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Don’t Coach the Person; Coach their Ecosystem!

A more considered approach to coaching.

None of us exists in isolation. Not even when working remotely at home instead of in a busy office. So when requested to provide coaching for clients, why do we focus only on trying to get individuals to change, as distinct from considering their work environment more holistically?

We laser in on their personal challenges and apply our individual coaching strategies to helping them change their behaviour or approach before acquainting ourselves with how they relate to the people around them and the systems they use.

Of course, the individual may expect this level of direct attention, or their employer may suggest to the coach that the individual is at fault or deficient in their performance in some key ways. This may be true, but won’t necessarily be a universal truth. Instead, the individual may be a victim of circumstances, or merely unable to transcend the limitations of their work environment.

We can see and hear people expressing frustrations and bemoaning their lack of support or inability to rise above their performance challenges. As coaches at Future Proof Learning, we have both a choice and a duty here; we can accept what we are told, or we can exercise our curiosity to help define the problem more clearly before we go on to help the individual solve it.

Albert Einstein once said, “if I were given an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute solving it”.

If Einstein thought we should invest more time in thinking than acting in science, we should perhaps follow his example in coaching.

We can define the issues and challenges more narrowly in terms of the individual’s behaviour, for example, how they react to a situation or how they plan to avoid or limit the impact of a situation. That could be helpful and may give the client some comfort and satisfaction. However, if the definition (either by the client or by us) is too narrow, then the coaching approach will prove to be limited in its impact and value without taking a broader and deeper view.

That view, in our experience, needs to be framed more comprehensively before it can be fully understood. Rather than simply tasking the coachee to look inward, we also encourage them to look outward and scan their horizon. By examining the individual’s challenges (and the reasons why they’ve not risen to meet them so far), we prefer to break them down in three primary ways:

  • The individual being coached – their experience, track record, capability, assumed potential and the support they’ve had.
  • The systems – the technology, business processes, development support or learning.
  • The people – the 360-degree environment surrounding the individual – line manager, peers, direct reports.

We call this the coaching ecosystem.

An ecosystem (defined by The National Geographic Society) is a geographic area where plants, animals, and other organisms, as well as weather and landscapes, work together to form a bubble of life. In business terms, it is also a complex network or interconnected system.

This frame of reference assists us and the client in exploring and understanding the highly interdependent and complex work environment that they are likely to inhabit. With this understanding, we can target our coaching towards those parts of the ecosystem that may be deficient. We can then develop strategies and tactics with the client that can have a cumulative impact that is greater than if we worked on their behaviour in isolation.

Taking an ecosystem view and approach allows us as coaches to work with clients wholly in the context of what they are really dealing with and how well their current strategies and tactics are working for them.

As James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) says “your systems are perfectly designed to keep you where you are”.

If it would be helpful, you can book a Free 1 Hour Coaching Session with us.