The Power of Systems Coaching

By Linda Sadiq, TCP Associate

Imagine this actual client scenario:

  • over the past few years new competitors are redefining the marketplace, making much greater, more creative use of the internet to reach a new client base;
  • until this year your veteran leadership team of 8 remained convinced that the company’s reputation and experience meant that any competition would be ineffective, at best;
  • 6 months ago two members of your leadership team suddenly retire, another leaves the sector entirely and a fourth joins a competitor organization; 
  • you’ve hired one replacement – a capable and motivated leader who, despite a lack of sector experience, is willing and eager to learn; 
  • you’re negotiating with another leader with good sector experience and a conviction that your organization can step more successfully into the challenges of the current marketplace;
  • every year your team participates in a one or two-day facilitated retreat to revisit the vision and mission and plan for the year ahead.  These planning sessions re-focus and re-energize the team though they tend to be more tactical than truly strategic, changing the organization structure somewhat or adding a new client offering;
  • for the past 9 months sales and profits have been down substantially.  Everyone is worried. “Same old” just won’t do; something needs to change!
  • you’ve been introduced to a systems coach whose approach captures your attention immediately.

“The natural tendency in a situation like this,” she says, “is to want to undo or fix what is happening.  I’d like to invite you to consider another perspective. 

What if the changes occurring in the sector and in your organization are only the beginning of something unfolding naturally in the system?  What if there is an inherent wisdom in this situation and your work is to discover what is trying to happen so that you can design the best path forward?”

What she says makes sense to you and you book a day with her and your newly formed leadership team. 

Early in the day an exercise called “the original myth” is especially powerful – you learn that to make conscious choices about the organization’s future it’s important to be aware of where and what the organization system has been.  The model introduced by the coach highlights commonalities, making your organization’s story very visible. 

A follow-on exercise examines current reality.  Once again the model is used to plot what is going on in your system.  This time, the coach puts a chair in the spot you and your colleagues have marked on the model.  She asks: “What is your organizational system feeling about what is currently going on?  What does it know that you do not?  What does it need?  What is trying to happen?”

There is a moment of silence.  Then you feel compelled to occupy that chair, to speak the voice of your system.  You’re surprised that others on your team do the same.  And the words spoken have a clarity, wisdom and emotion quite different from usual planning discussions. 

The final exercise of the day uses your organization’s own values to define the critical elements of its future direction.   Amazingly you have identified a future that is truly “out of the box”.  It feels edgy.  Risky.  Connected to what you now understand about your system.  And absolutely the right way forward.