Coaching the system, not just the client

April 10, 2012 by
Filed under: Fellowship 

Guest blogger Anthony Eldridge-Rogers FRSA, organiser of the The Coaches Lunch, shares his impressions from their recent lunchtime session at the RSA on ‘Coaching the System’ – with guest conversationalist Martyn Lowesmith – as well as news on RSA coaching initiatives for RSA Catalyst project leaders and for the RSA Recovery project.


When it comes to coaching, it’s not always all about the client

This could be a heretical statement in some quarters but at the last Coaches lunch at the RSA this became a prevailing perspective. A fellow observed that most coach training programmes focus almost entirely, if not completely, on the individual being coached and do not adequately contextualise the pursuit of individual aspirations and goals within their systems.

Embarrassingly Obvious
It seems somewhat obvious to state that all of us are individuals embedded in a system or series of nested systems (family, work, club, politics, and wider society) but it can’t really be said enough. There are prevailing attitudes to self development and achievement that define the success of reaching personal goals as an act of individual heroism despite the system. This can be heard in the use of language where certain words seem to support this ‘overcoming the system’ idea.

Guest conversationalist Martyn Lowesmith

It may be this way for some people; that personal fulfillment in whatever realm has to involve escaping the orbit of difficult and entrapping relationships but the apparent difficulty organisations and people seem to experience with implementing even the most basic of changes invites us to consider it differently.

Martyn Lowesmith, who led our conversation, set out the idea of focusing as much on the systems of the individuals as on the individuals themselves. This bears fruit in many ways.
First there is the unique imprint or character of the system itself (think of the ‘feeling’ or ‘atmosphere’ of a family get together) and what the system has to say. How it wants to change can be discerned when you listen carefully.

It seems somewhat obvious to state that all of us are individuals embedded in a system or series of nested systems (family, work, club, politics, and wider society) but it can’t really be said enough

This idea of the system having a collective voice of its own led to some nervousness as we sailed close to a new age wind, but the construct does allow us to do some things as systems coaches that would other wise be impossible. I think, most usefully, it allows the individuals freer rein to state deeper truths about their place in the system and express the system itself at one remove. This in turn allows individuals a deeper sense of understanding of the system itself and to be clearer about their part in it, or even if they want to be in it at all.

This process is directly relevant to the development of any project.

RSA Catalyst coaching
The RSA Fellows’ coaching group hopes to offer RSA Catalyst winners coaching as they step forward into the next stages of their projects. These projects are new systems being developed inside the creators existing ones. Bringing as much awareness to bear on how this process is happening and what these fledgling systems need to prosper is a crucial part of making them successful.

Anthony introduces the speaker

RSA Recovery Projects
And it’s no different in another of the RSA’s work, in Recovery. I work as a recovery coach and coach trainer and hold recovery as a community (systems) endeavour. The systems people are in can play a huge part in defining the success or not of the individual recovery process.

If you would like to join us for a coaches lunch or connect with the coaching and mentoring group please go to  or email me