As coaches we often ask individuals to imagine what it would be like if they were to make changes that would address their challenges. The purpose of this exercise is for our clients to transition from their current status to an aspirational outcome once the changes have been made. Sometimes the metaphor is used as a form of symbolic modeling to help clients better understand their experience, especially when dealing with something that’s more abstract like leadership.
When coaching teams, we should ask them to do the same and describe their aspirations. Do we ask the teams we’re coaching what they want to become or what best serves their stakeholders? Again, this may also include the use of the metaphor since it can give form to the inexpressible, and it’s been associated with breakthrough thinking.
In the case of coaching a team that requires a high level of interdependence to optimize their performance in today’s complex, VUCA (volatile, uncertain, changing, and ambiguous) world, what does that look like in terms of an aspirational outcome? What is an appropriate metaphor to use to help give them a good understanding and visual of what that looks like?
Soccer presents an excellent metaphor of teams that exhibit a high level of interdependence to optimize performance. In my book The Collaborator I describe a leader who was tasked with coaching a new team manager. The manager was challenged to learn how operating principles embedded in the game can be used to harness the power of connections across the team's network to produce win-win outcomes. These shared principles—rely on each other; focus on team, not position; and charge the team to perform the work—mirror the team’s actions on the soccer field and demonstrate a collaborative mindset to produce a high level of team interdependence. The manager and the team had to learn to effectively apply these principles to collaborate.
This metaphor can serve as an aspirational metaphor for people on teams who need to generate value-adding solutions by applying a collaborative mindset (and skill set). We know in a VUCA world demanding global interdependence that a collaborative mindset is no longer just nice-to-have but a need-to-have for solving challenges.