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Coaching in a system


My coaching practice evolved in 2018 to work exclusively with businesses and their leaders (in that order).

Why is this important? And how is it different from other coaching?

From 2006 to 2018, I would coach individuals. People would phone me and say, 'Will you coach me?' When what I had to offer and what they were looking for lined up, I coached them.

It's brilliant work. It is exciting and challenging, but working with individuals alone misses a crucial point.

I started understanding what was missing with a 2011 coaching assignment. I began to coach Rob Paddock and later his brother Sam. Then we added joint sessions. Soon as they built the GetSmarter executive team, I coached all but one of the executive team, plus other execs and managers.

The multiple perspectives and insights I got from seeing the organisation (the system) from different angles were invaluable. I was coaching the whole system.

I have often facilitated the incredible Organisation Workshop (OW) from Power Systems. The OW simulates a business system and allows all participants to examine their roles in real-time. Insights are through the roof.

What I learned from the coaching with GetSmarter was that being first-hand inside a system as an outsider, in real-time, allowed me to see things that are impossible to experience in any other way.

All coaches operate within systems. Our families are systems, our community organisations are systems, and the businesses we work in are systems.

Seen through the lens of a system, businesses consist of inputs (e.g. raw materials and market data), processes (e.g., production operations and strategic planning), outputs (e.g., products and financial results), feedback (e.g., from customers and the market), control (e.g., performance assessments and centralised control mechanisms), and environment (e.g., competition in the market and compliance with dynamic legal regulations). All of these parts interact to form a cohesive and complex system.

It's that cohesive and complex part that is hard for us to get our heads around without interacting with it directly.

Coaching an individual, they give us their first-hand account of the system. Despite how candid and explicit they are, as a coach, I am limited when I only have a single view.

When immersed in multiple relationships inside an organisation, I see the world through the eyes of the numerous people I am conversing with.

What's more, I get to view the relationships they have with each other.

One of my Stratifacts is that 'The strength of the relationships within an organisation determines the success of the organisation'.

Now imagine that instead of just hearing about how a relationship works from a person, you get to see it from both sides. You can examine how that person's relationships work in a team.

As the coach for the system, I can even set up candid and practical feedback for everyone involved so that they can improve their relationships. These are some of the differences that being in the system can make.

How does it work, and what does it look like?

If there is a car accident, three witnesses independently will capture different descriptions of what has happened. We expect an overlap, but specific key facts would be overlooked by one and picked up by another.

We would experience the same within a business system. Multiple views are essential in assessing what is going on and how I can usefully help my clients get into a better position.

Post the experience with GetSmarter, I realised I could completely change how I engaged with my clients.

Over a couple of months, I changed my approach. I moved towards my current method of 10 dedicated businesses that I work with continuously.

I have spoken to the CEOs / founders / most senior leaders in any two weeks. Over a quarter, I interact individually and in groups with their executive teams and, occasionally, other teams.

I get to know people over months and years. I see CEOs in many different contexts and provide them with feedback they cannot get anywhere else.

I can see relationships in depth and work with people to strengthen them, building trust and understanding diverse leadership styles.

My clients range in industry, size and structure. They all share that they want to get crystal clear on a more powerful future and align and engage their people to deliver that strategy.