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Ralph Stacey

The authors of the paper Coaching Psychology Coming of Age conduct their analysis in terms of a diagram which I included in the 2nd edition of my textbook Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics published in 1996. This presented a number of contexts within which decisions have to be made and control exerted: conditions close to certainty and agreement produce the stability which makes it possible to uses technically rational decision-making techniques and control forms; conditions very far from certainty and agreement make people anxious and they either ignore what is going on or engage in anarchic activity producing instability; the border between stability and instability has the properties of ‘the edge of chaos’ found in complex systems and here people have no choice but to rely on unprogrammed decision-making and political activity. My comment sets out my reasons for no longer using this diagram and why I think it is highly limiting to try to do so. It leads to conclusions about managers and coaches being able to decide in advance what context they are operating in and so choose appropriate methods. This misses a central point about complex systems, namely, the property of escalating small differences to unpredictable, novel outcomes. This makes it extremely difficult if not impossible to decide in advance what the context is because we can never know which small differences might escalate. Furthermore, it is striking how people, their conversations and power plays, their ideologies and choices, totally disappear from the theorising following from the diagram. a central aspect of the role of coach to explore how coach and client are together thinking about how they are thinking. In other words, I would argue for a reflexive exploration as the most useful way that a coach can work to sustain and develop the capacity for practical judgment which is the hallmark of the expert practitioner.

Keywords: Complexity; certainty; agreement; decision-making; control; self-organisation; emergence.

Full article: Volume 7, Issue 1 pages 91 - 95


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