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Jenny Williams is a Master Coach (MCC) and one of the first coaches in the world to be accredited in Advanced Team Coaching with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Describing herself as being obsessive about her continued learning to maintain her edge, here she talks about her experience of team coach training on the AoEC’s Systemic Team Coaching® Diploma.
Prior to coaching you worked at a senior level in marketing and sales with brands including Nokia, Mars Confectionery and News International. Who or what introduced you to coaching?
I never intended to be a coach as I loved my job as a marketeer, but I got into neurolinguistic programming and did a practitioner course. This was done from a personal perspective; I was curious about it and at the same time thought it might help me with my work. Whilst doing the Master NLP qualification I took redundancy from Nokia.
I thought now what? I had a friend on the course who happened to say she was going to New York to do this coaching course which lasted six months and I just thought that sounded amazingly cool. I thought ‘Why not?’ and would get to spend time in a city I love.
Initially I felt out of my depth, it was a very different world to the corporate world I had come from, and I was not sure it was for me. Then, we had to start coaching people and I did my very first coaching session with a friend of a friend, and it just clicked. It was like this is what I'm meant to do. From that point in January, I'd set up my coaching practice in September. I did it quickly, which was not like me. Previously, I had been much more cautious and deliberate in planning my career in marketing however this felt right and I took the leap into starting my own practice.
What led you to team coaching and to sign up for the AoEC’s Systemic Team Coaching Diploma course?
My primary reason was because I wanted to do my MCC with the ICF and for that you need 200 coaching education hours. I had done lots of training but it was not necessarily all ICF certified, so to ensure I had enough ICF accredited hours the easiest thing was to do another course. Although it would have been easier to have done a shorter course than the diploma, I had seen an AoEC talk at the ICF conference on team coaching and that piqued my interest as I was already working with teams along with one-to-one work.
I did the certificate and thought it was a different way of looking at things. I felt like we'd only scratched the surface, and there was so much more to learn. I decided this was where I wanted to get my coaching education for my Master's but it was all done through a desire to learn and do things that I'm interested in.
What were the most beneficial learning experiences on the diploma?
It was brilliant - probably the richest and deepest coach training experience that I've had, and I have done hours and hours of training.
It is threefold. One is the calibre of the faculty. I felt like I was learning from the best of the best, people who really knew what they were talking about and who had lots of experience. Also, they were incredibly attentive and caring to make sure that we got to a good learning outcome.
Another was the calibre of the other students. There is something about the course that attracts really experienced coaches who bring a breadth and a diversity of thought. Because of the way that you learn through study groups etc, you spend a lot of time together and learning from each other. They were phenomenal and I'm still in touch with a number of them.
The third thing is that it's multi-dimensional in how you learn. So, that is in the classroom, it's through the faculty, the other students and then it's doing the case study. Because of the complexity of team coaching and learning over a long period of time through all of those different ways, it really deepens the experience.
Can you please tell us about your own coaching approach and how this has evolved to include systemic team coaching?
The learning from the systemic team coaching has evolved not only my team coaching but also my one-to-one leadership coaching. It has helped me to work with even greater degrees of complexity, and ambiguity than before.
Previously I utilised my master coach training and many years of experience of what I know can help clients. Alongside this I used my Enneagram practitioner experience. The enneagram allows you to understand the personality structure and what’s driving the person’s thinking, feelings and actions, which can be transformational to help a leader and teams develop further.
However, the systemic team coaching training broadened the lens I use when I work. Even when coaching individuals, I am now asking different questions; exploring what is going on in the wider system that is impacting their world, looking for parts of the system that are disconnected or seeking to understand where different time horizons (past, present and future) are impacting what is happening in their present world.
Before much of my work was involved with the personal, and with teams it was about the dynamics, now with the systemic work, I am bringing the outside perspective more strongly into the work to help finding outcome with my clients.
What were the benefits for you of working on a live case study as part of the diploma programme?
It doesn't matter how many books you read about team coaching, seminars you attend, or times you discuss case studies with your colleagues, nothing prepares you for working with a ‘real’ team. Having to complete a case study with a team over time, to try things and work with my supervisor to evolve my skillset deepened the learnings significantly.
The case study work was transformational because I could apply the theory and learn from all the curveballs that inevitably happen in real life. It challenges you to be agile, to be brave and try new things, and reflective about not only the team, but also yourself as a coach.
I was surprised by the process of writing up the case study. When I started writing it, I thought it was something I simply had to crack on with and get it finished. I underestimated the impact on my learning by writing. It was challenging, it asked me to not only think about the work and the team, but also who I was as a systemic team coach and how it manifests itself in who I am, my approach alongside my work with the team.
You are a Master Coach with the ICF and one of the first coaches in the world to be accredited in Advanced Team Coaching with the ICF. How important has accreditation with one of the industry’s professional bodies been to you personally?
Firstly, there are many great coaches who have chosen not to go down the accreditation route. However, for me accreditation is important because it helps to bring rigour and professionalism to the industry, which makes it easier for clients to know what they are going to experience. Prospective clients often don't know how to find a coach. It is a minefield for people whether they are looking for team or one-to-one coaching. However, if a coach is accredited then it shows the training the coach has received, the number of coaching hours they have done, the fact they have ongoing coach mentoring and that their work has been assessed.
I was invited to be one of the first people to take the Advanced Team Coaching accreditation with the ICF and that was insightful. Part of my involvement was to help them set the standards for the exam (which is just part of the accreditation process), which was interesting, I didn’t realise it meant I would have to take it a few times as part of the calibration of the exam… not fun! However, what I enjoyed was working with my peers on this and seeing first-hand the care and rigour with how the ICF establishes credentials. I was a small part of this methodical and statistical process they took to establish the credential.
I believe the more the ICF and the other accreditation bodies can do to raise awareness of accreditation and what it means, is a massive win for both clients and the industry itself in the long run.
You have your own successful practice. Who are you working with and what are some of the typical challenges and opportunities you help teams and individuals work through?
When I first started as a coach, I thought I would work with FMCG marketing directors because that was my background. I do, but I have a far broader client base then I ever imagined, which has grown through word of mouth. I work with fast scaling start-ups, to global groups through to the public sector and not for profit. My clients are in luxury, beauty, tech, finance, creative and consultancy to name a few. This breadth is one of the things I enjoy most about my work, and at the end of the day people are people whether they are working for the civil service or a Silicon Valley giant. What unites them all is the pace of transformation; whether that is working with a new leader in their new role or a team whose business is growing rapidly and how they operate together needs to change as a result of it.
How do you measure the effectiveness of your systemic team coaching work with clients?
There are three ways I do this. Firstly, at the start of an engagement, I work with the sponsor to identify both the outcomes and the business benefits that the team coaching is trying to achieve, this gives us the direction of travel and what we can measure against.
Secondly, I gather feedback from the individual team members, the team collectively and the team’s stakeholders at different points in the process, this gives a lead on where the team is at, and the work we still need to do.
Finally, I am looking for the shifts which happen in the room as we work together. When you're working with a team you know whether things are shifting or not because you can see by the difference in the conversation they are having, both in terms of what they are saying and how they are saying it. Like when you do 1-2-1 coaching, you are looking for the new thinking coming through in the session. At the end of a session, I will ask the team to reflect on what was different about this conversation and what they've learned from it.
In summary, effectiveness is measured during the session, from feedback and how the team is delivering their outcomes.
Whilst respecting confidentiality, can you tell us about a team coaching situation that had an impact on you?
I was asked to work with a team where the senior leaders could not stand to be in the same room as each other, which understandably was having a significant impact on how they were leading their part of the organisation.
On the surface this looked like it was about different personality types, and how this was creating the unhealthy dynamic in the team.
However, in the first session they started to see that there was something broader that was driving the conflict. They plotted their stakeholders, of which there were many, who brought challenging and competing agendas for different parts of the team. There was a collective realisation that some of the tensions which had felt personal were being driven by the stakeholders outside of the room. This started to loosen some of the hostility that was being held in the team.
In another session I asked them to talk about what had shaped who they are, and to tell their life stories to each other. In doing this, they realised that they had more that united them than disconnected them.
This was a series of sessions over six months and it was incredibly rewarding to see this team shift, and start to come together as one team, and importantly being present in the same room together.
What do you find most rewarding about your team coaching work?
The most rewarding part is working out with the team what is driving their collective challenges. As a systemic coach, you don’t know the answer, what has worked with one team might not work with another, because they are operating in different systems and contexts.
I enjoy the challenge of the unknown that this work brings, and the curiosity and creativity it asks of all of us to collectively figure it out. It is a knotty challenge and when you get to the point where the ‘knot’ starts to loosen, and the team is moving forward it is very rewarding. You see it happen in the room; sometimes it is an intangible ‘thing’ and you can feel the connections strengthen, or when the team is having a different conversation to what they normally do. I love this point, because it is about leaning into this and harnessing it to support the team to go even further.
Our deepest gratitude to Jenny for sharing her personal experience of coach training with the AoEC.
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