I am aware that not too many people experienced a system oriented coaching session, or System Coaching (as I like to name it). If you are curious about how such a session looks like, and what could be the benefits for a team … keep reading! 🙂
So here I am, at the door … just about to step in. I put on my “hat” of Organisation and Relationship System Coach (ORSC), a smile, and opened the door. Surprise! I was told there will be more people, but only four showed up: four members of the team (Board of Directors), and the President. “The other two members are missing”, I’m told, “for good reasons: one is sick, the another one chose to stay at home because of the upcoming storm and long commute.”
Hmm, to be highly effective, a System Coaching session requires all team members (including the leader) to be present, because the voice of each of them is important, and needs to be heard, to help the system (team) become more aware of what’s going on.
We quickly assessed the situation: there is a very slim chance that we can get together another time soon, so we decided to continue. If the leader was missing, I would’ve certainly declined to facilitate the session. His presence is a must. In this case, I quickly adjusted the exercises in my mind, so we can virtually include the roles of missing members. The participants didn’t know what to expect. 🙂
In the previous discussion with the President, he chose the topic for this session: “How can we work better together”. Obviously, there was something going on needed to be addressed sooner than later.
So, we started. They were obviously surprised when I asked everyone to come in the middle of the room: “We don’t need chairs”, I said, “it’s a very interactive and experiential session.”
For such a topic, I decided to start with an exercise about roles, and how they are occupied. I started by making a distinction between a role, and the person occupying that role at specific time. A role has certain requirements and expectations, and the person occupying it might fit well, or not so well (depending on personality, skills, what’s going on in his life,…)
I invited participants to talk about the role they play in the team: what’s good about it, less good, and how they feel in that role. I wrote down “President” on a post-it note, put it in front of the President … asking him to start. “I want to talk about what’s more difficult, and less difficult”, he said. “OK, go ahead please!” 🙂
One by one, each of them answered the same questions, talking about their roles, and how it feels to be in that specific role.
“Now,” I asked, “please one of you come here, and speak from the role of the Secretary” (who was missing). And someone did! 🙂 Then we added the other missing role, and heard the perspective of that role too.
At that point they thought they’re done, but it was just the beginning. 🙂 “We have other roles to cover”, I said, “the client, the shareholder, for example, and to switch roles, so you experience what it is to be in another role than yours. The participants shifted from one role to another, noticing the differences, and how each role is informing the system about what’s going on from that role’s perspective, and from the perspective of the person occupying that role. The VP, for example, mentioned she wouldn’t be comfortable in the Secretary role, because she doesn’t like to do those tasks (calling a lot of people, search for information, etc.)… bit she appreciates the existing Secretary for take care so well of those tasks. (Wouldn’t you also like to hear what people appreciate about you, not only critics?!)
When shifting roles, and even more on the “System” role (identified in the middle of the circle), interesting things happened. Each participant gladly stepped into other roles, and even in the System’s role, and… opened up! Things that were not told before came out to the surface (all the misunderstandings, moments when System got stuck and why, etc.). Sometimes, what they didn’t have the courage to say when they were in their real roles, they were open to share from this place. People notice a lot of things, not only related to their role, and they need a “platform” and encouragement to share without being judgemental.
That openness to speak up brought in many new aspects. For example: the willingness to be active was still there, but the members lack motivation; someone who likes clear tasks and expectations, was occupying a role that was not well defined (which created frustration); when someone was speaking, someone else got into defensiveness (without listening to what was really said), poor communication (and the frustration associated with it) was caused by different communication styles (some preferred emails, some phone calls at specific time frames)… none of these were discussed openly previously.
Due to time constraints, we didn’t stay more in this phase, so we went on to the next step. Spreading out post-it notes, I asked participants to jot down ideas about what could be improved and how. One idea per sheet, and put them in categories later. I loved the idea that came out when I asked: “What would you like to do with all these ideas?” (allowing the system to decide). “Create a check-list, and post it somewhere visible in our offices, so we don’t get caught in the same situations in the future. And we can remind each other, when things get hard.” They also started to work on an action plan (to improve the way they work together), due dates and responsibilities… and took it back to the team to finalise and implement it.
During the session I had to point out the four toxic behaviours that poison any work environment (and any relationship!). I explained the behaviours, and helped the participants to recognise them when they showed up in during the session. I also pointed out how they can handle a situation when these behaviours show up, and they practised during the session. This was part of the facilitation, but also to create a safe environment where they can open up. It could be a separate session in itself.
I also had to pay a close attention to what was going on in different areas, while listening to a person speaking. If some of them were not listening, I mentioned that it might be perceived as lack of respect for the person who was talking; and also, that all the system (team) might benefit if they open up in the the group (instead of talking in small groups). I cannot pay such attention in large groups, that’s why I prefer to work with small teams, up to 10 members.
It was a two hours session. It could’ve been longer if we could get more time allocated to this session. It needs certainly more time if there are more participants. Yes, System Coaching takes time, but you should’ve seen them at the end: excited, happy about the action plan, and motivated to implement it. And, they loved the interaction during the session!
Should I mention that when I stepped into the room they were a little tired (after a three hour board meeting), quiet, and feeling a little cold? (it was a low temperature in the rented room)
What was obvious during the System Coaching session: their commitment for the organisation’s mission. Yes, even with such commitment things might get in the way… like those identified in this session.
Each System Coaching session is different: different topic, different exercises (based on the selected topic), different issues popping up during the session, and a customised action plan at the end. What is similar: learning creative problem solving by tapping into the Relationship Systems Intelligence*. And some people say… it’s fun! 🙂
Thanks for reading up to here. What did you get out of description?
Gabriela Casineanu, M.Eng, MBA, ORSC
*Relationship Systems Intelligence (RSI) includes and transcends Emotional Social Intelligence (ESI) pioneered by Daniel Goleman and others. RSI starts with an understanding of oneself, (Emotional Intelligence) moves on to include an understanding of other’s emotional experience (Social Intelligence) and culminates with the ability to identify with and collaborate with groups, teams, communities and other social systems (Relationship Systems Intelligence). It is this final evolution, RSI, which catalyzes the capacity of teams and groups to move beyond the personal to a powerfully generative group identity. Individuals and organizations vary in their level of RSI. Some may need to work on strengthening Emotional Intelligence, others may need training in Social Intelligence and more advanced clients are ready to work with Relationship Systems Intelligence. Together the three forms of Intelligence create flexible, resilient individuals and teams. (Information from the Relationship Systems Intelligence White Paper of CRR Global, the training founders of Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching: http://www.crrglobal.com/_downloads/RSI-White-Paper.pdf