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Coaching in a Factional Culture

Life is getting more complex, with the rise of factionalism. I have referred to this in recent blogs. The geopolitical climate is generating more polarisation, and tribalism, which we see clearly on social media.  This of course will filter down to business and the workplace. In turn this factionalism will reduce authenticity and create a less trustful environment.

I am beginning to see more and more clients who work in this environment, as it looks as though the clock has turned backwards, away from the more recent time where there was more respect for individuals thoughts, and respect for being different. I am not totally clear on all the factors driving this, or the global culture in general, or more company specific factors, such as the reduction in budgets for training, awareness programmes and support of informal networks. I do recognise that this is still strong, and getting stronger in some companies.

The net effect is that there is less support for individuals, and the pressure to either survive or perform, or both, means that individuals feel as though they are having to be more “Political”. So what do we need to do in these factional environments ? Firstly our “Radar” needs to tell us that the environment is factional . This may sound obvious, but it is easy to confuse an energetic performance culture from one that is factional or fractured. In the former, there will be disagreement, but there should be a common set of  principles or values. This won’t be evident in the latter. If you are working as an internal or resident coach, it will be easier to spot the signs. If you are external or only coaching one individual it will be more difficult. If the client gives you the clues directly or it is part of the coaching theme, then that will be easier. If it is not the reason for coaching then you will have to pick up the signs. These could be verbal or language clues, or anecdotes. If you have a sense, let the client talk and build up a picture. However, it is important that you don’t jump to conclusions or make assumptions too early. Of course, the client may be content working in this environment, in which case you must be aware but detached. If you have suspicions, and believe that this culture is negatively impacting the client or diverting positive energy, then you can hypothesis test. I find this technique really powerful.  You can throw in an anecdote or scenario to test your theory. It is important that you don’t connect the dots incorrectly, and that you do not not fall into the trap of a cognitive bias.

If we have confirmed this environment, how should we coach in it? Firstly, we follow the fundamentals of coaching, and follow the concept of “detached involvement”, whereby we do not get involved in the client’s story, but enable them to overcome the challenge. If we believe that the culture or environment is a significant detractor to coaching the issue, we help the client understand that this could be a factor. If possible we get them to focus on their issue and dissociate from the environment as a first step. In large companies with established or ingrained cultures, it may be difficult for the client to positively influence it. However, they can influence their personal energy and performance through mindfulness and self-awareness.  If the factionalism is localised, It is best to keep exploring options, but if it gets to a point where the client needs to leave the environment in order to improve their position then they may wish to leave, but they need to make and own the decision. To work in these environments, it takes both patience and resolve, and this is also where a strong coach can help.

Working in these environments are difficult, so coaches need to be attuned to this and deliver accordingly.

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