Consider the ripple effect

Have you ever sat in a pool till it was perfectly still? Was it really perfectly still? Try as you might, even the slightest muscle twitch sends ripples through the water. Our lives are just like that. We may try to isolate ourselves or convince ourselves that the choices we make and the things we do only affect ourselves, but it simply isn’t true.

Every breath we take impacts the world around us and that is just the beginning. We are in fact part of many complex and beautiful systems. The way we behave, the things we do, how we interact with others will have an effect no matter how careful we are. It is dangerous to consider things in isolation from their environment.

This is an important concept for coaches to consider, particularly when coaching in organisational settings. The very fact that a client enters into a coaching relationship begins a ripple effect. It is essential to keep this in mind throughout the coaching engagement.

Coaching in context

As coaches, we seek to take a role that is essentially external to the system. Yet as soon as we coach we interfere in the system and become a player in the system. This requires us to have a heightened awareness about where the coachee sits in the system that they are in. We need to recognise the obvious conflicts of interest that can arise and manage them mindfully.

Executive coach and researcher, Anne Whyte, believes it’s almost impossible to do systemic or strategic work through coaching unless you are involved with the person you’re coaching and their immediate environment. While coaching usually commences with the individual, it frequently moves to working with them in the context of the teams or people that they’re trying to lead and manage differently. This is much more powerful than work in isolation.

The complexities of coaching in organisations

While working with people in their contextual setting is powerful and effective, it can increase the complexities of the coaching relationship, particularly when there are multiple stakeholders in the mix. Take the goals of coaching as an example. Being clear about the goal of the coaching at the front end is important, however, coaching also needs to be flexible, mobile and relevant in the moment. We don’t want to be tracking things in a tight way that could feel as though it is turning into a lockstep process and yet organisations have a responsibility to track the value of their investment.

There is a great balancing act in getting the right mix between the reporting and data needed to understand the strategic contribution of coaching to the organization, while totally respecting that the coaching itself needs remain very flexible and in the moment. It is important to realize that the goals are likely to change and to check-in on this with the client and other key stakeholders over the course of the coaching engagement.

Coaching your client and their environment

Coaching is always trying to help a person be their very best self, the ideal self. A coach’s first priority, loyalty and commitment is to helping the coachee to be their best possible self in their circumstances. However, to facilitate them being their best possible self, coaches would do well to engage with the coachee’s circumstances as well. So a coach’s secondary responsibility centres on the people around the coachee – the people that can help them be their best self in the moment. Those people can be coached to help the coachee show up as their best self, to reinforce to them when they are being they’re best self and, where it’s relevant, to be able to give them useful feedback about when they’re not. Once you get that happening, coaching really has traction. It gets fantastic results.

To learn more about the complexities of coaching in organisations and managing stakeholders, listen to Robert Holmes interview Ann Whyte on The Coach Mentor Podcast, Episode 21: Managing Stakeholders: the various needs of client and coach

Read the full Podcast Transcript.