I’d like to spend a little time discussing a relatively new development in coaching: systemic coaching. However, before doing so, let’s take a little detour into the world of sport.

Most people in the business world are at least intuitively aware that coaching had its origins in the world of professional sports. At the risk of oversimplifying, coaches working with individual athletes seek to optimise that individual’s performance, while those working with teams seek to optimise collective performance.

In the business/organisational context, a similar distinction is often made – coaches working with individuals generally don’t simultaneously work with teams because conflicts of purpose can easily arise (individual optimisation doesn’t necessarily coincide seamlessly with team optimisation).

Systemic coaching, however, takes a different perspective – a perspective that can be used very effectively with both individuals and teams. To return to sports for a moment, champions aren’t developed in isolation. Very few sporting champions have ever succeeded on their own inside a hermetic “coach-and-athlete bubble.” Instead, they develop in champion contexts, pitting (and measuring) themselves against the finest exemplars of their chosen sport.

This brings us into systemic territory: champions thrive when they manage their interfaces with their rivals (and the wider sport environment). They appreciate that they are not isolates; they learn and grow in relation to competitors (a word that in origin meant “petitioning together”). They’re part of a wider human system, a system that is vital for their development.

In systemic coaching, the focus isn’t on individual relationships and individual goals. It’s on those critical performance interfaces that top athletes are deeply and intuitively aware of. Each individual making up the system or sub-system they’re an intrinsic part of is encouraged to surpass themselves by being stimulated and inspired by those around them.

The aim is to develop excellent interfacing competencies, deepening the awareness that we succeed best when we’re with others, not on our own. I’ll say a little more on this next time.

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