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Coaching Triangles


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Coaching Triangles at Terasen Gas Inc.


The coaching phenomenon has created numerous certified, professional and semi-professional coaches for life skills and business. Coaches generally work one on one with a client or coach workgroups and teams such as an action learning team. Enter a new form of coaching, a sustainable, breakthrough and innovative peer coaching framework called the Coaching Triangle.


Coaching Triangles were created in response to a request by Daryle Britton, General Manager of Distribution Operations at Terasen Gas Inc., for something that would help employees be better coaches; develop their leadership skills; and help them apply, practice and integrate the learning they received in workshops and courses. 


The Coaching Triangle concept is rooted in many of todays management, education, communication, learning and leadership theories and principles.  It arose intuitively, like a flash one day that was synthesized from my own experiences and learning. As an adult educator turned Organizational Development Specialist and Leadership Coach I often have intuitive flashes of insight that provide whole picture context. I visualized an organization where people had a safe place to belong, to learn, to practice, to coach. A haven or special environment that they create themselves that allows for reflection, for real meaningful dialogue, for supportive growth and development to occur and mostly where leadership is shared and encouraged. It was also a place devoid of hierarchy, of silos, of bureaucracy, of politics, of games. In fact this could change the way we work, the way we learn; and it could create a new organizational culture.


The elements of the Coaching Triangles are not new, nor are the principles new. What is new is the framework, the approach, the incredible simplicity, and the power it has to make a difference.


Coaching Triangles is a decidedly simple concept born from noticing the patterns and behaviour of individuals in organizations and observing the informal learning that occurs. The necessity to create a self-sustainable framework provided a drive to create something innovative and self-directed. 


What is a Coaching Triangle? It is simply a group of three individuals that agree to form a Coaching Triangle. The three form a learning partnership and they:


        Self-orient using a self-directed orientation package

        Self-manage and self-lead by choosing

o       When, where and how to learn

o       What to learn and practice


What is so new about this? Three people meeting together does not seem unusual. What is different is how they come together, why they come together and the approach that is taken to form and sustain their Coaching Triangle. The Coaching Triangle is designed and recognized as a formal learning group; self-selected by individuals and trusted to work on Terasen business. Accountability is to the group itself.


As one begins to fully comprehend the impact, the complexity, the uniqueness, and the simplicity it becomes clear that Coaching Triangles can become a new way of learning, practicing and working together that can be used in any organization or community. Ultimately Coaching Triangles can create new culture and are not dependent on or restricted by organizational structure.


Margaret Wheatley helps us notice how people function in organizations and challenges us to explore patterns and relationships.


Look carefully at how a work place organizes its relationships, not its tasks, functions and hierarchies, but the patterns of its relationships and the capacities available to form them.   What gives power its charge, positive or negative, is the quality of its relationships.  Those who relate through coercion or from a disregard for the other person create negative energy.  Those who are open to others in their fullness create positive energy. 


From the field of adult education to systems theory to Open Space Technology to Appreciative Inquiry; Coaching Triangles are a framework that draws on, explores, and uses many of these techniques, theories and tools. The richness of the learning is only bound by the limits of thinking and is easily expanded with additional input and a little facilitation. Coaching Triangles are based on, and can use the following:


  • Action learning and research
  • Adult learning
  • Appreciative inquiry
  • Change management
  • Coaching
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Community development
  • Dialogue
  • Energy management
  • Group dynamics
  • Just in time learning
  • Leadership development
  • Networking
  • New science theory
  • Open Space
  • Partnership
  • Pattern forming/breaking
  • Process
  • Relationship management
  • Self-knowledge
  • Self-organization
  • Story telling
  • Synchronicity
  • Systems thinking


Why a triangle?  Peter Senge provides a simple quote that helps illustrate the power and purpose. When you are focused on the triangle, you are mindful of the circle.  The quality of what occurs in the center of the triangle is dependent on the legs of the triangle. That is the quality of conversation, of relationship, of thought, of creation comes from the three people. It comes from their commitment to each other, from their values, from their trust, hopes, dreams, desires, needs. Three people hold each other accountable and provide space for a small, intense group of focus. When the triangle is functioning at its highest level it simply is a right place to be for those three people. It also provides an anchor to the organization that fundamentally at its core makes it a better place to be.  As Senge also tells us, the triangle is the most stable geometric structure in the world.


At their best, Coaching Triangles add another layer of complexity to organizational life, yet they also create new space, and are easily added without changing structure, function or process. What they do require is an open mind, great trust, empowerment, and a desire to integrate work and learning more closely. They require organizational leaders to model and take some risk with a new approach that more closely aligns learning and work.


How does an individual start a Coaching Triangle?

It is a simple approach. Find one other person that you would like to learn with. The two of you decide on a third person and invite them to join you. Then the three of you attend a  two-hour guided self-directed orientation. After that, the Coaching Triangle meets as they determine and as they continue to receive value.


Is it really that simple?

The creation of the Coaching Triangle is logistically easy. The hard work comes while exploring the depth of the orientation, the depth of relationships, learning and self-discovery.


How has Terasen Gas implemented these Coaching Triangles?

The first Coaching Triangle formed in April 2002 and as of December 2003 there were thirteen Coaching Triangles at Terasen. Of note is that senior management supports and participates in this initiative and encourages people to document their participation in the development plans.  Three vice-presidents are in active coaching triangles. In June 2003 the first Coaching Triangle Workshop was held that brought together all the Coaching Triangles to explore the topic of emotional intelligence. 


Who else is offering the Coaching Triangle development opportunity?

On September 11, 2003 three organizations formed a loose alliance to learn about and promote the growth of Coaching Triangles in their respective organizations. This alliance was created by forming a Coaching Triangle between the three parties:

        Debbie Payne, OD Specialist, Terasen Gas

        Erna Hagge, Executive Coach, University of British Columbia

        Pamela Havens, Educational Consultant, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority

We are exploring the concept, testing the model and resources, journalling and working together in our Coaching Triangle with the ultimate vision of creating significant research data from our three organizations to produce a book, manual, and website on Coaching Triangles.


What was not done with this initiative?

There was deliberately no launch or program roll-out. In fact only one presentation was made at a single department meeting.


What do we do?

We talk to people in the organization in hallways, on stairs, in the elevator, on the phone, and in small meetings letting them know that Coaching Triangles are something they should know about. We tell them they are important and they may like to consider forming one. We try to attract them and make them curious. We aim to evolve and grow organically, with deliberate intent to use the informal communication channels.  We have learned to be patient and see this not as the answer, but simply as part of something significant.


What is in the orientation?

A binder of resources was created by Debbie Payne, internal Organizational Development Specialist for Terasen Gas. The self-directed orientation begins with a guided two-hour session, then moves into a fully self-directed orientation.  The facilitator is simply there at the beginning as a resource to explain, to support, to coach, and to reassure the group. The resources spark the dialogue, the inquiry, and force process to be visible. The group then meets on their own. To date none of the groups has asked for help, they have all grown, some meet regularly some less frequently but all have indicated that their Coaching Triangle is exactly what they need, that it provides great value for the time they spend, and that they feel privileged to have the opportunity to work with their colleagues differently.


What kind of Coaching Triangles have formed? 

Cross-functional, cross-level, same-level, similar education, same gender, mixed gender, diverse ones and comfort ones. Each Coaching Triangle is unique, each one has defined purpose and commitment, each one is learning and practicing, each one has different needs.  For example, one Coaching Triangle has a Human Resources Leader for Labour Relations, a Vice-President of Development, and a General Manager of Operations.   Another one is comprised of three Executive Assistants.


What is the cost? Direct costs are minimal, for example printing of a manual for each participant. Labour costs for release time are the significant investment.


Ultimately, the Coaching Triangle concept is expected to evolve and mature so that it can be used for Mergers and Acquisition integration; for culture transformation, for team building; for change initiatives; for sustained learning from workshops; for leadership development and self-knowledge; and community building.


As Coaching Triangles continue to form and evolve it is expected at Terasen Gas Inc. that we will be solving problems better and more locally; that we will be better able to work in teams and cross-functionally; that engagement and morale will improve; that leadership and initiative will be more visible; that our coaching culture will be improved;  and that we will become a workplace of choice as we have something that honours and recognizes the value of building business relationships in different ways. 


Finding a couple of people in your organization to peer coach you to solve problems; to bounce ideas around with; to share your learning experiences and figure out how to apply them; and simply to talk with about organizational communication and issues can help sustain and enrich you in a sea of continuous organizational change. Coaching Triangles at Terasen Gas are slowly evolving and growing; helping to shape our culture.


Debbie Payne, MA (Leadership and Training, Royal Roads University)  is an internal Organizational Development Specialist for Terasen Gas Inc. Debbie has over 25 years experience as an adult educator, facilitator, coach, project manager and leadership consultant. Debbie also owns DP Leadership Associates and works with clients in both the education and health sectors. Debbie is the registered copyright holder of the Coaching Triangle concept. You can reach her at debbiep@canada.com


DP Leadership Associates