Airports are regularly becoming my learning spots. Its just amazing to meet a diverse set of people and chat with them just about anything! A few days ago, I was sitting across a gentleman who looked in his late fifties .. a quiet kind of a guy. It turned out that he was into agricultural research. He asked me about what do I do for living and I briefly explained him the concept of executive coaching. He heard me out patiently and had a twinkle in his eyes when he said, “You know its almost like working on a seed to improve it in such a way that it gives better yield. But unless you also understand the soil and whether conditions, your results may give better yield only in the laboratory conditions!” …. And the penny dropped for me. The gentleman who had heard about what executive coaching is about five minutes back, had explained me the positioning of ‘Systemic Leadership Team Coaching’ in the most profound manner I had ever heard!!
Systemic Leadership Team Coaching is gaining grounds as organizations realize that it is essential to align the energy of a leadership team to strategic issues. While individual coaching gives a great benefit to a person to reflect and reframe self-limiting beliefs to achieve greater heights, Systemic Team Coaching lays a fertile soil for the leaders to move forward. Here is my attempt at sharing my own understanding of ‘Systemic Leadership Team Coaching’
Broadly defined, Systemic Leadership Team Coaching is a group process maximising the combined energy, wisdom and experience of individuals to achieve a result much higher than the sum total of results by individuals in the group.
It is the process to create a sustained change to enrich the organization as well as the participating individuals.
Organizations opt for it so that they channelize the combined energy of a leadership group towards strategically important issues. In today’s VUCA world with only change as a constant, organizations achieve a much better results if the leadership team with a diverse skill-set responds to the challenges as ‘one unit’ rather than group of expert individuals dealing with it.
When a team owns a challenge together, chances are high that they fight it better. Apart from gaining a strategic edge, the team that owns a cause together also builds a better camaraderie and help each other in individual development.
Basic nature of Systemic Leadership Team Coaching gives a specific output to the organization in the area of strategic importance. This puts to rest the standard question of ROI that coaching process sometimes struggle to quantify in clear terms.
The obvious response to the above mentioned reasoning of why team coaching is: “Is that not the basic description of how organizations should work in the first place?” “How are the basic building blocks of the intervention different than effective organization structure and meaningful goal setting?” – Valid points and that requires a little explanation of the term ‘Systemic’ in Systemic Leadership Team Coaching.
One dimension of ‘system’ here can be described as an ‘organic system’. In a complex organic system, all parts work in an effortless synchronization. Thus first and the basic building block of the process is to create an ‘organic system’ to work with. This means creating an environment where participating leaders are aware of their vulnerabilities and willing to share them in an atmosphere of trust. An environment in which reaching out for help and receiving it is considered as honourable as giving help. Coach’s primary job is to create this kind of a set up that lays path for the team to work together as a cohesive unit. This is the first and most critical building block for any Systemic Leadership Team Coaching. For the intervention to work effectively, following aspects need to be taken care of while selecting the team for Systemic Leadership Team Coaching:
- The group chosen should have high interdependencies at the work place – a logical reason in the first place to work together.
- While conflicts during the process are resolved, ideally the group chosen for the process should not be fractured with serious conflicts. If that situation exists, the coach needs to be briefed very clearly. The first intervention in that case is to get the group together to resolve the conflicts before moving forward.
- Team Coaching process is like a symphony. While selecting the team, people with equal ‘credibility’ in the organization should be chosen and any nominations that only qualify for being ‘politically correct’ should be avoided as much as possible.
Just like in individual coaching it is Coach’s primary responsibility to ensure that ‘safe learning zone’ is maintained. Coach along with the participating team evolve a clear set of ‘rules of the game’ for the following interactions:
- Interactions amongst the participating members of the team
- Reporting of progress to the program sponsor
- Coach’s interactions with the program sponsor
Role of the program sponsor is crucial vis-à-vis the following aspects:
- Setting up direction for the participating team: If the program sponsor is able to identify any issue that is mission critical to the business, it serves better as a ‘north star’ to the team. If there are any boundaries / no-go areas for any reason, they need to be defined very clearly.
- Respect for ‘Safe learning zone’: While the program sponsor is entitled for periodic feedback on the progress of the group, focus should be on the outcomes/milestones/results and not about whatever happened in the group interaction or one-on-one interactions with the coach.
- Time commitment for reviews and feedback.
While all the Coaching competencies are applicable to the Coach in this particular case as well, some of the characteristics that help the Coach to be effective in Systemic Leadership Team Coaching are as follows:
- Coach’s ability to hold the space effectively to create a ‘safe learning zone’ for the intervention.
- Coach’s ability to create an environment where ‘individuals’ speak to each other rather than ‘roles’ speaking to each other.
- Ability of the coach to evolve a consensus on ‘rules of the game’ and abiding by the agreed rules himself/herself along with the participating team.
- Presence: Coach presence is important in all coaching sessions. In this intervention, it is coach’s ability to hold the process framework firmly without being overbearing to the group is critical.
Systemic Leadership Team Coaching process:
The intervention involves following key steps. While each individual coach would have his/her variations, the Systemic Leadership Team Coaching would broadly cover the following steps:
Coach needs to have a dialogue right upfront with the program sponsor for the following:
- Business case for the intervention: probing on the reason for this initiative as well as the consequences of not doing anything.
- Explaining the role of the program sponsor along with do’s and don’ts.
- Any specific boundaries / no-go areas form the sensitivity perspective.
Coach facilitates an initial workshop to kickstart the process. This workshop has the following expected outcomes:
- Creating a ‘one-team’ where individuals talk to each other as individuals and not as roles.
- Converting the strategic direction given by program sponsor into ‘dream to chase’ – here the coach plays an important role to ensure that team choses something that is aspirational and not an incremental extension of their roles.
- Identification of initiatives in line with the dream.
- Agreement on communication / reporting / feedback plan / rules of interaction with each other as well as outside the participating team (including sponsor)
Post the workshop, participating team should brief the sponsor about the expected outcomes from them as a team. Sponsor should give his feedback and go-ahead keeping in mind larger picture of the organization. If there is any change suggested, the team needs to re-group to tweak the initiatives. Generally it works if the sponsor has given a clear direction right in the beginning. Team generally surpasses the expectations. However, if sponsor is not comfortable leaving the ‘dream to chase’ to participating team, same needs to be told up-front to the coach and workshop needs to be tweaked to ensure meaningful initiatives based on whatever ‘dream to chase’ has been spelt out by the sponsor (not a preferred approach and this is where the initial dialogue with the program sponsor is crucial to establish the clear expectations).
The feedback is also given to the sponsor from time to time as agreed by the team in the initial charter.
Participating team meets periodically to review the dashboard and milestones. This meeting is also used as a sounding board where participants bring forward the challenges faced and seek the help of the other members to find options. Based on the suggestions received, participant bringing forward an issue gives specific commitment to the rest of the group. Each review meeting has the following set agenda:
- Review of milestones.
- ‘Sounding Board’ issues
- Significant learnings from individual members
Coach has a primary responsibility to facilitate this meeting and stay on course.
Coach conducts individual coaching sessions along with periodic review meetings to understand very clearly any individual hurdles faced by the participating members and resolve the same using the coaching intervention.
As per agreed plan, the team conducts the final review with the program sponsor. This review highlights:
- Update on key deliverables by the team.
- Significant individual learnings by the participating individuals.
- Plans to sustain the process of continuous improvement without further intervention by the coach.
In a scenario of Industry 4.0 where finally even machines are interacting with each other to deliver a significantly superior output, it is only natural that leaders in any organization interact with each other meaningfully to do the same. Systemic Leadership Team Coaching is an effective intervention to set the ball rolling in that direction. Importance of this intervention lies in its ability to create self-sustaining leadership networks within any organization.