Systemic coaching is a type of process consultancy, in which the client gains clarity and finds solutions. As a coach I ask questions, listen actively and offer hypotheses. Depending on the topic, coaching contains elements of expert advice (technical input, experience). However, this is always in the sense of possibilities, suggestions and feedback – not advice. It is important that you find solutions and new perspectives that are suitable for you.


In systemic coaching, the coach’s attitude is important. Coaching methods can have a very different effect depending on the attitude in which they are used. Systemic coaching methods can promote a client’s own competences or make a client dependent on expert advice. They can be used to manipulate or to serve to make clients self-confident and broaden their view and behavioral possibilities.


We human beings are in permanent interaction with our environment and thus form a coherent “system”. Every action (just as every omitted action) influences a system to varying degrees. Conflicts of interest sometimes arise in this field of tension, decisions have to be made, people have to position themselves, communicate, win over others, cooperate and assert themselves.


Paradigms (basic assumptions) of systemic coaching; Systemic coaching means

  • Pay attention to circular or net-shaped correlations, i. mutual conditioning of interactions (system effects) rather than linear cause-effect chain;
  • Relationships (patterns, rules, structures) rather than individual characteristics;
  • “Everything said is said by an observer”, that means what is being said depends on who says it (that person’s perception, view, meaning, etc.). This creation of “reality” always happens together with other observers as a “consensual process” in the context of meanings provided by a networked group of observers.
  • Creating usable realities instead of clinging to or seeking quasi “objective” truths;
  • Working with probabilities and hypotheses rather than “absolutes”;
  • Statements and behavior occur in a context (the context determines the meaning of human communication; every behavior makes sense in a particular context)
  • Resource, goal and solution orientation instead of analyzing problems and searching for a cause or fault
  • Co-evolution instead of “convincing”, “persuading”, “winning or losing”
  • Openness in interventions rather than tactics and manipulation.


Systemic coaching therefore not only looks at the individual, but always keeps an eye on the whole system and its interactions.  At the same time, the processes within the persons remain just as important: their own experience, behavior and evaluation of a situation. “Internal processes” also interact with and affect external relationships.


Systemic coaching, like any form of counseling, is guided by a view of what it means to be a human ​(acting autonomously, taking decisions by oneself, taking responsibility for one’s own decisions), as well as by concrete methods and structures. It is goal-oriented – a systemic coach only works with a specific assignment and based on a professional context. Systemic coaching is based on system theory and social constructivism.


Systemic Coaching Questions

Here are some questions that will help you if you are overwhelmed and stuck – as a leader, project manager, working with others, in your career, with your work-life balance or communicating with customers.


Organisational learning must equal or be greater than the speed of environmental change –  The Darwinian Law of Organizational Survival. (Professor Peter Hawkins)


Leadership – Leading yourself, Leading others

  • Who is involved?
  • What are the different perspectives?
  • How could you manage to get even more people in the department to leave?
  • How would you have to behave in the new leadership position for you guaranteed not to be recognized?
  • How could you make the situation worse? Who would have to do something to make it worse? What could you personally contribute to make it worse?
  • Can you explain in more detail how you are doing [xy]?
  • According to which social rules does the system work?
  • How do you influence the prevailing structures of an organization?
  • Let’s say that you decide to do things differently next time. What effects that you would done that?
  • Who would tend to see that first?
  • If you were [famous speaker xy], how would you open your speech?
  • How did you act in [situation xy] when you considered yourself being a good leader?
  • Does everyone see the problem the same way?
  • What would your team say? Who would be the most surprised?
  • What effect would it have on your team if you decided to treat them differently?
  • Let’s say that you decide to manage more [xy]. How would your employees notice this?
  • What has helped, and what not?
  • What difference would it make if the problem no longer existed?
  • Are there recurring patterns of behavior?
  • How has the history of development gone so far?
  • Let’s say the situation remained as it is. How would things look in 5 years’ time?
  • What can you rely on in challenging situations?
  • In which situations is everything working fine and you don’t have these concerns or problems? – What is different in these situations?
  • How did you manage to keep the situation under control?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10: How happy are you with this decision?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10: How stressed are you during a presentation?
  • How would you attack this challenge if money was no obstacle?
  • What would you need to do, if you want to accomplish this goal faster? – How would it change the relationship between you and your employee/co-worker/boss?
  • What could you do to escalate the situation with [xy]?
  • Do you have any ideas as to how the other executives are dealing with the changes that have happened?
  • What if the problem was solved suddenly?
  • What would your situation look like in a perfect world?
  • What makes you so convinced of [xy]?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10: How satisfied are you with the result of your decision?
  • Would you want to be your boss?
  • How confident are you when you think about the chances of success? 1 = I do not give it the slightest chance 10 = I’m as sure as you can be

Working with others

  • What do you see, hear, feel when you reach the goal?
  • What wider effects would achieving the goal have?
  • Why do you want to solve the problem this way?
  • What could you do to make sure the problem stays the same – what could you do to make it worse?
  • What does the situation look like from the perspective of colleague XY?
  • How would your boss see and judge this?
  • What made the other person react like that?
  • What would a neutral observer say about the situation?
  • What would your friends advise you?
  • What has made the situation bearable up to now?
  • In what way is the problem potentially a good thing?
  • If the problem were solved, which topics would this bring up in their heads?
  • How do you think your co-worker feels in this situation?
  • How would your colleague evaluate the situation?
  • What would your co-workers say, if you explained this point of view?
  • What would your business partner say if you suggest this change to her?
  • If you ask your boss about the atmosphere within the team: What would she reply?
  • What must happen to get X to address the matter?
  • On a scale from 1 to 10, let’s say that 10 is “I will do everything I can to improve the situation” and 0 is “I really hope the situation improves but I myself will not do anything about it”. Where are you today on this scale? What are your intentions? Where do you want to go? What do you have to do to move up a point?
  • How would you rate your relationship on a scale of 1 to 10?
  • Who is your most useful colleague at the moment?
  • What is your reputation?
  • After an improvement in the situation, what would you or X have to do to recreate the old situation?
  • Did you overcome similar challenges in the past? How did you do it?
  • What would [xy] do, if you put this plan into practice?
  • What if you don’t solve this problem within 6 months? What are the consequences?
  • What would change if you wake up tomorrow and accomplished your goal?
  • What needs to happen that you’re even more upset about [xy]?
  • How would you tackle the problem with unlimited budget?
  • How would you rate the intensity of the conflict on a scale of 0 to 10 (0 being the lowest, 10 the maximum value) rate? What is missing to rate it 0? What would have to happen for you to rate it 10? What would have to happen to change the rating?


Working in projects / Managing projects

  • Which persons are involved?
  • What are the different perspectives?
  • How does the objective look like precisely?
  • How can the project group ensure that its proposals are not taken up by the board?
  • What would a neutral observer say about the project?
  • What would you have to do to ensure that this project is guaranteed to fail?
  • What if you could decide alone what to do?
  • How would your project partners think about it?
  • How would your boss react to this change?
  • How would you solve this problem if time is not an issue?
  • How would you tackle the problem with an unlimited budget?
  • Which options should be used?
  • Who is particularly important for success?
  • When did it go badly, when did it go well?
  • Which problems have already been solved?
  • What is necessary for a smooth process?
  • How would the project manager [xy] assess the situation?
  • By what means can another problem be avoided?
  • If the project was a ship, what would it look like? Would it be a luxury steamer, a canoe, an elegant yacht, a whaler …? What color would it be? Which project group members would have which roles on the ship? What are the weather conditions at sea?
  • What would they do/say/think?
  • What if you had one magical wish?
  • What would you need to do to make your project situation even worse?
  • To what extent do you view your position as a risk, and to what extent do you see it as an opportunity? Give percentages.
  • What have you done to prevent the problem being worse than it is?
  • How come the situation is what it is – and not worse?
  • Are there recurring patterns of how projects are (mis) managed?
  • If this solution will be used in your company for five years, what will be different then? What will work better? What will have remained the same? What will possibly have worsened?
  • Which resources or capabilities would be useful to accomplish this?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10: How do you rate you project management skills? – What makes you give yourself that rating? And what would have made it two points more?
  • What if you don’t solve this problem within 6 months? What are the consequences?
  • What would you need to do to completely ruin the project?
  • Would you have another idea if time would not matter?
  • How sure are you that [xy] will work?
  • What would have happened if the difficulties that occurred in the project suddenly disappeared? What would be different then? What would not change? What would you personally have done differently? Who would notice it first? Who last? Who would be the most surprised? Who would be the most relieved? For whom might that have disadvantages?


Customer communication

  • Which persons are involved?
  • What are the different perspectives?
  • According to which social rules does the system work?
  • How do you influence the prevailing structures of an organization?
  • Are there recurring patterns of behavior?
  • How has the history of development gone so far?
  • How does a customer feel when you meet him like that?
  • How would you know that this session is helpful to you?
  • How would your customer know that this session was helpful to you?
  • How would you rate the importance of the problem on a scale of 1 to 10?
  • What kind of behavior would your employer expect?
  • How would your clients react to the increase in prices?
  • How would your boss handle this situation?
  • What do you want to keep?
  • What would happen if you achieve your goal tomorrow?
  • What would you have to do to make the situation worse?
  • What answer would you choose, spontaneously? Do you have any idea why?
  • What basic rules could you intentionally integrate into your customer interactions to ensure that you integrate your learnings?
  • What if you would just stop complaining about [xy]?
  • What could you do to make the problem worse?
  • What does that look like from the perspective of colleagues from the other department?
  • What do you think is the relationship between Ms. X and Mr. Y?
  • What if you can do [xy] tomorrow?
  • How would you react if someone asks you for help in this case?
  • How would you realize that this problem disappeared?
  • What it would take to completely ruin the relationship with the customer?
  • How do you rate the current problem on the 1 to 10 difficulty scale?
  • How do you classify the problem compared to previous problems?
  • Is there anything that you would like to share?


Career  – Promotion

  • What would you have to do to make sure you do not get promoted?
  • From the standpoint of your boss: Who’s the better employee? You or your colleague?
  • If your objective were already achieved, how would your situation look then?
  • How would you rate your performance on a scale of 1 to 10?
  • How would your boss react if you changed your behaviour?
  • What can you do well?
  • How useful was this situation / method / for your development? 1 = No challenge, pure routine matter 10 = this has been the most helpful situation / method for a long time to really learn something
  • How can you build on your strengths?
  • Do you know what you want?
  • What should stay as it is?
  • Are there recurring patterns of how you behave in situation [xy]?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10: How motivated do you feel?
  • You say that [xy] doesn’t motivate you. To what extent does that affect your career?
  • What basic rules could you integrate into your work life to ensure that you integrate your learnings from the session?
  • Would you give yourself a job? Which one?
  • What needs to happen to make sure your boss fires you?
  • How could you go even less motivated to work every day?
  • What would you do if you were not afraid of failure?
  • What would happen if you spontaneously were promoted by your boss tomorrow?
  • How are you doing compared to last year?


Personal Growth

  • What should remain in your life as it is, what is good about it?
  • What do you like about yourself and others?
  • How many times (how long, when, where) did not the problem occur? What did you and others do differently in these times? How could you do more of what you did in times where the problem did not occur?
  • Suppose a fairy came tonight and would take the problem away from you/helped you reach your goal, what would be different tomorrow? Who would first recognize that the miracle happened overnight, and why? What would the people around you do differently afterwards?
  • What could you do to feel worse?
  • How could others help you keep the problem?
  • What use would the system/your colleagues/company have if the problem persisted for a while?
  • If 10 is the solution to the problem and 0 is the opposite, where are you at the moment? What would change if you were 1 point higher? When would the problem no longer be an issue? What would you notice that have come to a stable point score of [xy]? How high should the point score be that you say it’s good enough? Is there anyone for whom this change would be a difficulty?
  • Is there anything else I should have asked and failed to ask?
  • What would be a clear indication for you that our work was successful / meaningful? What would others notice if it was successful?
  • I would like to ask you an unusual and strange question let’s say or imagine, after some time you go home, you go to sleep and at night something very surprising happens. Something very strange. The problem that has led you here in coaching is gone, just gone. No more issues. And that would be almost a miracle, right? It just happens so fast and all of this happens while you are sleeping, so you do not know that it happened. How do you discover the next day that this wonderful thing really happened? What would be different the next morning when you wake up? How would you know that the miracle happened? Who else but you would notice? How would they notice? How do others react to that? Would you agree with what has changed?


Burnout / Work Life Balance

  • Which criteria would a satisfactory solution need to fulfil?
  • Who or what could help you?
  • Which of your skills are particularly useful here?
  • What a similarly challenging situation you have overcome in the past? How did you do that?
  • How would your boss see that problem, judge it and approach it?
  • What if suddenly the problem was solved?
  • If the perfect day is a 10, how are you today?
  • What kind of behavior is perceptible on your side while the problem exists versus when it is solved?
  • When was the last time the situation was a bit better/worse/different?
  • What would be, for you / for others, the first sign of progress towards it?
  • What more would you need to do in order to have a burnout?
  • What could you do to sleep even worse?
  • What if you were able to say “no” overnight?
  • Imagine you win the lottery tomorrow: what then?
  • When did you come to this view of [xy]?
  • What makes you not want to consider other options?
  • Which experiences are the basis for your opinion/behavior?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10: How stressed are you?
  • What can you do to be stressed even more than that?
  • What can you do to avoid getting better?
  • Is it work if you are having fun?
  • What do you need to do to further harm your health?
  • How can you become really unhappy?
  • When is it going well?
  • If 0 was total uncertainty and 10 was complete clarity about that question, where are you now?
  • What is different when things are going badly?
  • What happens in situations so that the problem does not occur? What needs to happen for exceptions to occur more frequently? Who can help to make the exceptions more common?
  • How motivated are you to tackle the matter right now? 1 = There are many other things in life that are more important to me. 10 = I will put all my energy into this.



Ask yourself the questions that appeal to you and your situation. Ideally, write down the answer, that will generate better answers than just thinking about the answer.



Methods and Interventions of Systemic Coaching



Impartiality, or neutrality, is an important attitude of the coach in systemic coaching. It means impartiality to all “parties”, both the present and external third parties. All are “equally valid”, neither party is to be preferred. Even if a particular behavior of clients is not consistent with the value system of the counselor.

A purposeful, deliberate and temporary taking sides can be a very useful intervention though.



Autonomy is a central paradigm of systemic work. The theory of living systems postulates the principle of autonomy of these systems, in the sense that they create, regulate and maintain themselves. Even though living systems (e.g. a human) is autonomous, because of the “structural coupling” with other systems it can be influenced by another system and its ability to live even destroyed.

Systemic coaching needs to honor the autonomy of the living system (coachee) with the greatest possible freedom in the external environment.

Ideally, the coach and client system have the freedom to negotiate any type of contract without having to comply with any requirements and expectations of external third parties. In many cases of coaching in an organizational context, this autonomy can be limited. E.g. the coachee has been sent to improve to get a promotion, or to change a behavior with the threat of being fired, a leadership development program wants high potentials to work on specific competencies, etc. These constraints must be disclosed and addressed in the process of systemic work. There can be no covert missions in the background which guide the work of a systemic coach.

As long as the systemic coach independent, that means the coach remains neutral and explicitly takes about any requirements from outside, systemic coaching is possible even with these restrictive conditions. However, if the systemic coach has a strict requirement from a third party to achieve a specific goal that is not consistent with the goals of the client system, the coaching is not longer systemic.


Balance between preservation and change

The systemic counselor is also neutral and impartial in the sense of not being an agent of change. The coach does support the client to achieve a desired change. At the same time the systemic coach focuses on what is worth preserving. He also keeps in mind that change has a price. What does the coachee has to give up for the change? Is the benefit of the change worth the price the coachee is paying for it?


Balance between problem description and solution orientation

Clients are often focused on the problem side of their experience. This obscures the view towards a possible solution.

My goal as a coach here is to see the client in the problem experience and to appreciate the situation and failed solution attempts. But my job is also to turn a client’s eyes towards a solution or change in a “subtle way”. I might swing back and forth like a pendulum between problem and solution orientation to help a client get into the solution focus.


Balance between contradictions

“Should I stay at my company or quit?” The coach can focus here on both things. The coach can also sensitize to a “both – and” attitude and influence “black and white” thinking. This “both – and” may then be e.g. suggest that the client could work less hours or find new tasks in the same job or find another role in the same company, etc.

The goal is to take down barriers / liquify borders (either – or) and show possibilities of “in between” to look at what connects these opposites. This often results in new solutions somewhere in between black and white.



Focusing on exceptions is a coaching technique taken from short-term systemic therapy / consulting.

“I’m so bad at this!” – “Anytime, anytime? When least?”

The search for (positive) exceptions often leads to clues about what factors affect the problem and what is helpful or useful.



This intervention focuses on the presumed effects of a particular behavior. E.g. “Which impact could it have on [xy] if you changed [xy] behavior. If an impact is seen as positive, this can increase a client’s motivation.


Sculpture work

Sculpture work is a method by which the relationship patterns of a system are shown in space. Past, current and desirable possible future patterns of relationships of a system can be depicted with this method (in a team, department, organization, etc.). Sculpture work goes beyond the medium of language and provides the opportunity to make processes visible and immediately tangible.

This method is inspired by psychodrama.



Modesty is not just a nice word or an attitude in a certain way to see the world. It is also the basic attitude of the systemic coach. It is not the coach who knows what to do, it is ultimately the client who knows and decides.

The coach is not an (All) knowing expert, but a facilitator, inspirer, “disturber” of realities, etc. If necessary, I will take myself “out of the system”, lean back and watch. As a systemic coach I assume that psychosocial “realities” are highly complex and representations of groups are these reality of individuals or groups are subjective

Portraits and self-constructions of those involved, he / she is also modest,

as far as the validity of his / her own diagnoses and prognoses is concerned. For this reason, it is not objective “right”, but “helpful”, so practical

Analyzes and solutions. What is helpful and what is not, is determined by the client system in its self-view and self-perception of the counseling process.



Respect is a basic attitude, a prerequisite for a dialogue between equals. A systemic coach should be respectful towards the client and disrespectful to any certainty, e.g. towards fixed ideas and rigid descriptions of reality.


Differences / Distinctions

The “difference that makes a difference” (Gregory Bateson) lies with the observer and not in what is observed. Whether a bunny, a hiker or a botanist looks at a green meadow, it will not change the meadow. But what each of these observers perceives and what behavior the observer derives from that, that will have an impact on the meadow. That action will also have an impact on the observer.

A process consultant, a people consultant and an IT consultant look at a shopfloor. They will perceive different things. The process consultant might want to improve how processes work, make them repeatable and eliminate waste in the process. The people consultant might watch out for how employees communicate or how well they work together. An IT consultant might take look at how consistently the ERP system is used. Each consultant would ask different questions to an employee and which has an impact on the system (organization). The employee’s answers have an impact on the consultant, how the consultant sees the organization, if he sees a possibility to support the organization with his work, etc.

This also leads to essential questions such as: What is the inside and outside of a system, the difference between problem and non-problem, between behavior A and behavior B? And so on.



Circularity means something like having the shape of a circle. Circular thinking is the attempt to describe the behavior of the elements of a system as a control loop. That means the different players in a system mutually influence each other.

Circular questions are an important part of systemic work to make behaviors, symptoms and different forms of emotional expression in the system visible as well as interpersonal-communicative function and significance. E.g. “How do you perceive the behavior of the consultant A does influence the behavior of employee B?”



Reframing means giving a different meaning to a problem. The conceptual and emotional framework in which a situation is experienced and judged is substituted for another one that fits the situation just as well or even better and thereby changes the overall meaning.


Creation of reality

The basis of the worldview in the systemic way of thinking is provided by constructivism. “Reality” is not that what she seems to be but is a social construction of humans in the system. As a result, we have not the right to know how something really is, or how it has to be. Rather, it is about creating a frame of reference in the respective context of a coaching situation. Coaching in this sense is seen less as a way to change people and their behavior, but rather as a framework that allows a context in which change can occur.


Observer and observation

The observer is a central construct in systemic coaching. Research shows that an observer influences what is observed to a great extent. Therefore the fact that there is a coach or consultant present is an intervention itself. On top of that, opinions and expectations which consultant and client system have about each other influence the process as well. It is difficult to include these views rationally in a coaching, but it should be considered somehow, e.g. by talking about the feelings clients and coach have about the process.


Solution & resource orientation

The systemic attitude is based primarily on the resources and solution competencies of the

System a coach works with. This is based on the following premises:

  • Every system (psychic, social) has the resources it needs for its development needs; it’s about making optimal use of these resources.
  • Every human learns in his own way.
  • Respect for the uniqueness of the person.
  • Every behavior makes sense in a particular context.



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