves and the coachee / mentee, then they can work with this knowledge. Being unaware of this interaction may lead to lesser outcomes.
Intuition has been called a sixth sense. Albert Einstein called it a sacred gift. Those nagging thoughts and feelings of suspicion, anxiety, doubt, curiosity or wonder are signals that there is something more to explore. Intuition is an accessible ‘brainpower’ that comes with conscious learned experience and through unconscious and subconscious channels. Being mindful in the present moment may help us to listen better to our intuition.
Five steps to optimize our intuition: Notice the sensations in your body and mind – intuition is the combination of 5 functioning brains (reptile, mammalian, neo-cortex, and our hearts and *intestines contain neural tissue). Your intuition can be cultivated by paying attention to the inputs those brains offer. Balance this with a combination of intuition and analytical thinking. Don’t be afraid to take risks with your coachees and to express what your intuition is telling you. Intuition is working towards your gain and may work counterintuitively to your logical mind.
Awareness of how the energy in the session ebbs and flows can help to read the unspoken words in the room. Somatic and kinaesthetic awareness observed in session can expose when something is triggered or an important moment is reached. We should also check our own reactions, movements, and feeling in our body to understand how we are moved in the moment. This can be a good opportunity for us to reflect on our own bias, triggers, and assumptions.
Providing feedback to coachees / mentees in a timely way can help them (and us) work in the moment. Feedback after the moment has passed misses an opportunity to explore the emotions, feelings, triggers, and assumptions at the exact time. ‘Now’ is the best time for feedback, not anticipating it before it occurs or tackling it after the moment has passed. As a reflective piece it can be useful to explore past moments – but for feedback and taking advantage of a moment, now is the best time.
Safe to Fail (Psychological Safety; Edmondson)
Creating an environment where it is safe to fail is something that many modern organizations espouse as an inherent attribute trait that enables creativity and innovation. However, this may not always be the case, and experience tells that managers, departments, and organizations under pressure behave in conflict with these expressed ideals.
As a coach you may wish to encourage your coachees / mentees to experiment. As a coach you should also be aware (observe) the larger system to understand what degree of safe to fail space is tolerated. Experiments can be a fantastic way to help the coachee / mentee test hypothesis, try new behaviours, or change their thinking patterns but should be done with a little caution.
If the space is available, then it can be useful to seek management approval to encourage coachees to experiment and try out a new hypothesis. The progress, creativity and reward from successful experiments can bring joy. The failures bring learning.
Being able to maintain total focus on the coachee, the relationship, and the session so that time flows around the session will greatly enhance your ability as a coach to be present with your coachee.
Taking a moment before a session to become grounded and present can help to start a session in a meaningful way. (CI 84)
Being present in the conversation and everything that surrounds the conversation – The energy, intuition, energy, and emotional states enables engagement with the coachee in the session. That connection can only come about when both coach and coachee are present in the moment. Without this presence there is no opportunity to dance in the moment, to move and respond as the coachee needs you to do.
Being grounded in the session, present for, and aware of your coachees needs is something that makes the session a place where magic can happen. Being there and reading from a playbook will, at best, bring shallow outcomes and at worst damage the coaching relationship.
Tip: at times, we may have distractions that play on our own minds. It is, at times, better to acknowledge these things and either put them aside or let the coachee know that you may not be 100% with them in the session.
In all of our coaching interactions we need to keep an objective focus. This can be especially difficult when working within (and being part of) a system. Pressure for results, pressure from different directions, pressure from (internal) personal challenges can push us towards a more subjective view of the world.
How can we ensure that we remain objective? It may help to be aware and try to recognise when we are making decisions or forming opinions. We need to ask ourselves, why am I making this decision? Does it serve the coachee or the coach? Am I trying to take shortcuts to an outcome? What other questions might clarify this for the coachee? What might I ask myself about my own motivation?
Challenge: We all have biases or hold an opinion of the right way and the wrong way of doing things. As a coach we need to explore our bias and recognise the explicit bias. We also need to dig deep and explore our unconscious bias. This is a little more difficult to do as, by their nature, they are unconscious. Reflection and Supervision can help us to re-examine the interactions with our coachees.
Working with Teams and Individuals for their growth and development requires that they ‘buy-into’ the process. The best way to do this is to consult with them on how they want to proceed. It may be helpful to share your thoughts on how you see the process moving. Sharing insights and learning about coaching and your own approach to working with them may help to open a space for constructive dialogue on the questions you are trying to resolve. (CI 43, 44, 89, 94)
For example, if the team are trying to improve their performance but failing due to issues (you suspect), then you might share with them the concepts of the Five Dysfunctions of the team (Lencioni). Or share with them the stages of team development (forming, storming, norming, performing – FSNP), or share with them exercises to give everyone on the team an equal voice.
As we sit with the individual or team, the circumstances around us may change rapidly. We need to be creative and adaptable as we sit with the coachee, to sense and respond to the changes in the environment. (CI 82, 83, 105, 108)
Our stance may need to change and flow between coaching, mentoring, sharing examples, facilitating, or other roles as required by the coachee or team. Tension may rise, agreement may arrive, or laughter may lighten the mood. In all of these situations you may need to decide to be in the space or step out of the space to allow what happens to happen. (CI 84, 86)
While in this space, as a coach, you need to recognise the changing dynamics in the room. The team may be undergoing transformation forward or backward through the FSNP stages. Individuals or teams may be opening-up to growth or closing-down due to negative stimuli. Assumptions may be made, and subjective conversations may enter the space. In all of this you may need to respond, challenge, and experiment with the coachee or team. (CI 107)
Choosing a way of reacting is important, getting it right comes with experience, getting it wrong provides learning. In all of this, you will experiment and find your way as a coach for the individuals and teams you work with.
Choosing a Stance
In the Preparing stage of this framework, the coach makes a conscious decision to approach a session, workshop, learning, or intervention from a particular stance (Coach, mentor, Role Model, Advisor, Teacher, Facilitator). As often happens, the plan only lasts until first contact and then needs to be re-evaluated. Flexibility in your choice of a stance may be required once the intervention begins. Taking an approach to support your coachee / mentee in the moment is the best course of action. Your ego and intent are not the focus of attention in this case, your coachee / mentee is, and their wellbeing is paramount.
Dealing with Conflict (Team, Individual)
Conflict arises in teams, between teams (or silos) and between individuals. This is an inevitable part of any organization. How it is dealt with is where the magic occurs. Many organizations, as they grow, move toward siloed structures. With this comes competition for resource allocation, budget, and in some cases prestige. In many business circles this is seen as normal, acceptable, and even expected behaviour.
How this affects the individuals and teams you work with can often be dramatic. Some recent business surveys (State of the Global Workplace, Gallup 2019) found that 67% of employees are disengaged at work and a further 18% are actively disengaged. This leads to a large potential for conflict in environments where people are not actively looking to improve their environment.
Conflict happens between individuals but may be allowed to remain in an environment where people are not engaged in resolving it. Organizational culture may even encourage this, which can make working with teams in this environment difficult. To navigate disengagement, you must work to build trust and rapport, impartially, with the teams and individuals you work with.
Team – Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing (FSNP)
Teams go through phases from their initial forming point. It is helpful to understand where a team is when you engage with them. In the Forming and Storming stages there may be many issues as they find their way. As they move into the Norming stage it can be a great opportunity to shape how the team works together and move them more quickly to Performing. Teams will move forwards and backwards through these stages as members join, leave, and as organizational priorities (and budgets) change. Project teams may be short lived, product teams may continue for longer, and markets may upset the lifecycle of any team.
Understanding the wider system in which the team operates, the organizational pressures, competition, and leadership will help you as a coach to know which interventions are better suited to the various circumstances the team finds themselves in.
Organizations need to learn, grow and adapt if they are to survive in what has become a VUCA world. The environment in which most companies, and by extension, individuals within those companies, are affected by rapid change in markets, politics, environmental impact, and competition is incredible. Companies that remain fixed in their mindset and outlook are heading for failure. The most successful companies these days tend to be companies that adapt quickly or create new markets for themselves. However, even those that create new markets for themselves need to keep innovating as smaller upstarts, unburdened by success (and client base) can quickly disrupt even these new markets. Politics or local reactions can also affect new upstarts (Uber for example) requiring even these to change quickly.
How do organizations adapt quickly (as Stephen Parry says: Sense and Respond)? They do this by creating a learning culture and a growth mindset. Some organizations are more successful at this than others and it may take time to turn a larger ship (mega corporation like IBM) than it does to turn a smaller boat (Spotify).
Building this into an organization’s DNA takes effort, support and trust. Creating an environment where this happens can be helped by having the right support at the team and individual level – such interventions may come in the form of coaching and mentoring (but are not limited to this alone).
Team – Creating a Learning Culture / Individual – Creating a Growth Mindset
To develop a learning culture and growth mindset may prove to be a challenge. If the wider system is not supportive then encouraging a team or individual to think creatively may prove difficult. Many established organizations have set rhythms and ways of working that may be a little inflexible (‘It is how we do things around here’).
You need to check the environment to ensure it is safe to encourage experimentation and create growth mindsets. It is helpful to encourage a Systems Thinking approach as it gives people an opportunity to see where they are in relation to the system (make them aware of the system), it helps them understand what might be possible and understand some of the boundaries (real or imagined) that exist in the organization.
Note the Values of the organization: Specifically, does the culture have a system to reinforce experimentation, initiative, innovation, and flexibility.
Ensure that the environment is ‘Safe to fail’ (from the Engaging Pillar) before encouraging real experimentation.
Challenging Assumptions (not fix others)
We all tend to make assumptions about one thing or another. We may also make assumptions about our coachees and mentees – we should not. We should challenge ourselves to NOT make assumptions about our coachees, their intentions, or their thinking. We should also challenge our coachees to NOT make assumptions about their situation, the thoughts of other, and what will happen tomorrow.
In both cases we want to keep an open mind and we want to explore our realities. Assumptions lead to actions that may not be in our coachees best interests. By making assumptions about our coachees we may also take them places they do not need to be (coach face).
With Teams it may be more complex as there may be assumptions made about individuals within the team, or another team.
Tip: If we are to make one assumption, it should be that, everyone is doing the best they can.
Responding to Subjectivity
Being non-judgemental and being aware of personal biases is essential for a coach, and especially for a coach working within a complex system. There will be many influences and pressure points within the system coupled with the coach’s own preference and bias that may lead to subjective thinking. Reflection on your purpose may help to alleviate this issue but it needs to be recognised first.
Tip: A little self-compassion may help you to grow into a more objective role. Recognising that you have been in a subjective space is the first step to a more objective reality. Don’t punish yourself for this but explore with your supervisor how to remain (or regain) an objective space.
Setting up Experiments
If a safe to fail environment has been established or an experimental culture has been created, it is possible to try new things using experiments. Working with coachees / mentees to design small scale experiments may help to test hypotheses and implement change. It is important that there is an element of psychological safety (see Challenges) to enable small risk taking. It should be noted that the consequences should be considered before running an experiment and the coachee should be fully aware of what those may be.
As a coach, you may wish to ask for permission at leadership level before encouraging experimentation with individuals and teams.
In terms of experiments with areas such as thinking errors, imposter syndrome, confidence issues it may be wise to train appropriately in these areas before using them as tools.
Reflection is where we have an opportunity to review how things are going. There is an opportunity for the coach to reflect on their own work, an opportunity to solicit feedback from individuals or teams and to reflect on this feedback, adapting and responding to potential improvement or learning possibilities. It is also a time when individuals and teams can retrospect on how they have performed, improved, or find areas that need to be improved.
The outcome of the Reflecting pillar may form inputs to the next cycle of the Preparing pillar.
Retrospective / Reflection (Learning)
In this framework, Reflection (retrospective) is encouraged at the end of each iterative cycle. Depending on how the teams operate this may be a joint effort to identify:
- What went well?
- What did not go so well?
- What could be improved?
- What we should stop doing?
- What we should continue doing?
From the coach’s perspective, this may also reflect the work the coach has done with the individuals and team. As part of this retrospective, the coach may ask for feedback on their own work. The coach must also reflect on their interactions with the individuals, teams, and organizational system. The coach might ask themselves questions such as:
- How did my work affect the coachee / mentee?
- Did I have a positive effect on the coachees / mentees / teams I work with?
- What can I do differently to better serve my coachees / mentees / teams?
- Should I stop doing something?
- Should I continue to do something?
- Is there something I learned?
- Is there something I need to learn?
The output of this framework step may provide many inputs for the next cycle.
This is a learning process in which each iteration of work brings new insights and learnings to the team.
Supervision for an internal coach is extremely important. The EMCC recommended frequency for Supervision is once per quarter or every 32 hours of coaching practice. As an internal coach the 32 hours may arrive quite quickly. An agreement with the employing organization is helpful as Supervision can be expensive for an internal coach who is self-funding. As an external coach working within an organization it may form part of the contract or be self-funded.
For accreditation and re-accreditation purposes, logs of supervision should be maintained.
Reflect on (my) place in the system
At the end of the iterative cycle, it is important to reflect on the coach’s place within the system. There may be organizational fluctuations, management changes that may impact on the coach’s ability to work effectively.
There may be positive outcomes, which have moved the individuals and teams forward. And the organization may have made progress towards transformational, learning, or market driven goals.
Reassessing your understanding of the system, your place within the system, new or changed influences, and structural changes is useful when moving back into the Preparing part of the Framework.
Working as an internal coach presents several unique challenges to a practicing coach.
Building capability into the organization – most organizations hire 1 coach or 1 senior Agile Coach. The only real way to build capability into the organization is to train and mentor new coaches so that a coaching / mentoring culture develops. When we look at Boyatzis’ Intentional Change theory, we see that people need to wish to change – to help focus that ability to change, we need to build a culture of support and compassion into the organization.
Creating Psychological in an organisation is a complex process and requires a leap of faith on behalf of the leadership team. All too often, we see organisations face a crisis and then turn to an autocratic style of management. It is very easy to destroy psychological safety in an organisation and takes a long time to develop. A leadership team that can create a safe to fail environment where experimentation happens regularly are more likely to succeed in the long term. If the employees and teams are not empowered within the organisation, then the organisation is only as good as its weakest manager.
Other challenges may come in the form of issues relating to ethics, conflict of interest, fix-that-employee requests, diversity, equity & inclusion, and various other issues.
To clarify some of the specific industry terms, I have provided definitions to present concepts that may be unfamiliar to the assessor.
Internal Coach: Hired for the primary role of coaching employees in the organization.
Systems Thinking: A term used in many business management books, ideas and articles these days. It has also been adopted into Design thinking, change management, featured in Harvard Business Review, and fills Amazon’s best seller lists. It may be applied to Complex Adaptive Systems such as companies and work settings to describe a method for thinking about how complex systems work together. It is a similar idea to Systemic Coaching and has roots in the same research. Much like Systemic Coaching there are many interpretations*. Elements of Systems can be said to include: Interconnectedness, Synthesis, Emergence, Feedback Loops, Causality, Systems Mapping.
*Systemic Coaching: Paul Lawrence (Lawrence Sydney, 2019) reflects on “What is Systemic coaching” in a 2009 article where he questions the definitions proposed
Agile Coaching (defined by ICAgile): is a craft intended to guide others in understanding, processing, and embracing constant change, so that the change is sustainable, lasting beyond the individuals.
Agile Coach (defined by ICAgile): guides individuals and teams to get clear about the change they desire, identify places where current reality does not match desired reality and then take action to close the gap — all in service of delivering business results that matter. Along the way coaches hold the bigger view of desired change, even when others may have lost sight.
Agile coaches support, guide, coach, teach, mentor and facilitate change without colluding with the current reality.
(Systemic) Constellations: have been adopted into several Coaching practices including Organizational and Relationship Systems Coaching, Agile Coaching as practiced by ICAgile. It originated in Relationships Coaching. It appears to have been developed by Bert Hellinger but has been absorbed into multiple evolving systemic coaching practices. In organizations it is useful to be aware of how constellations form, evolve, reform, and dissolve.
Co-active Coaching, Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House
Mastery in Coaching, Edited by Jonathan Passmore
The Complete Handbook of Coaching, Elaine Cox, Tatiana Bachkirova, David Clutterbuck
Coaching the Team at Work, David Clutterbuck
Leadership Team Coaching, Peter Hawkins
Agile coaching, Rachel Davies, Liz Sedley
Coaching Agile Teams, Lyssa Adkins
Agile Stances, Agile Coaching Institute
Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, Jeff Sutherland
The Hitchhikers Guide to Agile Coaching, The Agile42 Coaches
Relational Feedback, Lise Lewis
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni
The Drama Triangle and Empowerment Dynamic, Karpman
Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman
Intentional Change Theory, Richard Boyatzis
Porter’s 5 forces, Michael Porter
Eight Step Process for Leading Change, Dr. John Kotter
Three Stage Model of Change, Kurt Lewin
The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth, Amy Edmondson
[i] (Systemic) Constellations: have been adopted into a number of Coaching practices including Organizational and Relationship Systems Coaching, Agile Coaching as practiced by ICAgile. It originated in Relationships Coaching. It appears to have been developed by Bert Hellinger but has been absorbed into multiple evolving systemic coaching practices. In organizations it is useful to be aware of how constellations form, evolve, reform, and dissolve.