Coaching as Organisational Development

Paul Z Jackson
Chris Grieve

Paul Z Jackson writes …

It’s been enjoyable and instructive working on this issue as guest editor, along with the team. Two teams, actually. Chris Grieve and Jonathan Zneimer as fellow editors, and the regular e-O&P squad of David McAra, Bob MacKenzie, Deborah Booth and Ned. Seabrook. I hope we are returning the journal to them in good condition.

Our aim was to gather articles on the theme of ‘coaching as organisational development’, and we think we have a terrific set of pieces here that will prove invaluable for anyone with even a passing interest in the topic. They describe a range of projects that together leave little doubt about the power of systematic coaching interventions within organisations.

You’ll notice that all these articles describe interventions at the ‘serious’ end of practice. It takes commitment, energy and discipline to get real impact and to have confidence in sustainable results. Each project is ‘serious’ in the senses of:
• all managers getting involved (Maxwell)
• the project team persistently going back and adjusting the process (Waldman)
• careful adapting to local conditions and emergent phenomena (Terni).

Equally, they have the flavour of value-for-money. The consultants and managers describe careful step-by-step approaches, evolving as they go along – many with use of pilots before design of a roll-out. None of the projects indulged in elaborate analysis for the sake of it. All transmitted skills firmly into the hands of internal staff, so the consultant can disappear and do something more useful as the projects end.

The articles provide plenty of evidence in the form of facts, figures and stories, but these are not double-blind controlled studies – those were simply not appropriate in this context, though it might be fun if PhD students were to find the time and resource to conduct such studies.

While the pieces are more practical than academic, you’ll observe that the interventions used (and are sometimes described in terms of) recent ideas – with practical applications of positive psychology, complexity science and other disciplines. They evince a willingness to embrace unknowns (Karen Maxwell and others), leading to improvisational responses to make projects work by capitalising on what was already there.

Several of the articles describe consultants taking a solutions-focused (SF) approach to the development of the organisation. This reflects my personal bias towards SF and involvement in the SF community. It is also the result of a good response from the networks from which articles were solicited.

But I’d like to think that the SF flavour also has much to do with the merits of an approach which is explicitly emergent, sympathetic to coaching as a methodology (client-as-expert, lots of listening), and an almost obsessive client-focus (‘What, precisely, do you want, and how will you know you are getting it?’).

If SF is not your preferred future, then you might explore the systemic modelling approach of Nancy Doyle, Paul Tosey and Caitlin Walker, who apply ‘clean’ questioning techniques to a leadership group – another example of how attention to detail at a micro-linguistic level will have impacts throughout a system that can show up as organisational developments.

The geographic range of the cases takes us twice to continental Europe, for case studies both using solution-focused coaching as central elements in strategic interventions. Paolo Terni’s fascinating insights into working life in an Italian Alpine water-bottling plant nicely offsets the atmosphere of Dominic Godat’s white-collar Swiss setting.

Back in the UK, there are similarly good results within Janine Waldman’s account of her well-sustained project with JLIS, a leading facilities management company. Janine brings out the importance of learning during such projects, and how such learnings can be made manifest by re-applying them – ‘triple looped’ – a theme Vicky Cosstick elaborates from her experiences as consultant to several organisations, including charities.

These strands are also examined and pulled together in Jeff Matthew’s thoughtful reflections on differences between external coaches and managers-as-coaches, packed with useful tips for getting successful OD when working with the latter.

Whether the coaches are internal or external, it is important to prepare the coachees, and Caroline Taylor offers us a brisk and thorough canter around this previously-neglected topic.

And what of the coaches’ skill levels? Their training apparently ranges from brief courses of a few days to an eight-month period, culminating in a Level 5 coaching qualification from the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM). (Southern Railways, with Gill How et al), yet it is apparent that the best measure of a coach’s skill is their impacts on the organisations.

Within these OD studies, it is tricky to tell the personal development impact on individual managers, or to know what would have happened without the coaching elements. And of course whatever happened last time doesn’t tell you what to do next time, when circumstances and the people involved are complexly different. So the best learning for us – as developers, leaders and coaches – is in these stories themselves.

Chris Grieve writes…

When Paul Jackson emailed seeking volunteers to help his mission as guest editor of this edition of e-O&P, my virtual hand shot up. The spark that ignited my interest was the notion of publishing stories of significance that demonstrate tangible links between coaching and organisational development (OD).

The idea that working with people on a one-to-one basis is somehow different to OD always struck me as an erroneous distinction. Coaching can be vital OD work. Person-centred, yes but organisationally-oriented also. The connections, in my mind, are contextual and systemic. If one multiplies many one-to-one coaching conversations that are linked to organisational change-related intentions, within a particular organisational context, the resulting patterning of conversations may lead to emergent change at a system level.

That this might not be entirely predictable or measurable in a linear way can be a real challenge for some. However, it speaks volumes about the complexity of human dynamics in organisational life and the potential that lies within and between people to affect tangible change in organisations through ongoing conversations. While for me this highlights the challenge we coach/OD practitioners face when attempting to communicate the potential value of such work, it also throws down the gauntlet for us to make our work meaningful and impactful for our clients (whether we’re working as internal or external coach/OD consultants) both personally and organisationally.

Reading and offering editorial comment to three of this issue’s authors has been a rare privilege. I have learned much about the practical application of systemic coaching interventions as tools for change in complex organisations. Each author has demonstrated, in their own voice, some of the challenges they faced, the approaches they used and the lessons they learned. Sharing their narratives, I hope, will add to all our understanding of the value of coaching as important OD work.

About the authors

Paul Z Jackson is an inspirational consultant, who devises and runs training courses and development programmes in strategy, leadership, teamwork, creativity and innovation. His expertise in improvisation, accelerated learning and the solutions focus approach has attracted corporate clients and public organisations, ranging from Ashridge Business School to Procter & Gamble, from local authorities to top five accountants and Greenpeace UK.

After ten years experience as a journalist with the Thomson Organisation, he worked as a freelance contributor to national magazines and newspapers. An interest in comedy led to script-writing commissions and a post as senior producer with BBC Radio Light Entertainment. Working as a script-editor and producer, he introduced dozens of writers to their first professional contracts. In addition to his extensive corporate work, Paul has taught and lectured at the London Actors Centre, Bath Spa University College, Cranfield, Ashridge and Exeter schools of management. His books include: Impro Learning, 58 ½ Ways to Improvise in Training, The Inspirational Trainer and as co-author The Solutions Focus and Positively Speaking

Chris Grieve is an independent executive coach, organisational and sustainable development consultant. Since setting up her company, Meridian Prime, five years ago, Chris has coached CEOs and executives in environmental, humanitarian, entrepreneurial and consulting organisations. She has consulted for organisations and teams on strategy, leadership development and learning and development programmes. Chris facilitates strategic retreats, bespoke training programmes and organisational development interventions. She has presented keynote speeches to international audiences numbering in their hundreds and delivered bespoke train-the-trainer and public speaking programmes to more intimate gatherings.

For over 20 years she has combined her passion for making a difference to people and planet with her work in the world. To this end, Chris has worked beside world leaders in science, business and government and with environmental activists and change agents in the field of marine conservation and sustainable fisheries. She now combines consultancy and research on environmental impact and sustainable development policy solutions, with facilitation of dialogue relating to environmental decisions.

Chris is passionately committed to her own development. As 2010 draws to a close, she is completing her research dissertation as part of a Master of Science degree in People and Organisational Development at Roffey Park Institute (affiliated with University of Sussex). Her research focuses on the solo practitioner of OD and how one’s identity and instrumentality can help or hinder the growth of an independent OD practice.

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