Systems Coaching Case Study: SolutionsIQ

How does systems coaching work

An Interview with Jeff Leach and Sandra Cain

Perhaps you’ve been hearing about how team coaching can help to improve communication and dynamics within an organization. It’s true that involving a professional systems coach can go a long way in aligning a team, but how does the process actually work? In a recent interview, CRR Global faculty member Sandra Cain and client Jeff Leach discussed what systems inspired coaching accomplished for his former team.

At the time of the coaching engagement, Jeff was Chief Operating Officer at SolutionsIQ. Although his team had great people and potential, significant issues were holding them back and there was a lot of conflict.

A colleague suggested hiring a systems coach, saying that the team could use an impartial outsider to help them work through the issues.

“We needed somebody who was an extremely strong facilitator, and masterful in understanding how to actually navigate complex, tense conversations in a way that wouldn’t ignite,” Jeff says. “Someone who lets everybody feel like they are heard. That was really important.”

Interview Transcript

SC: This is Sandra Kane, and I’m here with Jeff Leach, a former client and now colleague and friend of mine to talk about team coaching systems coaching? Why bring in a systems coach? And what was the impact? That kind of thing? So, Jeff, do you wanna say a bit about yourself and your role currently.

JL: Sure. I’m happy to be here today, Sandra, thanks for for reaching out to me. Today I work for, I own a company called Adaptivity with a business partner, George Schlitz. We started this company a couple of years ago. Before that I was managing director at Accenture. Just prior to that I was a chief operating officer over at Solutions IQ, where I ran the Agile transformation teams, and that line of business got acquired by extension in 2017. I left Accenture in 2021 after some some great years there, and decided I would start my own shingle along with George Schlitz.

So we help organizations today with with complex business transformation work, helping them realize the strategies that they were promised and the value they were promised along the way around Agile amongst other things, and helping them capitalize on all those opportunities today.

SC: Great. Thank you. We met because your team at Solutions IQ was going through a tough time. There was a fair amount of conflict, a lot of really great smart people on the team, but there was some significant issues that were really stalling you. Tell me a little bit about from your lens. Why did you finally say, “We need to get some outside support,” and bring someone like me in?

JL: We had inside solutions like you. We had different business lines, you know, some of them around different types of segments of business. For example, we had the training business and we had the consulting business. We also had the formal coaching business, teaching coaches how to coach through things like Agile Coaching Institute. We had more of these business lines. There’s a lot of friction between the operational leaders of the business and the day-to-day delivery of that work. And so with that friction, one of the other owners of Solutions IQ, Charlie Rudd, said, “I really think we need somebody to come in and help us talk about this – who is impartial and doesn’t understand the business, who isn’t baked into our culture and our politics.” Even though we’re an Agile company, the reality is that we still had politics. Those exist everywhere in every organization.

And so Charlie Rudd was actually the one who said, “I know the perfect person. Her name’s Sandra.” That got me introduced to you, Sandra. Through that, you helped to facilitate some not-very-easy conversations. In the end, we hoped to come out of it with an ecosystem where both sides felt like they were heard, some new business constraints and operating parameters for this business line function properly, and for all of us to get along, so to speak.

SC: Yeah, get along enough. Right? It wasn’t about let’s all sing Kumbaya and be best friends. You really needed some support just in having conversations that didn’t get escalated. I want to catch the word coaching, because, you know, a lot of people listening to this have heard of Agile coaching as well. One of the distinctions we had to make was – what is coaching, and how is it different? Because when I think about coming into an organization or even a partnership, I really want to help people have different conversations than they’re having. What happens is we get stuck in kind of a groove – I’m right, you’re wrong – or some version of that. That never happens at home, but it does happen at work, right? (Laughter)

We just get stuck in a groove. I like to disrupt that a little by asking different questions and and having people look at things differently. That’s really the simple way that I think about coaching.

So you talked a bit about what was going on, and some of the the difficulties and some of the challenges. What does it take for you as a leader to to say, “You know what? I don’t think we can solve this on our own.” That’s a big thing, to bring somebody in from outside. Let’s talk about that.

JL: It is a really big thing, because we’re letting people in and letting them see how the sausage is made, so to speak. It’s a bad euphemism, but the reality is that you’re exposing them to – Most people coming into an organization from the outside, they have a perception of how things work and what’s associated with that brand. You’re risking that, right! You’re risking that not only from the coach that you’re bringing in, but people in their network. That information spreads, and so there’s a risk associated with that. But when I look at how hard it is to solve the problem – and again, I think we needed [someone] who had an objective view and didn’t have skin in the game. That was really the only way, because of the power of the personalities involved in every aspect of this. We needed somebody who was an extremely strong facilitator, and masterful in understanding how to actually navigate complex, tense conversations in a way that doesn’t ignite the fuel. Who lets everybody feel like they’re heard. That was a really important part.

Most people in the coaching space – and I use the word coaching, which can mean different things to different people – in that space, we’re problem solvers by nature. It’s part of our personality to solve problems. So when you get a whole bunch of people who are coaches in a room together, it becomes a really difficult thing to facilitate all of those personalities. Does that answer your question?

SC: It’s a great answer. You talked about the metaview of it, as well as the detail. You knew you wanted somebody who was neutral, who could navigate difficult personalities. It’s not always difficult personalities, you know. This was one of – when I think of the top two most conflictual teams I’ve worked with, you guys are number two.

JL: Okay!

SC: You’re right up there. There was one that was worse, that was just more unskillful. That was a family business, so it was super complex for them in different ways. Right?

You know, there was a lot of passion and intensity, and a history of miscommunication and people feeling misunderstood or not heard. That was really what I got, and part of what I thought about when I was first brought in. I thought, “Okay, the best thing to do is to interview.” There are different ways that team coaches pre-approach a client. Some people might do surveys or things like that, but it felt important to me to talk to each person on the team and really hear them.

I know that in my own relationships when we can’t hear each other, we just want someone to hear us, right? When people are upset and in conflict, they really just want to be heard. And that was one of the big challenges in your case is that you had somebody who was really pretty unskillful in communication, so didn’t feel heard, and people were really frustrated with that person. It was frustrating on both sides. So I thought it would be helpful for that person to feel heard, even if it’s just by me, and I’m outside of it.

I think about lifting the lid off of a hot pot, let a little steam out just a little bit at a time. So what do you? And this has been a little bit but a little time. But do you remember the impact of having an individual conversation first before we went in and worked with you guys as a team?

JL: Yeah, I actually do quite vividly remember admiring your first interaction. We got on a call and we started talking about – I think you did a great job of of framing what you thought the problem space was. You had spent time with Charlie ahead of time, and he articulated it pretty well. You helped frame that for me. Then we talked about the rules and engagement between us, and what we were hoping to get out of the overall session, and you got to hear my side of the story. I think there’s the piece that you mentioned of being heard. But when you’re running a multi-million dollar business, it’s – the business needs what the business needs – at the same time.

Everybody needs to be heard, but people on the other side need to understand that it’s not just about – I’m going to use a bad way to describe it – but it’s serving the greater good. You can serve the greater good. We’re not a nonprofit. We have to make money. I think you had enough of an understanding of business – you run your own business and you get that, right? So helping to frame that from my perspective – from a business perspective versus the human-centric problem, the communication problem – was good. It was a nice, distinguishing factor between us. We just had a great exchange of dialogue during that, and it helped just set the frame. It calmed me down. I became more relaxed. I became very open about it. Right? Because I had everything to gain and nothing to lose at this point.

SC: Right? You guys were kind of at the end of the rope, weren’t you?

JL: Yeah.

SC: Yeah. I’ll say as a team coach, that’s not my experience with a lot of clients. They are at different phases and different stages. Sometimes people bring in a team coach early, sometimes they bring them in in the middle, and sometimes it’s just like in your case – “Wow, we don’t know what else to do.” To be fair, your team had a lot of skilled people, both business smart and communication-wise. You’re a great communicator. When I see a team like that, that still can’t move the needle, can’t budge out of this, that’s really interesting to me. I get really curious about what’s going on and the dynamic between people that’s causing this to happen.

JL: Yeah, I often wondered the same thing. We have a bunch of people here who are highly skilled in this specific type of situation, and they do it really well inside of clients. Why can’t we do inside of us? I believe it really came down to – I said it earlier – that it comes down to the culture and the politics. It has less to do with the framework and the process of people. You need somebody who is completely removed from that to help bring that objectiveness to it. People are too clear or too close to the people and to the process. They lose objectivity.

Having somebody who comes in and is impartial, who really doesn’t care about what actually happens other than we get to the outcome that we’re trying to get to, and that both sides feel that it was a win-win for everybody – Yeah, that was the big aha! moment. Just making sure to get all those pieces together.That’s what made it better.

SC: I like how you said that the the external coach doesn’t really care about – that what I care about and was clear about was the outcomes you wanted from the coaching.

JL: Sure.

SC: And what I know and what I keep knowing, the more I do this work is that if the relationship is clean, the work is just easier. The relationship doesn’t have to be perfect, because it’s never perfect. But if it’s cleaner, if it’s easier – because humans are – even at work we actually care about relationship. Whether we sit down and talk about, “Oh, I love relationship. Don’t you?” We don’t do that, but we care. We care enough, and we know that we can’t do it all ourselves right, or we wouldn’t have a team. You wouldn’t need a team, if you could do it all yourself.

JL: That’s right. You’re exactly right. And again – I’ll peel back one of the layers of Jeff Leach here right? – I had this thing in my head, this box that I put coaching in. Coaching fit neatly in this box. It really wasn’t until I was exposed to you in this specific situation that I dramatically expanded my horizon on what it meant.

It was different. I had some executive coaching in the past, but it wasn’t like what we were going through with this facilitated event, and the lead in and after it. Because there’s always the pre work, there’s the work itself, and then there’s a recap that comes after the fact. That really opened my eyes to – oh, this is a broader thing, and really what we were doing as Agile coaches is somewhat coaching, but sort of not at the same time. This could take us into a whole other raffle that we can shelve for another day.

SC: You and I love to talk about this. What is coaching? What isn’t it?

JL: Yes.

SC: So maybe think of it as – coaching is more about the people. It’s people first. A lot of organizations say they value people, and they do. I worked for an organization for a long time, and I felt valued there. But to really put people first is a radical thing because profit and clients are super important. Process is important. All these other things are easier to measure, tangible. Relationships are hard to measure. It’s hard to say – “This is definitely better because X Y Z.”

Now in your case, it was easy to see because it was so difficult. You guys were really struggling, and we could see the needle move. It’s hard to measure that over time. It’s kind of a felt experience, as opposed to a data experience. Tell me what you think about that.

JL: Yeah. I agree with you. It is really hard to measure the relationship, I’m going to say the expansion and contraction of relationships over time. People wake up every day and their minds are slightly different than they were the day before. They could be grumpy, they might not have had a very good sleep, right? And all those things have implications on and ramifications to your relationship.

I think most people have an understanding, a tolerance level that is built up across in individuals as they have relationships with others. There’s these bounds that they sit in between the upper and lower limits of tolerance of what I’m gonna call noise in a relationship. Some people’s bands are really tight. You cross a little bit of a line and you’re out.

But I think that organizations and people managing relationships, it’s really complex and really a hard thing to navigate. Looking at progression over time, there’s no easy way to measure other than feeling it. Just it feels better. It feels good. Maybe my upper and lower tolerance limits got wider because we have an understanding. I think it comes down to empathy, not sympathy, but empathy. When you can start putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes, and you can see how they get to certain ways of thinking, It becomes a lot easier to create empathy for them.

Empathy is the key in any kind of relationship. There’s different degrees of it. Obviously, you know that and you’re far more of an expert in this than I am. From my perspective, that’s what I think it comes down to. Can you increase the amount of empathy? Some people are just naturally empathetic, and they have it to the ends of the earth – empathy for people when they probably shouldn’t. They can be used, or be a doormat. Even coaching in relationships around that actually helps people tighten those boundaries when they need to be tightened versus expanding them.

In the business setting, it’s often the other way. It’s usually there’s not much of a boundary, an upper and lower limit. There’s not much of a gap there, and you’re trying to create one. That’s my 30-second or 45-second diatribe on that.

SC: Well, I love that you brought that up because you’re reminding me that when I worked with your team, that was really the thing that shifted. I remember a moment when there was one person that was holding a role of agitator on the team. They were really kind of stuck in their ways, they didn’t want to give, they didn’t want to bend, which is frustrating. But there was something underneath. They were also taking a stand for something. I started to notice a pattern in how you guys were communicating. That person felt like nobody understood them. If there’s no understanding and no empathy, as you just said, nothing’s is going to move. Right? We just get stuck in our corners. It’s true in partnership, it’s true in all kinds of places.

At that moment I – it’s been a few years, but in my memory I asked you all to try to imagine what it feels like to not be heard, to not feel respected, to feel like you’re taking a stand for something, and people can’t hear it or don’t care. I see you nodding.

JL: I remember.

SC: I could feel the mood in the room – there was just a shift where I could see the rest of you going “Wow!“ It wasn’t saying she was right, but it helped all of you to see her as a human again and for all of you actually to see each other, if I’m honest. To humanize everybody.

JL: That’s the key. I think there was a defining moment, and that was probably the defining moment in that entire meeting, in that session. There was a time when you – I’m gonna say power-shifted – you power-shifted everybody into somebody else’s role. Essentially, you said “How do you feel when you stand in this quadrant with this person?”

We get these perceptions of what things are like, and right or wrong. But they’re often not based in any kind of reality at all. There’s a distortion of reality in them. When you have to step in somebody else’s shoes and you say, “Okay. If I was in your role, and I was running this specific thing, what would that look like for me? And what would that experience be for me?” Given all the information that we just gleaned over the last few hours together, my reaction will be different, right? I may not handle the problems the same way you do as an individual, but I definitely have a different understanding of what your day-to-day feels like.

And now I can try to tune my reaction as a business leader to a better understanding of what you’re going through. I expect the same in return, right? There’s a give and a take. It isn’t a one-way street, by any means. That’s the another big crux that comes in relationships. There’s people that are givers and there’s people that are takers, and that’s what they are, and you need to understand how that whole system works across the organization. For us, making that power pivot was really beneficial. Just seeing that input. Again, I think it comes down to empathy, but you’re far more of the expert in this space than I am.

SC: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of different words for it, but some version of empathy absolutely. I didn’t think she could do that for you guys. She couldn’t step into anybody else’s shoes, she was so rooted in her position. It was just a hunch. Honestly, just in that moment I said, “You know, everybody else, just try on what it feels like when you feel like nobody’s listening to you? When you really think you’re right and nobody cares? I don’t know exactly what I said, but it was something along those lines. And I literally could feel the mood shift as you all did that, and then you spoke from that place. What does it feel like? And she felt understood, I think, for the first time, even 10 percent understood. That was enough.

JL: Yeah, it was. Some little acknowledgement. Oh, wait! They might actually get it now, or more than I thought they did. It was a very powerful moment. It’s a hard place to go to when you’re not used to going there, but once you land in that space – and again, you did an exceptional job. The key to any type of this facilitation is creating the safe container for conversations to actually go down the right path that they need to go down. It’s not avoiding the hard conversations. It’s actually figuring out how to elicit them in a constructive way, where people feel heard. They listen. They can hear the other person’s side and put themselves at least somewhat in those shoes.

SC: That’s it, at least somewhat. Cause you don’t have to agree, because we never 100 percent agree with somebody else right? Even even the people I’m closest to I don’t agree with 100 percent. But if you can crack that window just a little bit, let a little fresh air in and say even two percent of me can see what that’s like. That’s the thing with coaching, there’s a perception out there that these dramatic Aha! moments happen all the time. It doesn’t quite work like that. It can. With one-on-one, it can be a little bit faster. The more people that are involved, the slower a system moves. So a little crack in the window can make a big difference over time.

JL: Exactly. I do think you’re onto something. The larger the system, the slower it typically moves, especially when it comes to change. The other piece of that is the larger the system, the easier it is to actually move the needle in a noticeable amount. It doesn’t take a lot to make a big impact, especially when it comes to coaching at systems and teams levels. We have a client right now that that has been doing Agile for several years. They went through a couple of other consulting companies, and and haven’t been able to move the needle. We just came away from a large event with them that we helped to facilitate, and got accolade after accolade about how we moved the needle. So I’ve been using this phrase, “move the needle” in trying to figure out how to describe it. The reality is that we’re not doing anything that anybody would call revolutionary. The way we’re going about it, in the small iterative and incremental change, actually helps them understand they can accomplish a little bit and a little bit and a little bit, instead of these big, grandiose plans that that they can never achieve, and they always feel like they fail. The bigger the system, the smaller the win, but it’s actually more impactful in a large system because they feel it everywhere.

SC: That’s right. One of the metaphors we talk about at CRR Global with systems work is of a big ship, one of those massive ships that’s moving through the the ocean. If they move the tiller just two degrees, it’s an imperceptible amount of change for quite a while. But over time, they end up on a new continent, a different continent.

It can feel like that with a big conflict or more people. Frankly, it’s harder to move. Sometimes coaches are looking for that quick aha! moment, all fun and exciting and really rewarding. That doesn’t always happen with team coaching. It can take time.

I remember those moments because there was such an intense emotional field with that team. That one really stands out for me. And I didn’t walk away thinking, “Oh, that everything solved.” It was like there’s an opening that happened, and there’s some new insight that got into your team, and you will be different from it.

JL: Yeah. I mean, in the end was everything rosy between us? No. But it was better, absolutely. It was better. And we we were able to move forward, which was the most important part. It felt like we were stuck, at a standoff, and we were gonna have to make some really tough business decisions. None of us really wanted to go down that tough business decision road unless we absolutely had to, so this was a way for us to figure out how to move forward. And we did. We were able to move forward.

SC: Well, I think a bonus for you was that this really lit you up about coaching.

JL: You have it.

SC: A different version of coaching. Like I said, a lot of organizations use the word coaching in different ways. you know. You and I became colleagues and friends outside of this work. Tell me about what’s changed for you, about your perception of coaching, and how you might bring it into the work you’re doing now.

JL: Well, like I said before, I had a little bit of exposure into some executive coaching back in the 2005-ish era. It was really small. I saw how it impacted but it really wasn’t that great at the time. Also, I may not have had been in the right brain to receive it, right?

SC: I appreciate you recognizing that. (Laughter)

JL: Well, it’s true, right? If I’m not ready to receive it, you can give me the winning lottery numbers but I’m not going to receive them. I’m never going to play the lottery.

SC: Right.

JL: When I got exposed to this session with you – it was a few months later that I wanted more and went back. I said that I really wanted to get some exec coaching and I really wanted to use Sandra. And so you and I started talking about it.

For me, the exec coaching did a couple of things. It gave me an outlet to somebody who had not bought into the politics or the culture, who wasn’t trying to solve my problem, who would listen to what my pressures were, and help me reframe them in my own brain. Maybe in a slightly different context, sometimes a radically different context than the way I was thinking about it. Just so I was less stressed, I was more focused, I had an idea of how to conquer or to tackle a problem that I had, and I didn’t have to go up the chain right or sideways in the chain. I didn’t have to burden somebody below me in the chain to figure out – how do I solve this problem? I needed that. So that was one thing that executive coaching got me.

As I progressed later on to the Accenture world. It. It became a slightly different conversation between us. Not only was it “how do I solve these problems and these new pressures” – because I was in a very immense high profile role that had a lot of pressures on me from every direction, 24  hours a day – but it became “how do I choose what I want to do?” Is this really my life going forward? So talking through that and understanding – I think that you help me put myself in somebody else’s shoes time and time again. I’d like to think that I’m a fairly empathetic person, but I think working with you made me see that I’m just a mere amateur in the empathy perspective. And so I was trying to uplevel it a little bit, get to a low-advanced level of that, and helping me frame that empathy around other people and other roles.

Also, the “what does Jeff want to do when he grows up?” Is the juice worth the squeeze? I use that bad phrase all the time but yeah, I had a high dollar salary. I was working in a really large company. I had a really high profile client. I had all the visibility. I had a lot of autonomy, but I wasn’t happy.

I just wasn’t happy, and helping me talk through that. Again, this is executive coaching/therapist, probably, figuring out what do I want to do, and what does that mean, and really talking through it without the pressures of a spouse or a boss, or another manager. It just became about what’s in Jeff’s brain, and how does Jeff frame that? Have you thought about this and have you thought about that? You had no skin in the game. Your skin in the game was that you wanted to see me be happy and successful, and to achieve the things that I wanted to get. Not what you wanted me to do, or what I call coercive leadership which is – I really need you to do this thing, so I’m going to come around the side every year and I’m going to paint this rosy picture of what could be and and help you start to achieve success in that. And then, I’m going to back off and let you figure it out on your own. That’s not without the support, and that’s not what executive coaching is meant to do. It’s meant to really be standing up around the individual, helping them recognize where they’re at and where they want to go. What are the gaps, and do you have a plan? If you talk through how you’re gonna get from A to B to C, it doesn’t need to have all the details, but it needs to have enough baked in it that it becomes achievable and baked in some level of reality. It’s a realistic plan.

SC: I appreciate how you’re talking about coaching, and how the the definition of that is so different in different contexts. You know, the field of coaching took a lower case “c” concept coaching – and turned it into a capital “C” coaching concept. There’s going to be some blur, maybe forever, because “coaching“ is used in a lot of casual, informal ways that are different than how we hold it as professional coaches.

I also want to highlight what you said about me having no agenda. That’s one of the most amazing things of working with a coach that’s not inside your organization. An internal coach can, and I did a little bit of that when I was at American Express – I was not in a leadership role with anyone I was coaching, so I could hold a pretty loose agenda. I wasn’t attached. But if you’re the leader coaching your own team, of course you have an agenda. You’re supposed to, and that’s part of your job. You have goals, you have outcomes you’re aiming for, so you can’t fully be neutral. There’s still some value in that, but it’s not the same as having somebody who’s really detached and actually more interested in what’s lighting you up. What do you care about and what are you passionate about versus all the other things that you might have to manage if you’re inside an organization.

JL: Well, when I brought you in as my exec coach when I was in Accenture in my last role there. I got a lot of pushback. They had a whole team of internal executive coaches, but I was insistent. [Those coaches] were not really going to help me step back and look at it holistically, because their paycheck comes from the same place my paycheck goes from. I met some amazing coaches, I’m still friends with some of them, and and we chat from time to time. If they were outside of Accenture, I absolutely would have talked to them. But being inside the board, I just couldn’t do it. It just didn’t make sense. I knew enough about it to know it it it would not have been the same outcome for me. I’m not saying you helped me leave Accenture by any means. You helped me think through the pros and cons of of exiting and starting my own thing, and taking some time off to get my own mental and physical health under control. That was invaluable, and you and I’ve remained friends outside of this since then. And we have some really great conversations about coaching. Little “c” coaching and big “C” coaching .

SC: And how coaching, I’m going to say over the last 15-ish years, has dramatically changed in a lot of ways – some ways good, a lot of ways bad. It’s got some bad stigma around it. And the things that you have to do to overcome that, especially in your role where you’re a true coach right? You’re not a pseudo coach.

SC: Yeah. Pseudocoach. (Laughter) I just want to just build on one thing you said about the internal coaches. There are a lot of internal coaches that are great, to be fair. It’s not about them. It’s about you as client, you as leader. Can you feel fully safe to be honest about everything that’s really going on for you? To share that you might want to leave? Even if the internal coach has said this is confidential, and all the things that they would say, there are some situations where they would have to break confidentiality internally. I think that’s reasonable. But there’s always that little bit – for you, it sounds like that was running in the background – like. “I don’t know if I can fully say what’s going on.” So for you, it was helpful to get somebody absolutely outside.

JL: Absolutely. I mean, I had to have it. Not that you and I had a long relationship, because we didn’t meet until you facilitated this other event in 2015 or 2016, something like that. Right? It was a little ways after that when we started having conversations. I’m the one who reached out to you and said, “Hey, I’m looking for an executive coach. I think it should be you.” And we talked about why, I thought that and we didn’t talk about this specific element of it. But there’s a personality jive right that has to be there for us. Those things have to come together. If you don’t have that gel with the personality of the other person – for me, that’s just like going to a therapist and not being able to relate. If you can’t relate and connect, it’s gonna go nowhere quickly. It gets in the way.

JL: We have the same thing with consultants right? A lot of what our consultants do is coaching. Not all of it, but some of it. If they don’t gel with the teams and the leaders that they’re supposed to be working with, there’s no sense in trying to make it happen. It either works or it doesn’t. Sometimes there’s some situations that happen, and you need to figure out and navigate that. But for the most part, the personality has to be on on par, right from the get go. Otherwise it’s not gonna be effective, and it’s just not going to work.

SC: For me as a client working with a coach, that’s super-important. I need to feel like we have the right chemistry. They have to have a sense of humor, cause that’s how I see the world. If you don’t laugh at my jokes as my coach, you’re out. You have to, and my clients do too. We have to laugh at the absurdity of being human every once in a while.

They’re probably great for somebody else, but just not the right match for me.

So I think that’s hugely important. I just I feel really grateful that you and I do have that chemistry. And we have a history now of a long time of working together in different ways. So thank you for being here, for saying yes to this, and for being so open and honest about your experience from the leadership side and personal side.

JL: Yeah, I appreciate the the invite Sandra and I appreciate you. I mean, I’ve sent you countless texts of how much I appreciate you. What you do is is invaluable. It’s often misunderstood in organizations and certainly not leveraged to what it should be inside orgs. There’s a lot of people who could benefit from it if they were actually exposed to in the right way. That’s the key, exposing them the right way.

SC: Hopefully, people are listening to this and getting a refreshed view of what coaching is and what it isn’t. So thanks for your contribution to making that happen.

JL: You’re welcome.

4.50 avg. rating (90% score) - 4 votes

Setting up the engagement

The team had a history of miscommunication. Along with fostering a better relationship, they wanted to set new business constraints and operating parameters.

“I do quite vividly remember admiring your first interaction with us,” Jeff says. “We got on a call, and you did a great job of framing what you thought the problem space was. We talked about the rules and engagement between us, and what we were hoping to get out of the overall session.”

This exchange set the tone for the whole coaching engagement.

“It calmed me down. I became more relaxed and very open about it. I had everything to gain and nothing to lose at this point,” Jeff says. “When you’re running a multi-million dollar business, the business needs what the business needs. Everybody needs to be heard, but people need to understand that it’s about serving the greater good.”

Connecting the team

When coaching sessions began, the team knew that Sandra would be supporting challenging conversations. They had been at a standstill, and wanted to avoid having to make some difficult decisions as a result. Coaching offered a way to move forward.

the key to facilitation

Jeff and Sandra both recall a few significant moments the team shared during the sessions. For example, one person was holding the role of agitator or disturber on the team. They were rooted in that position and didn’t want to bend, which frustrated others.

Noticing that this person never felt heard by the rest of the team, Sandra asked the group to imagine what it feels like to not be respected when you take a stand. The question shifted the mood in the room.

“That person felt understood, I think, for the first time. Even to be 10 percent understood was enough,” Sandra says. “We will never agree 100 percent with somebody else, but if you can crack that window just a bit, let a little fresh air in …. a little crack in the window can make a big difference over time.”

“At CRR Global, one of the metaphors we use for systems work is of a big ship – one of those massive ships that’s moving through the the ocean.” Sandra says. “If they move the tiller just two degrees, it’s an imperceptible amount of change for quite a while. But over time, they end up on a new continent.”

Jeff agrees that small changes can make a big difference over time.

“These small, iterative and incremental changes actually help teams understand they can accomplish a little bit at a time,” he says. “It’s actually more impactful in a large system because they feel it everywhere.”

Sandra used the Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC™) skillset to work directly with the relationship of the team. Helping participants to see each other’s perspective as well as the big picture was key.

“We have these perceptions of what things are like,” Jeff says. “There’s a distortion of reality. When you have to step in somebody else’s shoes, you say, ‘Okay. If I was in your role, what would that look like? What would that experience be for me?’ Now I can try to tune my reaction as a business leader to a better understanding of what you’re going through – and I expect the same in return.”

The purpose behind coaching relationship


Sandra explains that relationship systems coaching focuses on the people. Although many organizations say they value people, truly putting them first can be challenging. Profits, clients and processes are all measurable, while relationships are not as easy to assess.

“To really put people first is a radical thing,” Sandra says.

Teams bring in coaches at different phases and stages, and for various reasons. Sometimes a team coach is involved early, sometimes in the middle, and sometimes when the team realizes they don’t know what else to do.

“Your team had a lot of skilled people, smart in both business and communication,” Sandra says. “A team like this that can’t move the needle, can’t budge – that’s really interesting to me.”

The coaching sessions didn’t solve every problem that the team had. Instead, the team gained the insight and skills they needed to work through conflict for themselves.

“Managing relationships is really complex and really a hard thing to navigate,” Jeff says. “Looking at progression over time, there’s no easy way to measure other than feeling it. It just feels better. It feels good.”

The value of professional systems coaching


Jeff found the coaching to be so insightful that he eventually hired Sandra as his executive coach.

“Having somebody impartial, who really doesn’t care about what actually happens other than that we achieve the outcomes we want, and that both sides feel that it was a win-win for everybody – that was a big aha! moment,” he says. “What you do is is invaluable.”



Sandra Cain, PCC, ORSCC, is a faculty leader at CRR Global who has coached relationship for over two decades. She also leads and supports the ORSC experiential courses that grow participants’ skills, competency and confidence in expertly coaching teams and relationships of any kind.

Jeff Leach, COO at Adaptivity, has a background in leading Agile transformation teams, helping organizations to achieve their goals and navigate complex business transformations. Before co-founding Adaptivity with business partner George Schlitz, Jeff’s positions included Managing Director at Accenture and Chief Operating Officer at SolutionsIQ.

Explore the Systems Inspired Library

4.50 avg. rating (90% score) - 4 votes