Punching holes in the cave with Alan Jennings

Hello Alan, can you tell us who you are and what you like to do?

My name is Alan Jennings. I’ve been a trainer and coach with AWA Global for about three years now.

I love helping people realise a new potential, helping them get over a problem that they always thought; “We can’t do that. That wouldn’t work in this company”. I love making environments where people are happier, and where people are doing a better job, delivering value.

Ultimately, the reason I went down my path was that I wanted to create an environment I’d love to have worked in during my career. Where people are collaborating. They’re caring about each other beyond the colleague. They’re caring about the humans around them.

alan jennings iceberg model

And what do you enjoy outside of work?

I’m a husband and father of two young kids and I LOVE seeing the way they’re exploring and growing. I’m a pretty avid gamer. I love online gaming with friends. We always make time once a week to log on at the same time and have a few games and talk about how life has changed for us.

On top of that, I love building Lego. That’s why I bring it into work as well. I’m currently in the process of building a couple of big units. My goal is to build a Christmas Village with lights and a little train track. Luckily my wife is keen to help build it with a bottle of wine in the evening!

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How did you end up in this field?

I was a programmer for about 15 years and I kept falling into lead programmer role, or lead of a team. They told me; “You need to be the lead. You need to be the scrum master as well, because you can talk to people.” So I fell into a role which was part developer, part scrum master.

As I started learning more things in the agile space, I realised that instead of me being one developer working with a few people, I could be working with more people, creating a better environment. I struggled in a few of the organisations that I worked in because the culture was pretty toxic at times. When I started picking up skills about conflict management, addressing culture and behaviours in organisations, I found these skills and tools were really handy and would have made a huge difference to me earlier on. So I kept going down that path. I always found something new to learn, to challenge myself with and to keep growing.

How did you first come to learn about enterprise agile coaching?

Looking at the Enterprise Agile Coach Bootcamp was what really got me interested. Five days of learning with a lovely cohort of people, picking up these skills and applying them.

For a long time, there was a problem I was seeing in organisations. I couldn’t quite put it into words until around then. There were issues that were outside of the team. I eventually started seeing agile a little bit like solar panels. Solar panels in a field will generate electricity. And they do exactly what you need. If you put solar panels inside a cave, they generate hardly any electricity, but it won’t necessarily be the solar panels’ fault. It’s the environment that they’re in.

I kept seeing the same challenge with organisations where teams got agile. They didn’t need much more agile coaching. So I started looking at this whole solar panel analogy. I went on the initial Bootcamp, and then picked up more of the skills and started applying them. That was where I started to change the words I was using to address the problems within these caves. To start punching some holes in there to help bring the sunlight in. And then we were able to solve that organisational problem as a whole. So it was a fun journey. And there’s still more and more to do in that space.

What can you tell us about the impact that coaching has had on teams that you work with?

Lego

I’m a Lego Serious Play facilitator and to be able to bring that into work has been awesome. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve worked with teams or super senior people in organisations, where they’ve lost their voice. But the second they’re talking about the model that they’ve built as opposed to their feelings as a person, it’s like the temperature in the room has changed. Other people feel they can talk about it and address what can be a whole herd of elephants in the room.

When it comes down to systems coaching, I really enjoy getting people talking about their relationships that exist within the room, not just the team as an entity, but the individuals. To actually acknowledge that everything is a voice of the system. And that the system itself needs to evolve. Super simple exercises around that have really helped companies move forward and get past moments where they were wading through treacle.

Visual facilitation

By drawing out the system and getting people to realise something that was there all along, that they thought was common knowledge. Getting that out of someone’s head and onto a wall, and getting other people around it. Then they’re all seeing it as well and that can help the system truly evolve and hit its next level.

How do you like to learn?

It’s about being interactive. It’s about getting your hands dirty. For me, it has to be really applying the tool, going through case studies, seeing the potential of it. Otherwise, the thing that I’m learning won’t really land.

I like to create an environment in all of the courses that I teach, with Training From the Back of the Room. When I came across that style, it was an epiphany moment for me. That led to me becoming a Training From the Back of the Room trainer. I find it so valuable to create, in a short period of time, an environment in which someone can understand the concept, apply and reflect on it with others. Everything that I do, everything I teach, every way that I’ve learned is through that technique. Any learning I want to go on, I want to be able to apply it straight away. That’s how I like to learn and how I like to create the environment for other people as well.

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You recently became an ICAgile accredited instructor for our Systems Coaching & Thinking course. Can you tell us a bit about that?

The Systems Coaching and Thinking course was pretty well-timed in my coaching journey. A lot of the thinking and the challenges I was facing, seemed to be wider than facilitation and team coaching. First I attended it, and then I became accredited to teach the course. When I attended the course, there were tools and techniques that were close to things that I was doing already. So it helped me firm up the approach that I was using.

There were tools that were completely new to me. I’ve come across Iceberg Models in relationship coaching before, but taking it into the systemic approach, it was a completely different level. The steps that we went through as we explored the model, as we talked about how you can use that to frame up the problems and linking it in with other tools that we use within the course such as the Integral Model. Tools, which I knew well enough to use before, suddenly, I got to see a new application for them.

Then it allowed me to push a few conversations that had hit a bit of a sticking point. And also to get people to take a step away from their lens, their view. And to zoom out a little bit from the problem space, to see it from someone else’s viewpoint. And to understand the impact that was happening to the entire system. It became a bit freeing for some of the clients I was working for and freeing for myself as well.

“The Systems Coaching and Thinking course allowed me to get people to zoom out a little bit from the problem space, to see it from someone else’s viewpoint. And to understand the impact that was happening to the entire system.”

Alan Jennings

What are your career highlights?

I’ve worked a lot within the government space. I love the pure purpose that you get when you are genuinely making life better for citizens. I spent a long time working in justice, working on systems to make people’s lives easier. For example, having iPads within prisons, allowed prisoners to be able to read bedtime stories to their children to be able to stay connected. When I was writing software for many years, I didn’t quite get as close to understanding who these users were and how I was making things better. To me, that made a huge difference when I started breaking down those walls and seeing the true users behind the things that we were collaborating on building.

Other career highlights have been helping people grow, to achieve the next promotion or new job that they’re going for, through career coaching. It’s interesting, and it was unexpected for me, that an agile coaching journey, will also touch on elements of personal coaching, business coaching, and systemic coaching.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d learned earlier in your career?

The thing that I wish I’d learned earlier on in my career is definitely the true skills of coaching. And with that, listening. To be able to create an environment around you, where you’re hoping to grow others, as opposed to in traditional organisations where everyone’s fighting for the next promotion. You’re only as strong as the team around you and ultimately, you want to have a long-lived team of awesome people who bounce off each other, who are all able to do whatever the job is that’s needed. Those environments have been the best I’ve worked in. But they’ve also been few and far between.

I wish I’d been able to learn these skills and apply them to myself and to others earlier. You can create whatever micro-culture you need around you to make the job and to make life enjoyable.

Quick-fire questions…

  • What books do you recommend to everyone?
    The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement and Turn The Ship Around! Because both of those are about taking a care, communicate and collaborate approach to organisational change and creating an environment that people enjoy working in. And the knock-on effect is you get good results.
  • What was the last thing you read?
    I’m currently reading Corporate Rebels. I’m absolutely loving it, hearing about these awesome environments, these organisations that have completely changed and thrown the rule book out of the window, and the massive positive effect it’s had for people.

If you’d like to get a taste of Alan’s training and coaching style, then watch his short webinar about systems coaching and the Iceberg Model.


And if you’re interested in finding out more about systems coaching and why it’s an incredibly powerful tool for change agents, then join Alan for his next Systems Coaching and Thinking (ICP-SYS) course.

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