For the last 20 years, our work has been coaching people, private and corporate, in situations that are often conflicted, with significant issues of either unrealized potential or underperformance, complexity, and often a feeling of stuckness or frustration amongst those involved.
What we have seen is that people’s first response is often to draw on answers, tools, and approaches that are known to them and acceptable to their organizations. It is only when the difficulty continues when the frustration intensifies and we know that we are at a dead-end, and where we care enough about the situation, that we begin to look for new ways forward. The good news is, once there is a big enough frustration – or curiosity – we can start working.
What we have also found on our way through studies and experience – and sometimes plain pain – is how certain complex adaptive dynamics work. We have learned intensively from how nature works (MSc in Environmental studies) and then, 20 years ago, we added the human dimension to our dance with complexity, which represents a whole different layer of difficulties.
On our journey we have been inside the rabbit hole of different schools of thought, followed some teachers and studied theories, and experienced thoroughly some more approaches to change, transformation, and complexity. We have been through the deep end of approaches like Integral Theory, Coaches Trainings, Consciousness Training, Coaching approaches, Theory U, Holacracy, SDi, Teal/Learning Organisations, Adult Development or Developmental Theory.
What we have found is what works and what doesn’t for our kind of work. While each of these approaches holds a kernel of truth and has greatly – some more than others – contributed to our skill base and our own growth and development, the truth each of them holds is necessarily partial. What is worse though, is that their ‘truth’ becomes sour the minute teachers and practitioners turn around and promote their models and frameworks as the only valid lens and start to offer cookie-cutter recipes to deal with adaptive complexity, non-linear change, and transformation featuring seductively colourful graphics and diagrams.
Wrestling with our own truth and integrity over the years, we have worked out our own set of navigation skills and a way of working with the landscapes inside and outside of us: our own inner world and the outer landscape of people, groups, and organizations, that assist in finding a way through the challenging complex terrains in which we find ourselves. Slowly, as we have marinated and learned to accept uncertainty, confusion, complexity, power games or ambiguity as the predictable weather conditions one initially finds in such terrain, we have also learned to provide these skills to our clients. We can scaffold our clients thinking, be thinking partners to them, and enable change and transformation, personal and corporate.
In what we call complexity coaching, all these things fall into place for us. The coaching aspect means that we don’t come with ready-made solutions and recipes and that we enable our clients, private and corporate, to find their own solutions in the circumstances of their everyday challenges.
The complexity part signifies, that we draw on a multitude of perspectives based on a coherent theory and practice of leadership for today’s disruptive, volatile, and intensively networked society. We get to work with the whole system, the field, the relationships, and design for the sum total of emergent micro-shifts that make up that change we and our clients are searching for.
In this sense, complexity coaching goes beyond the aspect of bringing out the fullest personal and professional potential in a coachee. It brings in the whole relationship with people’s embeddedness in different systems and environments. Complexity coaching – and leadership – look as much at the context, the ‘in-between’ and the relationship dynamics as well as the actions and skills of individual leaders.
Photo credits: a.caspari_photography