What role can coaches play in changing organisations and systems for the benefit of our climate?

What role can coaches play in changing organisations and systems for the benefit of our climate?

leaves changing from green to red

This is the third in a series of four articles by Charly Cox and Sarah Flynn on the role of coaching in addressing climate change, to accompany the release of their book, Climate Change Coaching: the power of connection to create climate action (Open University Press).

Coaches frequently work systemically with organisations to support successful change. Climate change, however, poses additional challenges for organisations compared to more familiar change initiatives, because it calls for large-scale, interconnected systems change in the face of existential threat. For some organisations, this may appear to be a matter of ‘simply’ reducing their carbon footprint, but many are realising that they will be part of reimagining and retooling global economies away from fossil fuels. Doing this requires a whole new level of imagination. In this context, the role of coaches and a coaching approach is even more vital for success. 

Often this is pioneering work that requires completely new solutions and ways of working, where outcomes are uncertain. If we assume that this is complicated work (for example ‘decarbonising our footprint’), the natural solution is to seek out technical experts to ‘fix’ the problem. However, because organisations aren’t doing this in a vacuum, but in the face of a global challenge, it is more often the case that climate-related change operates within a highly complex context (as defined by the Cynefin response framework developed by Dave Snowden and Mary E Boone) because the territory is relatively uncharted and the future unknown.

While technical expertise will be necessary to accompany large-scale change, experts cannot hold all the answers here, particularly when technologies can quickly become outdated or irrelevant. Here too a coaching approach can be relevant, by using powerful, open and customised coaching questions to navigate the complexity and create the safety for leaders to put their heads above the parapet.

What does this mean for the way that organisations need to work with these challenges? The Cynefin framework suggests that using a ‘probing-sensing-responding’ approach is most appropriate for navigating complex problems. This means going through a process of creative and innovative thinking, testing and problem solving on a small scale in order for a way forward to emerge.

This requires genuine collaboration and sharing of knowledge from across specialisms and departments, rather than working within silos. In particular, it requires incorporating information from diverse stakeholders within the system (not just those traditionally in power), and listening to voices of wider stakeholders including customers, communities, and the planet. Most of all, it means adopting a coaching mindset of acceptance and non-attachment to outcomes having to be a certain way, and letting go of the need to hold all the answers. Instead, organisations need to focus on building strong relationships of collaboration and trust to create a way forward.

Working this way requires a high degree of psychological safety, in which people feel included and safe to contribute, speak up, question, challenge, test, fail and learn. Coaches, and a coaching approach, have a crucial role to play in creating these conditions and holding spaces to support this process, so that organisations can create truly transformational change, rather than transactional change, in the face of the climate crisis.

Organisations that are genuinely engaging with this challenge are beginning to realise that this is not just about decarbonising, but about transitioning the very economies and paradigms that we live and work by; they are re-thinking not just what they want to do in the world, but what and how they want to be in the world, and the future that they are creating.

This is challenging but hugely exciting work, and coaches have an important role in ‘midwifing’ the organisations of the future, and creating the environment for thinking at a whole new level of impact.

Read all the blog posts in the series:

What does coaching have to do with climate change?
How can coaches help define a climate dream to run towards, rather than a nightmare to run from?
What role can coaches play in changing organisations and systems for the benefit of our climate?
How can coaches cultivate a solid inner ground to withstand outer world shocks?

For more information visit Climate Change Coaches

Buy the book: Climate Change Coaching

Image: Chris Lawton on Unsplash