When a business or person gets stuck, the systemic coaching method of creating a “map” of the influential factors and people involved can bring fresh perspective and uncover hidden solutions.
Imagine a company that has not been meeting its targets for the past year. There have been changes at the top and some employees feel unsettled and de-motivated. The new leadership team knows it needs to re-align and motivate everyone but the situation is complicated and there are many factors and stakeholders influencing their decisions.
Instead of taking its usual approach to planning how to reach its next target, the company decides to work with a Systemic Coach, who supports them in understanding how and why things are not functioning as well as they should.
Their first step is to create a map. I don’t mean the sort of map that gets you from A to B, but a systemic map, where objects or people represent different factors in the scenario and are positioned according to their influence on each other.
The map enables the company leaders to see how the factors involved in achieving success are more connected than they might realise. Perhaps the sales team is shown facing the target, while the customer is out of view. Or marketing is standing too close to senior management, instead of looking closely at the product.
Often, the simple process of physically mapping out a situation will enable you to draw meaningful conclusions about it.
This might sound a little different, maybe even off the wall, but in my experience systemic coaching can be extremely powerful for many business challenges.
What is systemic coaching?
One of the key ideas behind systemic coaching is that we all belong to many systems (each with different patterns, values and beliefs) through which we make sense of the world. Sometimes these systems conflict with each other, which can create confusion and loyalty issues.
To be loyal to one system can require you to be disloyal to another. This is because we may behave in one way to be accepted by one system and in a different way for another. For example, you might be expected to keep the peace at home, where tranquility is valued, but speak up and be challenging in an organisation. This can lead to feelings of internal conflict, often at a subconscious level.
By understanding ourselves in relation to all the different systems that influence our lives we can bring more awareness to our reality. With greater awareness, we can find more perspective and possibilities.
The same applies within an organisation. By mapping out the different priorities and approaches that are shaping the business and those within it, we can better understand one another and align ourselves to work together more effectively.
To really grasp systemic coaching you need to try it. It is a technique that works with teams and individuals to help identify and unblock unidentified issues holding them back. I can honestly say it is one of the most powerful techniques I’ve learnt. I now use it throughout my coaching, where it often brings a different perspective to my personal, leadership or team coaching activities.
Here are a couple of examples, based on my experience, where systemic coaching has revealed previously unseen, powerful insights.
Example 1: For teams and groups
When I’ve worked with a team that has experienced a problem with handling customers, for instance, I used the group to create a systemic map. A team member represented the customer, another an impending deadline and a third the team itself. They placed themselves in the room in relation to the elements they represented. The physical nature of this process tapped into deeper information.
That lightbulb moment
In this case, when the team stood in these positions they saw that the reason they were so focused on a deadline and not on the customer was that there was a cultural expectation to deliver results quickly. With this new insight, they realised that the customers were being de-prioritised. Once this was acknowledged, they found a way to move on, focusing less on the next deadline and moving more of their attention towards relationships with their customers.
Example 2: For individuals
In a one-to-one session with a coach, objects or post-it notes are selected by the coachee to show different elements of their challenge. The coachee places each representative item on the table in the place that represents the situation.
For instance, I was working with a team leader who had recently moved to a more challenging role and was struggling to align his team members around their common purpose. I asked the team leader to map out where he saw himself in this situation. He positioned himself closest to the team purpose, with others behind him, facing in different directions, to show they weren’t all aligned in reaching this goal.
That lightbulb moment
I suggested the leader tried moving himself behind his team instead of in front of them, asking him how it felt to be in this new position.
Simple as it sounds, this caused a major mindshift in his attitude to uniting the team. By literally getting out of their way, he could see clearly how he would be better placed to lead them from behind, with the goal moving clearly into their line of vision. In a practical sense, this meant letting the team take more responsibility and ownership of their actions, but knowing that he was there if they needed him. From this revelation, he knew what to do next: motivate the team to understand its purpose and their individual roles in working towards it. Then take a step back and support them in stepping up to the challenge.
Connecting to your intuition
An important aspect of systemic coaching is that it is not just based on mental analysis, but also taps into internal wisdom and intuition. When people interpret the objects on the map or move around the room in a workshop, they do so based on what they feel. Just seeing the new layout can often lead them to find a better space for themselves, remove a restrictive factor or make more positive decisions.