Edgar Schein, author of the ground-breaking text Organisational Culture and Leadership is fondly known as the grandfather of organisational development. Over the years Schein has begun to think and speak in terms of the DNA of an organisation, or its cultural genome.
Schein argues that we can’t simply transplant notions of how to improve culture from one setting to another. Instead we need to engage deeply with the inherent nature of the organisation. Not only do we need to know the organization’s structure, but also how it works psychologically and relationally. Coaches and consultants need to understand the process of an organisation.
Schein’s view makes absolute sense to process-oriented coaches. Our art is to engage with leaders in the midst of their transformational journey. We know it is fundamental to coaching effectiveness that we find out a leader’s mental models and uncover what is taken for granted within the organization.
Schein asks, “What are the things that, when we try to change cultures, turn out to be huge barriers?”
The Organization’s Growing Edge
As process-oriented coaches and organisational development practitioners we think of this as a great point of potential and growth. We call it the edge. This is a place where many leaders and teams may falter, but process-oriented coaches are like rock climbers highly adept at scaling the edge.
The edge is where our coaches come alive. They are skilled at exploringe edges from every angle; from within the moment when a leader is gripped by fear or from the mindful distance that offers a new perspective and insight. We climb with our clients, helping them gain new insights, as they prepare their organisation to cross into new and uncharted territory.
It is through the exploration of edges and other dynamic phenomena that the unique DNA of an organisation is revealed.
Yet edges are easily missed. Avoiding what is over the edge is so much part of an organization’s culture, people are usually unaware the edge is even there. In their efforts to maintain the status quo, leaders and teams tend to avoid edges, in favour of better known behavior.
A coach’s skill lies in their capacity to recognize and work with edges. We must catch the typical signs, such as sudden changes of topic, deflecting humor, nervous laughter, or just plain drawing a blank.
Despite their well-practiced avoidance strategies, we must hold our clients at this point of growth and enquiry. At the edge there will be resistance, in one of its many forms.
- What are the common edges you encounter in working with clients on cultural change initiatives?
- What have you discovered as unique to different organisations?
- How do you hold these moments of discovery and potential?