5 top tips to coaching in a changing environment

Promoted by 5 top tips to coaching in a changing environment

In our first article we provided 5 top tips to a systems psychodynamic approach to coaching. In this article we will explore five more tips that focus specifically on supporting clients working in an ever-changing environment.

The speed of change is unprecedented. Never has it been truer to say that change is the only constant. Many of our coachees arrive into coaching as a result of change within their work place. Whilst some of these changes can be positive – a new job or promotion, other changes might be more painful, especially if the coachee has been through a major reengineering exercise.

Often people are left reeling from change. However, if a change looks positive they are expected to make a smooth and easy transition. If the change is more difficult they are invited to behave professionally, whatever that means. However, as Ron Heifetz from the JF Kennedy School of Government, Harvard states: “We don’t resist change, we resist loss and change always heralds loss.”  This means that even an exciting change such as promotion might create a loss of the familiar.


1. Containment

Coachees experiencing change need time and space to process the losses involved with it. Part of what will enable this processing to happen, is if those affected are offered adequate containment.

In the fast moving world in which we now all operate, containment is often limited organisationally. The Nike edict of “Just Do It” seems to be ‘de rigeur’. A reflective space in which clients can process their feelings and develop their understanding of what has just happened, whilst hard to find in the work place, is something that can be offered in a systems psychodynamically informed coaching relationship.

But what do we mean by containment and how can we create a containing space? In the following four sections we will explore what aspects are essential in order to offer clients containment.


2. Boundaries

At one level the word boundaries seems to indicate restriction – something that perhaps smacks of inflexibility. However, in working with boundaries we aim to offer our clients a secure base in which they can really explore what is going on for them.  One type of boundary that allows this work to take place is a familiar working space. The space needs to be professional – a space that is free of interruption, neutral and private. This means that we do not work out of hotel lobbies or coffee shops where either the coach or coachee is likely to become distracted.

The other boundary that we work with is the boundary of time. We will always begin and end sessions on time. When coachees first come into a systems psychodynamic coaching relationship they might be a little surprised about how carefully we adhere to these boundaries. They can feel that these boundaries are overly stringent. After all, life happens. However, in creating these robust boundaries we are creating a secure base where clients are more likely to feel safe to open up and work with their real feelings.


3.  Authority

Change is often confusing and can disrupt previous relationships and lines of communication. After a change, a client may struggle to know whether they are fully authorised in their new role. In taking up a new position there is both the process of being appointed (or authorised) and self-authorisation. These processes are especially important if the client is now managing the team that they previously belonged to.

Such a scenario inevitably creates competition, rivalry and other complicated feelings and even the most professional colleagues may find themselves second-guessing their new line manager. The coach can help the client determine their level of authority and support them through a process of self-authorisation.

It is worth emphasising that there is a parallel process for the coach. A coach can’t work effectively if they are full of self-doubt about their ability to work. As importantly, the coach needs to feel like they have the authority to work with the client and that they are authorised institutionally and by the client.


4. Role

Role clarity is absolutely imperative. Again this is as true for the coach as it is for the coachee.

In a changing environment roles might be blurred and fudged. Knowing where a role starts and stops is vital both for the coach and the coachee. Often a coachee might invite a coach to provide an opinion or to tell them what to do. As systems psychodynamic coaches, this scenario creates something of a dilemma – one that perhaps is less complex for some other schools of coaching.

The dilemma goes something like this: If we don’t proffer our opinion, the coachee might be disappointed and feel that we are withholding and if we do, we might step into something more akin to a mentoring relationship where we become a kind of resident expert. Each systems psychodynamic coach will find their own way of navigating this scenario, but perhaps an option is to reiterate how we see our role and relationship to our coachee and to notice the dilemma and perhaps the draw to meet the client’s request.

Finally, in relation to roles, we believe that there has to be several degrees of separation between the coach and the coachee. We would never coach our friends or families because it’s difficult to hold a neutral or objective position in such a scenario. This clear separation also creates the containment and therefore the secure base that we referred to earlier.


5. Task and Territory 

Especially in a period of turbulence various individuals are going to have more or less capacity to manage ambiguity and uncertainty. This can lead to scapegoating and a sense of an A and B team.

Perceiving oneself as a B team member can feel very disheartening. Being scapegoated is even worse. Some individuals  are referred for coaching because they are viewed as a problematic member of staff, due to their difficulties in stepping into a new role or working effectively in a new team. Rather than perceiving them to be the issue, remaining curious about what the individual is holding and representing for the organisation, is vital.  We are talking about being open to refining the initial referral in order that both the coach and the coachee are clear about the task and territory of a coaching assignment.

In systems psychodynamic coaching, a coaching referral is an organisational intervention in it’s own right. It’s therefore helpful to think about what the organisational task is and how that links to the role of the individual and perhaps how they are traversing the organisational churn.


Tavistock Consulting is running a systems psychodynamic coaching programme that is accredited by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) at senior practitioner level.

We are inviting applications for the May 2016 cohort.  Click here to find an overview and application link for the Executive Coaching programme.

Attend our free Open Event on Wednesday 21st October, starts 6.30pm and ends 8.00pm, at Tavistock Consulting, 94 Belsize Lane, London, NW3 5BE. 


Click here to register 

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