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Coaching as Organisational Development: Editorial by
Paul Z Jackson and
Paul Z Jackson
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
• careful adapting to local conditions and emergent phenomena
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.
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
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.thesolutionsfocus.co.uk
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
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.
Contact: email@example.com, www.meridianprime.co.uk