Team Coaching is fundamentally an individual and collective process of learning and change, and as such, team coaches should have a clearly articulated “theory of change” that underlies their Team Coaching approach.
Throughout the years with my Team Coaching clients, I have witnessed team members struggling at the beginning with systems thinking skills when asked to draw a picture in their mind of their working systems. I know the feeling, as most of us baby boomers/Gen Xers in the Western world have been (conventionally) educated and conditioned into thinking linearly, step-by-step in a continuous piecemeal approach and bringing with it a scientific one-truth avenue. The temptation is to look for facts rather than allowing patterns to emerge.
Being a Frenchman, Descartes initiated a bit of this, and I should know a thing or two about the Cartesian dualism mentality because the French educational system is still overwhelmingly based on this mental construct. Nevertheless, this “mental map” has its benefits such as PMO, striving to standardize and introduce economies of repetition in the execution of projects with its deadlines, implementing and executing task-orientated work.
However, in order to navigate the complexity of this VUCA world and its “wicked problems,” it is difficult to adapt to the rigidity, certainty and predetermined linear outcomes, as uncertainty is the new norm. My twelve years in the trenches designing and delivering team coaching programs have led me to conclude that the AQAL Integral Framework developed by Ken Wilber and the Integral Institute is, by far, the most precise map currently available for my “articulated” theory of change within a team coaching context.
AQAL itself stands for “All Quadrants, all Levels,” which is short for “All Quadrants, all Levels, all Lines, all States and all Types,” which are the five dimensions or elements that Wilber uses to define reality. The AQAL map ensures that you are utilizing the full range of resources for any situation, with the greater likelihood of success because ALL experiences have both interior and exterior components in singular and collective forms.
It’s a 5D multidimensional integral way of looking at reality, and as coaching practitioners, we can use this at different levels. For the simplicity of this article, we will map a change journey from a quadrant perspective using team coaching and the collective as a unit in the center of the diagram:
Exercise evaluating impacts in team coaching using the AQAL model:
Think of a recent team coaching client and imagine yourself walking into the first (UL) Individual-Interior quadrant of your client and circling right (UR) Individual – Exterior and back to bottom (LL) Collective – Interior and finally (LR) Collective Exterior, mapping this as a unit for the collective:
As you enter each quadrant see, feel, sense yourself addressing the coaching alliance from each perspective:
What are the individual patterns of competing commitments of the collective (UL)? What do you sense as their common individual beliefs/perceptions and as a collective unit? What would improve the collective emotional DNA of the team?
What leadership competencies (i.e., managing conflict) have you established in the team coaching agreement (UR)? What are the key strategic activities that the team needs to allocate to individual team members?
What is the purpose and desired values/operating principles of this team (LL)? What is the informal power structure and politics within the team? What rhythm does the team have?
What are the interdependent measurable KPIs objectives as a collective (LR)? What are the key strategic goals that the team needs to own as a whole?
What is your preferred team coaching quadrant? Do you always start with the (UL) – Individual Interior world of the team leader? Do you spend most of your time on the (UR) focusing on the “what” of team performance? Or, do you prefer to coach on the “how” of team process (LL)? Or, work on the team structure and design (LR)?
As learning capability is critical to teaming and a big part of the role of team coaching is to accelerate learning, I find this change journey mapping a useful exercise in setting anchor points, co-creating the relationship and establishing the coaching agreement with my team clients.
You cannot understand the experience of your client and fully facilitate learning and results through the lens of any other quadrant, and each unhealthy quadrant will have an impact on the other three as per the example below:
In conclusion, one of the key set of capabilities of a team coach is to diagnose the collective team culture and dynamics and systemic patterns while feeding back in ways that create new insights and mindset shift in the team.
The AQAL map is just one tool that helps you enhance your systemic capabilities and can be used to diagnose, contract (setting the foundation) and facilitate learning and results with your client team.