The U-process is sometimes known as the process of transition, and in the field of coaching this U-process is typically represented in Scharmer’s model of change. In the process of transition, the client can move from anxiety, through happiness, fear, threat, guilt, denial, disillusionment, depression, gradual acceptance, and hostility to moving forward.
The U-process is considered a mid-range change theory with a sense of an emerging future. Scharmer’s process moves the client through different levels of perception and change, with differing levels of action that follow. The three main elements are sensing, presencing, and realizing. These represent the three basic aspects of the U (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Scharmer’s U-ProcessModel
This process helps the client to work at different levels of perception and change, and allows different levels of action to follow. All three levels are extensions of the learning process. As the coach and client move into the U, sensing is about observing and becoming one with the world; moving to the bottom of the U, presencing is about retreating and reflecting and allowing an inner knowing to emerge; moving out of the U, realizing is about acting swiftly and with a natural flow from the knowledge and understanding that have emerged.
The U-model suggests co-creation between the individual and the collective, i.e., the larger world. It is about the interconnection or integration of the self with the world. At the bottom of the U is the “inner gate” where we drop the baggage of our journey, going through a threshold. The metaphor used here is that of “death of the old self” and “rebirth of the new self”; the client emerges with a different sense of self. On the Web is a lovely dialogue between Wilber and Scharmer where they discuss the seven states and the three movements in this one process (Scharmer, 2003).
Superficial learning and change processes are shorter versions of the U-movement. In using this as a coaching process, the client moves downwards into the base of the U, moving from acting, to thinking, to feeling, to willing. This is to help the client to download with the coach, to let go and discover who they really are, to see from the deepest part of themselves, developing an awareness that is expanded with a shift in intention.
Otto Scharmer (2007), in an executive summary of his new book, Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges, describes the U-process as five movements: co-initiating, co-sensing, presencing, co-creating, and co-evolving. Scharmer describes this as moving “first into intimate connection with the world and to a place of inner knowing that can emerge from within, followed by bringing forth the new, which entails discovering the future by doing.” The following case study demonstrates the five-step process.
Case Study: The Global Convention on Coaching (GCC)
From July 2007 until July 2008, I played a role as Chair of the GCC Working Group, Research Agenda for Development of the Field, and Carol Kauffman took the part of Facilitator. The GCC was originally established to create a collaborative dialogue for all stakeholders in coaching worldwide, with the ultimate aim of professionalizing the industry. Nine initial working groups were formed by the GCC’s Steering Committee to discuss critical issues related to the professionalization of coaching, producing “white papers” on the current realities and possible future scenarios of these issues. These white papers were presented at the GCC’s Dublin convention in July 2008. Using the U-process model, this case study summarizes the working group process of the research agenda, which comprised a 12-month online dialogue, with the addition of monthly telephone conversations.
Figure 2: U-Process Case Study
Co-initiating is about building common intent, stopping and listening to others and to what life calls you to do. In the Working Group for the Research Agenda, the group built common intent by first setting up the group, defining its purpose, and beginning to discuss the dialogue process. It was agreed that the chair and facilitator would invite specific individuals to join the working group, and those members would suggest other individuals who might have a key interest in the research agenda for the field (i.e., the emerging coaching profession). The group began their online dialogue, once all had accepted the invitation and received instructions on how to use the online GCC web forum. It was agreed that there would be three communities working together: the Working Group, the Consultative Body for the Research Agenda, and the Steering Committee, which was responsible for the leadership and management of the other groups.
Observe, Observe, Observe. Go to the places of most potential and listen with your mind and heart wide open. The chair and the facilitator of the working group had to learn to co-facilitate, observing each other’s skill and competence. They had to be willing to listen to each other, noting each other’s style in facilitating an online dialogue. They needed to create the group, and to facilitate the way forward with the group, learning to take constructive criticism and appreciation from each other, guiding the group forward without being prescriptive. Both chair and facilitator agreed to co-chair the process, remaining mentally and emotionally open to each other’s divergent opinions, ways of being, and styles of interpersonal communication, whether working with the group online or by phone.
Connect to the source of inspiration and will. Go to the place of silence and allow the inner knowing to emerge. Each individual in the process reflected and regularly added their thoughts and feelings to the online forum. Debate, conflict, and agreement emerged—with chair and facilitator taking responsibility to keep the group on track without being prescriptive. The chair and facilitator each had to connect to their own individual source of inspiration and come together as one voice to guide the group.
Prototype the new with living examples to explore the future by doing. This entailed harnessing the energy of the working group to draft a current reality document of its online and tele-conference dialogues; this document was revised four times. The group brought in a facilitator for a second consultative body who entered that dialogue at stage 1 (co-initiating), but who, at the same time, entered the working group dialogue at stage 3 (presencing). Trying to move forward with their own working group process, yet move the consultative body from stage 1 to stage 2 (co-initiation to co-sensing), was a complex, parallel process. The chair and facilitator enlisted the help of an editor, Nick Wilkins, to manage the writing process of the white paper during the working group’s co-creation (stage 4).
Embody the new in ecosystems that facilitate seeing and acting from the whole. The final stage of the process was the physical gathering at the Dublin convention. This took place in three stages: pre-convention, convention, and post-convention (post-convention work has just begun). Several months prior to the convention, all nine working groups began to work together online and by telephone to share their own varied stages in the U-process; they learned from each other as they gathered momentum moving toward Dublin, which was to be the culmination of their year-long project. Some groups had lost participants during the 12 months through disagreement; others managed to harness the energy to move through each of the stages together. The three stages were:
Pre-convention: Preparation for the presentation of a white paper by nine committees; this was for their committee’s current global reality and future possible scenarios for their topic, with the addition of a tenth committee four months prior to Dublin.
Convention: Physical presence, dialogue, and debate in Dublin with each of the working groups. This was paralleled with virtual online feedback on a daily basis from those not able to attend the convention (however, there were difficulties with this process which frustrated some who could not access the virtual dialogue during that week).
Post-convention: Continuation of the process with a new format. The work was to take place in diverse groups regionally and nation-wide to proceed to the next step: building the emerging profession of coaching. Post-convention, a Transitional Steering Group (TSG) has begun work to harness the energy of those wishing to continue. The new GCC sees its role as an organic one, continuing to facilitate a global dialogue, rather than forming another coaching organization. The TSG, with representatives from the USA, UK, Australia Argentina, Singapore, and South Africa, has designed a web-based networking platform for the 17,000 GCC members who have signed up to the Dublin Declaration on Coaching (GCC, 2008). Preparations began for a convention in London, 9-10 July 2009.
This U-process is applicable to large innovation projects where the unfolding takes place over a long time (a year in this instance). The team composition in such projects will change and adapt to some degree after each movement; in the GCC process, the Working Group for the Research Agenda lost and added new members, whereas the Consultative Body was a looser entity with only certain members playing a strong role. This was a process of discovery, exploring the future by doing, thinking, and reflecting. As Scharmer explains, it facilitates an opening via “the tuning of three instruments: the open mind, the open heart, and the open will” (Scharmer, 2007).
At any one time there were three U-process journeys taking place for the research agenda: within the working group, the working group interacting with the consultative body, and the working group interacting with the steering committee.
Models offer a great sense of structure yet flexibility for the coach practitioner, but remember that simplicity is a prerequisite. In this series, I explore models from an experiential learning premise, as the client always brings his or her experience into the coaching conversation. The client’s experience is underpinned by a range of factors, including gender, race, culture, education, life experience, and personality. In my next article, we will begin to explore the use of four quadrant models.
This article is adapted from the author’s Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching (2009, Johannesburg: Knowledge Resources). Her book Business Coaching International will be published September 2009 by Karnac, London.
This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (October Issue 2009, Volume 5, Issue 3).
Senge, P., Scharmer, C.O., Jaworski, J., and Flowers, B.S. (2005). Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society. London: Nicholas Brealey.
Stout Rostron, S. (2009). Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching. Johannesburg: Knowledge Resources.
Dr. Sunny Stout Rostron, DProf, MA
Dr. Sunny Stout Rostron, DProf, MA is an executive coach and consultant with a wide range of experience in leadership and management development, business strategy and executive coaching. The author of six books, including Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching (2009), Sunny is Director of the Manthano Institute of Learning (Pty) Ltd and founding president of COMENSA (Coaches and Mentors of South Africa). More about Sunny in the WABC coach directory. Contact Sunny.
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