Course Guide

Coaching as a platform for Organisational, Cultural Change

 “The effective business. . . is one that has a high capacity for organizational learning. The effective business manager, in turn, is one who has developed the capacity to foster organizational learning” [1]. 

Coaching, when applied consistently throughout an organisation, becomes a platform for cultural change. Coaching applied to business practices leverages existing processes to enable the systematisation of collective, organisational learnings which promote innovation and creativity. The concept of a learning organisation was proposed by Senge [2] and is characterised by organisational members automatically reflecting and learning from their experiences at work. Organisational learning involves “continuous processes of transformation” and renewal [3]. It is developed “through shared insights, knowledge, and mental models” [4] and results in business improvement [5] and competitive advantage [6] which enable the organisation to more appropriately respond to issues of internal integration and external adaption [7].   


Double-loop learning [8] occurs in organisations developing a coaching culture. This is second-order learning that leads to reorientation by the organisation of the current ways in which they operate [9]. It is associated with discontinuous change in the organisation’s environment [10] and the development of new paradigms to do things in new and different ways. Double-loop learning is transformational - even “radical” [6] - since it requires the acquisition of significant amounts of new knowledge and greater effort on the part of the organisation. Double-loop learning significantly disrupts existing operating systems thus enabling the organisation to generatively develop new norms and procedures to transform who the organisation is, what it does and what it stands for.  


Triple-loop learning [11, 12] also occurs in organisations developing a coaching culture. Triple-loop learning is when organisational learning is “beyond language” and “recursive” [13] - a level that is “beyond, and considered by proponents to be superior to, Argyris and Schön’s single-loop and double-loop learning in that it concerns underlying purposes and principles” [12].  Triple-loop learning has been defined as the “continual reflection on the learning process, the contexts within which learning occurs, and the assumptions and values motivating the learning and influencing its outcomes” [14]. It is regarded as an extension beyond double-loop learning that resembles Bateson’s [13] original levels of learning whereby “members question and challenge the assumptions about the [very] existence of the organization” [15] 


It is especially during times of crisis and radical reform that leaders question the basic assumptions underlying organisational practices [6]. At such times, the organisation’s vision, mission, strategy, structure and culture may be questioned and completely renewed which may require a change champion to be appointed [16] to manage the change. Employees may be required to adopt new behaviours and approaches to work which may create ambiguity and uncertainty for them. A change champion may smooth through the changes via consistent messaging in formal and informal meetings and conversations.   


To ensure that the organisational changes are consistently applied, as in the development of a coaching culture, organisations need to consider strategies for both adoption and diffusion of information pertaining to coaching and coaching practice [16]. Sisaye & Birnberg [6] describe two dimensions of organisational learning as they relate to the adoption-diffusion approach to process innovations - extent and scope dimensions. They define the extent dimension of organisational learning as “the degree to which the innovation affects/alters the organization’s … structures and systems” [6] which equates to Argyris & Schon’s  [17, 18] two dimensions of gradual-incremental or radical-transformational change. Scope refers to the breadth of an innovation’s impact and addresses how far the change has spread throughout the organisation i.e., the degree to which it has been integrated into the organisation’s policies and procedures. Together, these two dimensions indicate how, where and how much the changes have disrupted existing organisational structures and procedures.  


The type of organisation that most resonates with a coaching culture is that described by Kegan, Lahey [19] which they call a “deliberately developmental organisation” (DDO).  In a DDO, employees receive continuous training in the course of a day’s work, not by the traditional training methodology but by virtue of the conversations they have with others to accelerate their growth. Conversations are deeply aligned with the individual’s motivation to grow. As a result, an organisational culture in which “people’s ongoing development is woven into the daily fabric of working life, visible in the company’s regular operations, day-to-day routines, and conversations …[ resulting in] integrating deeper forms of personal learning into every aspect of life in the company” [19] grows. At a cultural level, this approach is about making visible the everyday procedural activities of the organisation as a total commitment to employees’ learning and development.  


This excerpt is taken from the book “Transforming Organisational Culture through Coaching” by Dr Susanne Knowles which is available from and . 


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  7. Schein, E.,Organizational Culture and Leadership. 2nd ed. 1992, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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  10. Bessant, J.,Enabling Continuous and Discontinuous Innovation: Learning From the Private Sector.Public Money & Management, 2005. 25(1): p. 35-42. 
  11. Reynolds, M.,Triple-loop learning and conversing with reality.Kybernetes, 2014. 43(9/10): p. 1381-1391. 
  12. Tosey, P., M. Visser, and M. Saunders,The origins and conceptualizations of ‘triple-loop’ learning: A critical review.Management Learning, 2011. 43(3): p. 291-307. 
  13. Bateson, G.,Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution and Epistemology. 1973, London: Paladin, Granada.
  14. Yuthas, K., J. Dillard, and R. Rogers,Beyond agency and structure: Triple-loop learning.Journal of Business Ethics, 2004. 51(2): p. 229-243. 
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  16. Sandberg, B.,Enthusiasm in the development of radical innovations.Creativity and Innovation Management, 2007. 16(3): p. 265-73. 
  17. Argyris, C. and D. Schön,Organizational Learning: A theory of action perspective. 1978, Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.
  18. Argyris, C. and D. Schön,Organizational Learning II: Theory, Method and Practice1996, Reading, MA.: Addison-Wesley. 
  19. Kegan, R., et al.,The Deliberately Developmental Organisation. Extended Whitepaper. 2014: Way to Grow Inc, LLC.