In Blog Articles, Monday Memo


Last week I described four levels of team coaching and posited that organisations today, more than ever before, must learn faster or at the same speed as the environment is changing around them if they are to survive. Survive, not necessarily thrive!

As a consequence, the old team development and team coaching approaches of the 20th Century – for example, team spirit building like river rafting or merely focusing on teamwork – are as extinct as the dinosaurs and the Volkswagen Beetle. Today, these approaches have been replaced with Systemic Team Coaching that sees the team as existing to create value with and for all its stakeholders. It focuses on whom the team is there to serve and the future needs the stakeholders have of the team. The dynamic between the team and the wider systemic context is the core concern.

Currently, Systemic Team Coaching itself seems to be morphing into its next version, Ecosystem Team Coaching, an approach that sees the team as co-evolving in dynamic relationship with its ever-changing ecosystem, with which it co-creates shared value. Ecosystemic coaching focuses on:

  • The team is nested within a series of systemic levels that constitute its ecological niche;
  • The interplay between the team and other connected teams (inter-team coaching);
  • The strategic dialogue between the team and its wider stakeholders (coaching the strategizing processes);
  • Developing a team-based culture across a network of enterprises (coaching networks) or partnerships that bring people and organisations together in pursuit of a common goal (coaching partnerships).

Interestingly enough, this is what General Stanley McChrystal experienced as the commanding officer of the US Special Operations Forces in Iraq in the early years of this century. The US was involved in a disastrous war with Iraq, a war that destroyed a country and its economy and provided a springboard for increasing numbers of radical extremist groups. Far more people were killed every year in Iraq following the Allied invasion, than under the rule of Saddam Hussein! General McChrystal and his troops were tasked to find a way of combatting the rise of the network of Sunni extremist cells. Despite being the best-equipped and trained military in the world, McChrystal found that they, ‘the best of the best’, were being out-thought and out-manoeuvred by an untrained, under-resourced network led by a Jordanian ex-drug addict. This led the general and his senior officers to address fundamental issues about their core assumptions and operating models: “We had to unlearn a great deal of what we thought we knew about how war – and the world – worked.” (p20)

They realised that they were being outflanked by forces that were far more flexible and adaptable than they were. Accordingly, they realised that hierarchical command structures – whether in the military, or in hospitals or in large modern organisations – were designed for efficiency in response to 19th and 20th century challenges, and no longer worked in 21st century environments. They, as do our large (and not so large) organisations, need to be as innovative, adaptable, and resilient as the small innovative operations that are outflanking them. To do this, McChrystal understood that they needed to change their organisational culture, their core assumptions and their fundamental principles of organisational design. What was needed were organisations built on highly flexible, empowered and motivated teams. However, there is a bigger challenge: “As the world grows faster and more interdependent, we need to figure out ways to scale the fluidity of teams across entire organisations: groups with thousands of members that span continents.” (p125)

His solution was: “A ‘team of teams’ – an organisation within which the relationships between constituent teams resembled those between individuals on a single team: teams that traditionally resided in separate silos would now have to become fused to one another via trust and purpose.” (p132)

Sound familiar to the trends you are finding in the workplace? It’s not really surprising. Professor Peter Hawkins has studied a host of different developments, both in theory and in application, in the field of organisational development and teams within them, and has discerned that all these approaches have in common seven key patterns:

  1. A move from fixed siloed structures to more emergent and fluid organising principles.
  2. Less hierarchical, with accountability flowing in multiple directions.
  3. Driven and aligned by a clear massive transformational purpose.
  4. Guiding values and principles.
  5. More porous organisational boundaries, with greater involvement of the customers, suppliers, partner organisations, investors and the ‘crowd’, in organisational investment, innovation, production, recruitment, marketing and sales.
  6. Use of the Internet for: innovation, engagement with stakeholders, reputation management and most aspects of the organisation.
  7. Based on being a ‘team of teams’ with a team-based culture – with the empowerment of local teams to create their own purpose, objectives, targets and be much more self-managing.

It seems to me that the sooner we embrace this kind of thinking, creating “simplicity on the other side of complexity” (US Chief Justice Oliver Wendell in the 1920’s), the sooner we will thrive in today’s world.

I hope that the series creates not only greater understanding for my readers, but that it perhaps creates more questions than answers. If I am successful in achieving this for you, please feel free to raise your views or questions with me at

(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.)

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