A Primer on Systemic Approach to Individual, Group & Team Coaching

Mar 7, 2022

Systemic Coaching is Spiritual Coaching 

-Ram S. Ramanathan

Coacharya is evangelical about Systemic Coaching. Some frequently asked questions on the Systemic approach to coaching with our one-line answers are:

  1. Can we use the Systemic approach in individual coaching?  Yes.
  2. Can we use the Systemic approach in Group & Team coaching?  Yes.
  3. How do Groups and Teams differ? As do flash mobs and military units.
  4. Can we use a common competency framework? We shall give you one
  5. What’s the big deal about Systemic Approach? Please read on

At the heart of all coaching, there are only 4 competencies, which credentialing agencies increase to 8 or 80, in the interest of making them more understandable, but in reality, making them more complex and difficult to remember. The 4 are,

Contract: Desire, Evidence, Meaning, Obstacles; DEMO

Communication: Listen & Observe curiously, Acknowledge appreciatively, Share what you sense empathetically, Inquire & Explore generatively: LASIE

Conclusion: Evoke Awareness, Create Actions, Build Anchors, Honour in Appreciation: AAAA

Confluence: Integrate these elements synergistically in a Systemic & Spiritual context of relating with the spaces between stakeholders across time.

These 4 competencies with their simple mnemonic descriptions provide you with a process framework to practice at the mastery level. Remember, Understand, Reflect, Apply, and then Reflect again on your experience of practicing this framework to distill wisdom from your experiential knowledge. What changes as we move from Individual to Eco-systemic coaching through Groups & Teams, is the increasing complexity of spaces, connections, and stakeholders. The process remains the same, though its integrity requires it to be practiced as a heart-based art and not a cognitive framework.

The question to ask is not why a systemic approach, but why not? All our success in our endeavours, at work or life, becomes effective only when our interactions and relationships with others around us become purposeful with empathetic communication, resulting in mutually beneficial outcomes. No one can succeed alone. In an institutional environment, the systemic approach has multiple advantages of realizing institutional meta objectives, with defined outcomes, far more economically value-added than individual coaching interventions. What blocks its use is leadership ego. It’s unprofessional not to use the systemic approach at an institutional level.

The concept of the systemic approach is as old as Kurt Lewin’s work in Organizational Development. This has since been applied in different ways by those who followed Lewin at MIT, notably Edgar ScheinPeter Senge, and Otto Scharmer, all eminent thought leaders in the field of organizational systems, change, and transformation. Coacharya has collaborated with Peter Hawkins, a major presence in systemic coaching in recent times, in offering programs. Here is our conversation with Peter that answers many questions.

Coacharya has embraced the systemic approach to coaching, using the basic competency framework we had listed in the beginning, and evidenced its benefits in our work with many global MNC institutions, be it at the individual level, or group, team, and organizational levels. We have also developed our framework for successful application in group training in areas of organizational culture and needs for change. Whether individual, group, or team, the systemic approach works best for organizational leadership development.

Consultants, trainers, and coaches love to distinguish between group and teamwork and offer different approaches. While there is clearly a difference, a common approach is feasible and desirable. The best definition I have come across of a Team to distinguish it from a Group is from Project Aristotle of Google. These combined with Lencioni should be sufficient for most people to understand why I compare groups to flash mobs and teams to military units, inelegantly. Teams need to have a greater degree of safety and dependence than groups and require far more specific outcomes, structure, and coordination.

Groups are a collection of people, coming together for a seemingly common purpose, though individual aspirations may differ hugely with no convergent objective. They may be the onlookers looking at the sky, as in the movie Don’t Look Up. They may think they have a shared purpose and structure, coordination, and connection. They don’t. There is no deep emotional connection for a cause they are willing to work and perhaps die for. In simple terms, a group may be looking for safety in order to survive. A team would be willing to sacrifice themselves to help a cause survive. There is a spiritual element that elevates a Group to a Team. This elevation results in a deep energy connection, integration, synchronization, and synergy.

 

The systemic approach requires more time for building the team, and for members to collaborate and co-create. It takes more effort to bring in stakeholder inputs, outside in and future back, as Peter Hawkins so elegantly puts it. All this makes systemic teamwork more complex, more time and effort-based, and more of an art than group work. However, the process is very similar.

In coaching organizational leaders, Systemic Coaching works well both in groups of leaders not working for congruent objectives and also for teams who are. Group coaching can be powerfully used for leadership development, especially when dealing with intangible themes of culture and change. Team Coaching is best used when leadership teams are structured to work towards critical missions, defined with clear objectives that are purposeful and impactful.

Families are ideal for systemic work, but often don’t work as teams as one would expect. It’s as much an effort, often more, to build family teams than with groups of strangers working together. Alfred Adler, contemporary of Freud and Jung, spoke of Family Constellation, later expanded by Hellinger, Satir, and others. Systemic Constellation approach is now used commonly in the systemic approach of groups and teams. The Large Scale Interactive Process framework of Kathleen Dannemiller and Appreciative Inquiry framework of David Cooperrider have been used with large groups successfully to co-create common pathways.

Applications of the systemic approach to individuals, groups, teams, organizations, and eco-systems are still being looked at separately, despite convincing evidence. Coacharya believes that a singular approach to Systemic Coaching encompassing these different audiences is the emerging future. This requires simple competency frameworks and practical processes, which leverage upon commonalities of applications.

Ram Ramanathan, MCC
Ram Ramanathan, MCC

Ram

Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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