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Agile & ORSC

Learn how Organization & Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC™) can unlock agility for your organization.

Why do ORSC and Agile pair so well together?

While Agile multiplies interactions between team members, organizations still need to build and navigate the strong relationships that support this methodology. Organization & Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC) is the next horizon for ScrumMasters, Agile coaches, and leaders who want to help others reach their goals with agility.

Pairing ORSC with Agile draws on Relationship Systems Intelligence (RSI) to help organizations unlock their agility.

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ORSC meets Agile

A conversation with Kerry Woodcock & Erkan Kadir

The following information is paraphrased from an interactive virtual workshop with CRR Canada’s Kerry Woodcock and Erkan Kadir, Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach and co-founder of the Superheroes Academy.

What is ORSC?

Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC) is an approach that works with relationship systems – human interactions and dynamics. We are always in relationship to some degree, whether it’s the relationship with ourselves, relationship with others, relationship with a larger system and organization or even our relationship with the world. ORSC recognizes and amplifies this relationship.

How does ORSC support Agile?

ORSC is able to fill a gap for Agile coaches, and take the methodology to the next level. Some say that Agile is easy to understand and difficult to master. One reason for that difficulty is that while Agile increases interactions between people exponentially, it doesn’t actually provide a lot of guidance on how to build and navigate those strong relationships.

If you think about a company that’s shifting to Agile, people must make a transition. People that are used to individual accountability suddenly shift to team-based accountability. You are also moving toward unfamiliar concepts, such as having no formal roles on a development team. This can introduce all sorts of relationship challenges.

Suddenly, relationship becomes one of the most important factors in your company’s success.

The 12th principle of the Agile Manifesto tells us that, at regular intervals, team members should reflect on how to become more effective, and then tune and adjust their behaviour.

This concept of the self-organizing team is the cornerstone of any healthy agile implementation. Teams are on the front line making their own decisions. Every leader will be asked to check their expertise and show up in a coaching role instead.

Much of the coach training out there focuses on mastering that craft in the context of a one-on-one conversation. Agile requires you to scale that conversation up to a team and systems level. ORSC gives you a head start by allowing you to coach in the large group context.

Relationship Systems Intelligence expands on the concept of Emotional intelligence (what’s happening with you personally) and Social Intelligence (what’s happening around you) to focus on what’s going on within an entire system.

The ORSC philosophy is rich in principles, theories, and a toolbox of over 40 tools that you can pull out in any situation. ORSC develops the relationship systems skills required for today’s rapidly changing environment.

Expanding on the Five Principles of Relationship Systems Intelligence

Observations from the group

  • Relationship systems are in a constant stage of emergence.
    This emergence, and the ability to recognize it, helps you to avoid being static and get caught in patterns. You can move into new places that allow experimentation.
  • Relationship systems are naturally intelligent, generative and creative.
    Agile teams and systems deal with complexity. They’re always looking to change what they’re doing to find the most value. ORSC is useful because it allows that natural creativity, that natural complexity, and drives towards continuous improvement.
  • Every member of the relationship system is a voice of the system.
    Everyone participates, even those who are quiet or who hesitate to speak up because of the louder voices in the room. ORSC recognizes that marginalized or unpopular voices also have wisdom, and helps us to lean into that.
  • Relationship systems rely on roles for the organization and execution of functions.
    Roles belong to the system rather than individuals. Although an individual may play a particular role, the need for that role doesn’t necessarily end with their departure. If the team or that organization requires that role, somebody else will take it up.
  • Each relationship system has its own unique identity or personality.
    If we expect every system to show up in the same way, our assumptions are eventually going to trip us up. We need to be able to feel into the unique identity of a particular system. Each system has its own creativity, intelligence, and wisdom. The concept in ORSC is that we are not there to coach individuals. The group identity, which is called the Third Entity, is actually our client.

Case Study | Pairing Agile with ORSC

Scenario | The leadership of a 50-person marketing department have asked for coaching to help deal with the emergence of a toxic culture. They also want to explore how a transformation to Agile might work.

The vice-president of the team has been spending almost all of her time with the executive team. She doesn’t have a rapport with her staff and they do not receive much direction. Managers working under her have had to step up into leadership roles, and are at odds with one another over differing visions. 

The coaching design relies on the concept of the system itself as the client, rather than the individuals involved. The ORSC toolbox, with 40+ coaching tools, uses empathy, open communication and the use of metaphor to help team members capture a bird’s-eye snapshot of the system. The approach is active, right-brained and creative – very different when compared to top-down methods.

The Approach

Several ORSC tools are used to help this organization evolve.

  • Organizational Lands Work – This tool opens a conversation which helps members of the department see and empathize with the vice-president. They begin to recognize the pressure and loneliness involved in her role.
  • Bringing Down the Vision – Team members consider what shared metaphor best represents their Third Entity.

The managers tasked with leadership decide to experiment with Agile marketing, forming a scrum team of their own with the vice-president serving as product owner.

  • Unfolding – Using the previously-identified metaphor, the team quickly reconfigures their work flow to address inefficiencies.
  • Open Voice – A final session explores how to create action based on what the department has learned. ORSC tools help them to involve every voice in the change effort. A decision is made to move forward with Agile.

Follow-Up | An assessment done by a third-party coaching organization shows that employees go from rating their department as a D to a B- is just six months.

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Does ORSC work in business turnaround situations requiring cross-functional teams to work with a sense of urgency?

Yes. In particular, the Constellations tool allows the system to hear from voices representing the different functional elements of the team, and to establish a common sense of urgency.

Do coaches have to be Agile-trained to use ORSC?

ORSC is a systems coaching approach, so any coach can use it. ORSC just happens to pair really well with agility. In situations such as the case study above, partnering with an ORSC and an Agile expert allows you to create really innovative interventions and support structures for clients. It’s a meeting of the minds.

How does design thinking pair with these tools?

Design thinking and agility have a great deal in common because of the iterative nature of the approach, and the customer-centric focus.

Is Agile a brand name or an organization?

It’s a set of principles that can be used to build really great products. If you want to learn more about it, is a good place to start. CRR Canada’s ORSC training is great for Agile coaches, and Superheroes Academy also offers specific coach training for Agile coaches.

Thanks to Brock Argue and the Calgary Agile User’s Group for hosting this virtual workshop.


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