How L&D can Create More Strategic Value by Building Capability Coaching Networks

We’re all sick of listening to the broken record: rapid change, VUCA, on and on and on. It’s almost always followed up by some version of the same old thing. We need to develop new mindsets, new cultures, etc.
All of this is true of course. What’s missing is how to go about it. This is a trickier question than it seems, because we are arguably facing a paradigm shift away from strategies informed by benchmarking and best practices. We can no longer get away with copying what others are doing and expect the same results. Perhaps this has always been the case to some degree, but as things change faster and faster, it becomes increasingly so. We’re at a point now where that old approach and way of thinking is becoming a serious threat.
Yet it’s also not to say there is no solid ground to stand on. A useful metaphor I think is that we are working on a windy beach, always in a state of transformation on the surface. If we build on top of the sand we’re in trouble. Finding something solid will require that we dig down to the bedrock first.
The bedrock in this case is what we’ll call Coevolutionary Capacity. This is the capacity of a system to continuously co-evolve with its stakeholders in a value-adding process. A good case can be made that this capacity is at the heart of any living organism’s, or living system’s, ability to survive and thrive in a changing environment.
In this post I’d like to briefly explore one strategy for building coevolutionary capacity we’ve seen be highly effective, which is developing Capability Coaching networks. Capability Coaches are focused on growing the coevolutionary capacity of their stakeholder systems through building developmental capability. This role does not necessarily correlate to leadership roles within a formal organizational structure. Capability Coaches can help to build this capability from any position. However, middle managers are one area where such a role can produce powerful effects.
Capability Coaching can take place formally or informally. For example, a team may call in a coach to help facilitate team capability building as they work through urgent challenges. Or a leader may request support from a Capability Coach as they think through a specific challenge, helping them develop their own capability as well as that of their teams and other stakeholders through the process.
A Capability Coach may also operate in “stealth mode,” engaging with stakeholders as one normally does, using their coaching skills to create more collaborative and strategic engagements. This includes an ability to ask powerful questions and effectively hold space for reflective and strategic thinking.
Whether in a formal or informal setting, one unique characteristic of Capability Coaching is the use of frameworks to help facilitate the development of reflective and strategic capabilities. A Capability Coach is skilled in appropriately selecting or creating new frameworks that help to expose unconscious thinking, make new connections, challenge existing assumptions, and generate insight.
As we have seen through our work, developing networks of Capability Coaches throughout an organization is a powerful strategy for building the developmental capacity needed in today’s rapidly changing and increasingly complex environments.
L&D is uniquely positioned to serve as a node for the development of such coaching networks. This begins with developing the team as effective Capability Coaches themselves. From there, they can support the development of coaches throughout the organization, growing together in a developmental network (or community of practice, if you prefer) managed by the L&D team. Such a network helps to break down silos, improve communication and collaboration, and improve organizational effectiveness.
As we’ve seen through supporting our clients, even a small L&D team with a limited budget can create massive strategic value for their organization with similar approaches. It doesn’t, however, mean there is a one-size-fits all blueprint to follow, to our earlier point. How such an initiative integrates with your culture and other L&D initiatives is a unique challenge that will require some strategic ingenuity.
Tom Palmer