Coaching is a process of facilitating a client’s progress towards defining and achieving their desired outcomes. In relationship systems coaching, the system is the client, and the “system” is a system of relationships including all the people and the relationships between them. A relationship system could therefore be a partnership, team, group or organisation.
Project management operates within the context of a relationship system. Relationship Systems Coaching is therefore very relevant to the needs of project management. So let us consider a few key questions:
- What is the need for relationship systems skills in Project Management?
- What is Relationship Systems Coaching?
- Where is Relationship Systems Coaching different from other coaching approaches?
- How is Relationship Systems Coaching delivered?
- Where can Relationship Systems Coaching be useful?
How many times have Project Managers been asked to:
- Cut resource estimates
- Deliver additional changes
- Bring the delivery date forward
- Ensure deliverables continue to meet all the required standards
The more experience I have gained on different projects over the years, the more I have realised that people and the relationships between them are the key. If there is a magic to be found in raising project performance, this is where it can happen. People, and the relationships between them, form the “system” that has the potential to provide the solutions. This is the system that can make the difference in performance, and the coaches who coach the relationship system, can reveal what is happening and facilitate system change.
What is Relationship Systems Coaching?
Relationship Systems Coaching is an advanced coaching method that works with the relationships between people. It can facilitate partnerships, teams, groups and organisations in finding better ways of self-organising, or to raise themselves more effectively and rapidly to high performance. It delivers through revealing the system to itself and so helps the relationship system to self-correct.
Relationship Systems Coaching combines proven coaching methods with the scientific research in relationships and systems change theory. It works with the spirit and identity of a relationship system. The relationship is created through the engagement and contribution of each member within the system. All members of a system have an awareness of the relationship, so they can become conscious about it and even give it a voice.
Where is Relationship Systems Coaching different from other coaching approaches?
Coaching the spirit and identity of the relationship as an entity in itself, is the main unique factor in Relationship Systems Coaching.
Can you sense the atmosphere when you walk into a room full of people? Look at their faces, listen to their voices, notice how you feel. If there is a tension, you can sense it. If there is laughter and humour, you can sense it. If there is an enthusiasm and excitement, you can sense it. This sense gives everyone in a system, a connection with the spirit and identity of the relationship.
Next time you are in a meeting, pause a moment and be curious about the energy in the room. What do you notice?
The energy in the room is a dynamic of perceptions, emotions and beliefs. Identifying and revealing these beliefs and emotions empowers the team to deal with them. Relationship Systems Coaching interacts with and raises conscious awareness of the relationship, and then goes so much further. It uses a whole range of well-proven coaching tools that help relationship systems to self-correct. The process is founded on the four cornerstones of Relationship Systems Coaching:
- Coach the whole relationship system. For any system to be successful in self-correcting, there needs to be a clarity as to what is within the system and what is outside. We need to understand what the system is. Team bonding activities are commonly used to build team spirit, but how far do they go in designing the most effective relationships and gauging the commitment of each individual? Designing relationships explicitly and clarifying real levels of commitment reveals the system as a whole. Marginalised people or perspectives reduce alignment and harbour potential for conflict. In a whole system, all the members are fully present and included.
- The agenda comes from the client and the relationship system is the client. The client needs to own their journey through the coaching, so they take responsibility and have control over the agenda. It is the relationship system that is being coached in systems coaching, rather than individuals, so the whole relationship system is the client. The coach has responsibility for the process.
- That the system is naturally creative, resourceful and whole. The team has all the resources it needs to respond positively and creatively to any problem it faces. Sponsoring this belief allows the team to consider all of its resources creatively and how these might be used in resolutions.
- Reveal the system to itself. Based on systems change theory and contributions from great systems thinkers such as Peter Senge and Margaret Wheatley, people are capable of self-correcting when information about the system is revealed. For example, a well known tool that is commonly used to reveal individual’s systems is 360 degree feedback. Once this information is passed to the individual concerned, the individual is empowered to self-correct. In Relationship Systems Coaching, many different tools, skills and techniques are used for revealing relationship systems to themselves.
Relationship Systems Coaching sessions can be delivered face to face or over the telephone. Initial sessions are best delivered face-to-face.
Changes are incremental and time is required in between coaching sessions. Coaching sessions tend to be booked once or twice per month for a minimum period of 3 to 6 months. This allows changes to evolve and take full effect. The depth of change and the time taken depend upon the desired outcomes and the alignment of the team.
Relationship systems of different sizes, from two people to several hundred people, have been coached successfully. Where the relationship system goes above 15 people, it becomes increasingly necessary to include additional Relationship Systems Coaches working together and co-facilitating.
Where can Relationship Systems Coaching be useful?
Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great” (2001), London, Random House, interviewed leaders of great organisations. These organisations had significantly out-performed their competitors. Collins made a distinction about what they did differently:
“The main point is to first get the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) before you figure out where to drive it.” (Collins, 2001, p44)
Choosing a team from scratch is probably the ideal. However, Project managers may not always have a completely free hand in choosing the team. Even if you have the right team, there is still that scary moment on the bus which happens for every ”Good to Great” leader. This is the moment where you have to figure out where to drive the bus. You have to let go of your own intention and accept contributions from the team. Without team participation in figuring out where to go, the team is just following the leader. Where teams just follow the leader, there are likely to be team members who are not aligned, and lack of team alignment will inevitably reduce commitment or increase conflict. Team alignment on a desired goal is crucial to sustained high performance in teams. How then do we get through the scary moments and build team alignment?
Dealing with the emotional flow is one of the core principles of Relationship Systems Coaching. Emotions are full of information and very revealing for a team when explored in a safe and meaningful context. Successful navigation of the emotions builds trust and increases the potential for innovation. When the beliefs which trigger emotions are revealed and acknowledged, this reduces their intensity and paves the way for building alignment.
For a team that is in flow and high performing, generative magic is possible. Yet, this is not guaranteed, nor is it the desired outcome for every relationship system. Occasionally, an Relationship Systems Coach is there to support the system through an amicable break-up, or to support a smooth transition where members leave or join. In all cases, it is the relationship system as a whole that creates what they want to happen. Through dealing with conflicts, emotions, differing perceptions, and building alignment, the team faces their challenges, hears all the voices and are able to dynamically create a future that they all wish to enjoy.
Relationship Systems Coaches are called in most often to help relationships systems with achieving desired outcomes more effectively. They are also called in by high performing teams that want to understand more about what they are doing well, so they can sustain or improve further.
With Organisation and Relationship Systems Coaching, Project Managers now have a great opportunity to develop the performance of their teams through understanding how relationship systems principles are operating, first hand within their own teams.
So what is happening in your team, and what do you want to achieve?
© 2011 allPM.com