In Monday Memo


During the course of this series of Monday Memo’s I have used the term “systemic” in relation to teams and team coaching quite freely and some of our readers have asked me what the difference is between “system” (as in Peter Senge’s famous and, in those days, pioneering “systems thinking”) and “systemic” (as in “systemic thinking”, “systemic team coaching” etc) and I thought it may be useful to you if we dealt with this difference today. As I have been using the terms in relation to team coaching, I will attempt to explain the difference in this context.

Let’s start with System Team Coaching. Coaching the team as a system sees the team as a living system. It focuses on the team being more than the sum of its parts. The team dynamic is the centre of attention.

Systemic Team Coaching, by comparison, sees the team as existing to create value with and for all its stakeholders. It focuses on who the team is there to serve and the future needs the stakeholders have of the team. The dynamic between the team and its wider systemic context – that is, the space (or connections) between the parts – is the core concern.

In this context, “systemic” refers to the multi-layered perspective the team needs to adopt in order to see a fuller and more complex picture of the team in its context. The more complex this picture is, the more confusing and therefore the more difficult it is to choose and way forward. This complexity means that we have to leave a linear, clean approach behind and begin to see patterns, shapes and influences and recognise that everything is interconnected.

 Typically, there are six levels to illustrate the structure, but in reality they interweave and merge together and are present and constantly moving at the same time. Our challenge as a team, and as coaches, is to be aware of all the potential options to make choices and decisions on interventions. The six levels, or lenses (that we look through) are:

  1. Individual
  2. Interpersonal
  3. Team tasks – purpose and objectives
  4. Team relationships
  5. Stakeholder interfaces
  6. Wider systemic context

I hope this is useful in explaining the difference between these terms. I look forward to receiving your comments and queries. Please feel free to forward these to me at I would love to discuss these with you.

(I am indebted to the work of Peter Hawkins, of Renewal Associates, especially his book, Leadership Team Coaching, as well as the methodology of Integral Coaching Canada, which I have integrated for purposes of this series and in developing my Systemic Leadership Team Coaching process.

Some of the other books that form a foundation for this series are:

Systemic Team Coaching by John Leary-Joyce and Hilary Lines

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Team of Teams by S McChrystal et al

Seeing Systems by Barry Oshry

Flawless Consulting by Peter Block

The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook by Peter Senge et al)

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