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Take in the whole system

Take in the whole

A useful way of looking at a client is to reflect on and hold in mind the systems that they exist within. And to ask about that.

“Tell me where you see yourself in the organisational system. Not in the traditional hierarchy or organisational chart but what your sense of your place is within the organisational system. What constellation of relationships do you find yourself in?”

I’ll often combine this question with a simple exercise – using cups and saucers or whatever is to hand (post-its; bits of paper etc) to set up a quick spatial/relational model of the client in their system. The start of a systemic constellation, but just the start, the mapping. This will often lead to some vital information and insights about issues like belonging, loyalties and sense of place. Once they are in this way of thinking, going a little further back is useful and delivers more insights for both the client and coach.

“What was it like for you in the education system in which you matured, what was your ‘place’ then. Are there any parallels with your current sense of place?”

This can often lead to a much deeper understanding of how they are in groups, what role they learnt to play and where they felt most at ease. The connections to their current situation are usually self-evident.

If they have been relatively open so far I would always try the next level:

“Would you say a little about the family system you were born into, your relationship to your family?”

“The insights I gained in our first meeting, about the links between my past and my leadership style left me wanting to find out more”

On this last point – asking about the family of origin, or more specifically of course their relationship to their parents, there are a lot of people with a lot to say about avoiding this area altogether. Avoiding this area is however, to my mind, a disservice to the client. You don’t have to be a family therapist to ask the question and if you ask in the way I’ve suggested above they can decline. Which is key information in itself of course.

If an issue comes up which you feel is either beyond your skills and experience, or more likely outside the boundaries of this particular coaching contract, you can always sensitively enquire if they’ve ever considered looking at it in a therapeutic environment. This way you remain true to their material rather than avoiding the subject altogether. These questions merely scratch the surface of a ‘systemic’ approach to coaching, but within a chemistry check one or more of these is usually enough to open up the wider, bigger picture in which this client exists. Staying purely in the world of work keeps the client – and the coach – in purely the cognitive, rational mental space. On safe but infertile ground.

And we all know that life and leadership isn’t like that. The entanglements and hidden loyalties run deep.

Start at the end
Take in the whole system
Acknowledge what is
Not about you
Choose your clients
Everything else . . .

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Start at the end
Take in the whole system
Acknowledge what is
Not about you
Choose your clients
Everything else . . .

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