Helping change leaders find their way through complexity

Complex change
16th November 2014


Whether responsible for leading it or involved in implementing it, planned change can be overwhelming and isolating regardless of your experience and competence as a leader. So it’s a major focus for TurningTides. Our Executive Coaching Framework comprises three elements – individual, relational and systemic. It’s the systemic element that I want to focus on in this post.

Leaders can lose their bearings in organisational complexity 

Work environments are complex these days. Organisational boundaries are less clearly defined as services integrate and centralise in pursuit of greater collaboration and efficiency. Leading change in this context can be pretty demanding. There’s a lot to think about, not least of which is connecting with, and maintaining positive relationships with the people involved in the changes.

In reality ‘planned change’ is a bit of a misnomer. The complex adaptive nature of systems means that the environment within which organisations operate is constantly changing and the human response, both inside and outside the organisation, tends to be unpredictable.

Gary Hamel maintains that “change always starts on the fringe…with the activists”. If that’s the case then the leader’s job must be more about guiding the wave and building on the energy it generates than over-controlling it. Ralph Stacey sums the situation up well, when he speaks about ‘unknowable but recognisable futures’. With so much going on it is easy to see why change leaders might lose their bearings.

Bringing the system to life   

In an executive coaching situation, exploring what the client might be experiencing inside, only makes sense when considered within the context of what’s happening within the system in which they work.

Social media and the rate of global information exchange mean that the organisational system can mean something very different to what it did even 5 years ago. One of my clients is based in Scotland, his head office is in Scandinavia and he routinely delivers services and training in Africa and USA. It makes for a pretty complex work environment.

Systemic mapping is a way of surfacing the dynamics and relational entanglements that otherwise would be hidden. Understanding and acknowledging ‘what is’ is the first step to finding a way forward. If you don’t fully understand the issue, its hard to address it.

I use the Systemic Coaching and Constellations approach which provides a way of mapping the system to illuminate the essential elements of a client’s issue. I’ve been utterly amazed at how the quality of the conversation changes. By creating a spatial representation of a system using various objects, or by simply using paper and pen, you enable the client to tune in to invisible information in the system. It brings the system to life.

Opening up new areas of exploration

The systemic constellations approach works at an ’embodied’ level (a felt sense) rather than cerebrally, and that’s what makes it different. The shift in perspective can be profound and the solutions generated as a result, are usually more specific and enduring.

One client reflected on how the constellation completely changed her view of the situation. The mapping helped her to see things ‘as they were’, enabling her to let go of the frustrations that had troubled her for years. She subsequently developed greater clarity on the way forward. Another client reflecting on his map, was amazed by how he had positioned the object representing himself. He was facing out of the system altogether, opening up a whole new area of exploration.

Finding your place in the system in relation to others (and the issues) is like finding your anchor in the storm. You can go back to it time and time again to help make sense of situations and generate new insights.

It won’t be appropriate for every coaching situation but I find that even an abbreviated version can shift the conversation on to a different level.

Click here or email for further information on TurningTides’ Executive Coaching for Change Leaders


Eileen Moir leads on Executive Coaching for TurningTides. Accredited as an Executive Coach with Ashridge, Eileen subsequently trained in Systemic Coaching and Constellations with John Whittington.     






















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