I ➙ We ➙ It: Integral Coaching in Corporate Leadership

This is a case study of an Integral Coaching program that my company, Praxsys Leadership, introduced into a mid-sized construction company.

When we began our work together, the leadership team consisted of a half-dozen directors, each managing their individual functions in a siloed fashion. There was little collaboration and even less trust among the leaders. Meetings and interactions centered on these leaders’ own agendas, each strategizing to get what their department needed and skeptical how others’ plans might encroach on their own. With focus held here, they had trouble coming together around a shared vision for the direction of the company and leveraging each other’s strengths in the benefit of the organization. The situation was not helped by the strong set of personalities and opinions in the team — something that’s not uncommon in the construction industry, but which kept them from building alignment the company needed to respond to a changing competitive business climate.

The company’s President and COO requested a program that would support the team work more effectively together by breaking down silos, building a shared culture, improving communication, and developing their individual and collaborative leadership. The program took these leaders through sixteen group sessions over two years (eight sessions each year). Between sessions they engaged in individual leadership coaching, brought their learnings to bear in their day-to-day work, and supported one another through shared visioning, peer coaching, effective feedback and accountability.

The program developed capacity for the leaders in three domains that we call: “I ➙ We ➙ It.” The “I” focusing on individual development for each leader through self-awareness and practices; the “We” through skills that supported building trust and improving communication among team members, and the “It” constructing a shared vision and collective practices to advance the team’s purpose. In the interaction of these three domains throughout the program is where change started to happen, as the work (It), is directly impacted by the way we interact with each other (We), and the consciousness that we bring to our leadership style (I).

Using various behavioral and personality typing models, participants first studied their own personalities and how those patterns influence their approach to other people, their work, and their world (“I”). Team members were invited to take the risk to share their struggles and growth edges with one another, and ask for support in keeping each other awake, aware, and accountable.

With this awareness and growing trust as a foundation, they moved toward looking to their relationships within the team and how each person’s unique set of behaviors impacts others (“We”). With coaching support, members built skills in handling difficult conversations, such as giving and receiving feedback, making requests, clearing up interpersonal conflicts, and addressing breakdowns in accountability without blame or shame. They learned tools for structuring meetings and conversations to address breakdowns in relationships and work processes by identifying the context and causes of the difficulty, generate possibilities for responding, and build clear alignment for action.

Lastly, they applied this understanding in reflection and dialogue on how their “I” and “We” influence the organization as a whole (“It”) — and their shared vision and commitments to transform the business and even the construction industry itself. And then they applied their expanded leadership competencies in taking action to implement those intentions in the business, both in their individual functional areas and in new areas for collaborating across departmental lines.

Over the course of two years, the impact was remarkable. The team began to interact in ways that allowed for ideas to be brought forth that benefited the company as a whole. They worked to solve company-wide issues and breakdowns by coming together to investigate and address them, rather than blaming others or doubling down on their own agendas. They began to see not only the benefit of this way of interacting, but the necessity of it for resolving issues and growing the company in a more sustainable way. They created a team charter that held their unified vision, that they continued to use after the program as a living document to guide their actions. They regularly use the models they learned with their own teams and throughout the company, inciting a sea change in the organizational culture.

The company continues to grow: in the three years since that team engaged in the leadership program, its revenue has increased by $200 million and the number of employees has nearly doubled as well. This has required leaders in the company to apply everything they have learned to be able to respond to the fast growth and the demands of the market. At the end of the two years program participants reported greater job satisfaction and lower stress (especially relational stress). The program has expanded to include project executives this year and next year corporate executives, fostering greater collaboration across even farther reaches of the organization, breaking down cross-functional and cross-regional silos, while developing a culture with deeper self-awareness, more effective communication, trust, collaboration and a clearer sense of purpose and direction.

The Operations group will now continue to meet regularly in self-led Coaching Circles, applying everything they have learned in the program to continue to foster excellence in their self-leadership (I), their relationships (We) and the purpose of their work (It).

Cynthia is a Managing Partner and faculty member at New Ventures West, and a co-founder of Praxsys Leadership.

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