First posted on LinkedIn June 7, 2016
Last week, I was working with a multi-agency leadership team comprising local government, health, police, private and third sector partners. They are grappling with some particularly acerbic social issues; those so-called ‘wicked’ problems that defy linear, planned change and disregard ordinary leadership techniques.
This group seeks strategic alignment across multiple agencies each with its own agenda. They want to agree ways of integrated working and to shift their collective mindset to build their understanding of a very complex issue. The fledgling team are building the capability to deal with it across organisational boundaries and, most importantly of all, they want to build trust to lead a borough of several hundred thousand citizens towards a brighter future. They are operating at the cutting edge of societal leadership.
Colleagues and I have offered several coaching sessions. We commenced with exploring how the members of the group would work together and quickly, possibly too quickly, moved into detailed action planning. As coaches, we noticed how the group all too readily opted to work on a detailed, task focused agenda; one which was probably too ‘safe’.
Thankfully, we recognised and surfaced what we had observed and challenged the group to occupy a more strategic place; one of challenge and support; one of leading complexity. Our coachees then started to experience a sense of togetherness. At last week’s session, the fifth in the series, agreed no less than 27 individual actions focused on what they want to achieve, how they are going to progress them and how they will build trusting relationships between themselves.
I have seen this group grow through the forming-storming-norming-performing stages of Bruce Tuckman’s famous teamwork theory (Tuckman, BW, 1965, Developmental Sequence in Small Groups, Psychological Bulletin 63, pp384-399) in a matter of weeks.
This I believe vindicates the approach the coaches took in the early days of focusing on the ‘how’, resisting moving into tasks until the group was ready. It also goes to show the importance of a group coach whose presence is at once essential to the group’s development and is also irrelevant to the group’s purpose. This is because (s)he is but one who facilitates the discussion.
Undisciplined problems disrespect conventional leadership development. Group coaching is far from conventional and I believe offers a disciplined focus that is most appropriate to such wicked issues.
Jeremy J Lewis