Working with Coaching Models: The U-Process

By Dr. Sunny Stout-Rostron

The U-process

The U-process is sometimes known as the process of transition, and in the field of coaching this U-process is typically represented in Scharmer’s model of change. In the process of transition, the client can move from anxiety, through happiness, fear, threat, guilt, denial, disillusionment, depression, gradual acceptance and hostility to moving forward.

The U-process is considered a mid-range change theory with a sense of an emerging future. Scharmer’s process moves the client through different levels of perception and change, with differing levels of action which follow. The three main elements are sensing, presencing and realizing. These represent the three basic aspects of the U (Figure 1).

Figure 1    Scharmer’s U-Process Model

Scharmer's U-Process

Source:       Adapted from Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski and Flowers (2005:88)

This process helps the client to work at different levels of perception and change, and allows different levels of actions to follow. All three are extensions of the learning process. As the coach and client move into the U, sensing is about observing and becoming one with the world; presencing, moving to the bottom of the U, is about retreating and reflecting and allowing an inner knowing to emerge, and realizing as you move out of the “U”, is about acting swiftly and with a natural flow from the knowledge and understanding that has emerged.

Time for ChangeThe U-theory suggests co-creation between the individual and the collective – i.e. the larger world. It is about the interconnection or integration of the self with the world. At the bottom of the U, as described by Scharmer, is the “inner gate” where we drop the baggage of our journey, going through a threshold. The metaphor used here is that of “death of the old self”, and “rebirth of the new self”, the client emerges with a different sense of self. On the Web is a lovely dialogue between Wilber and Scharmer where they discuss the seven states and the three movements in this one process (Scharmer, 2003).

Superficial learning and change processes are shorter versions of the U-movement. In using this as a coaching process, the client moves downwards into the base of the U, moving from acting, to thinking, to feeling, to will. This is to help the client to download with the coach, to let go and discover who they really are, to see from the deepest part of themselves, developing an awareness that is expanded with a shift in intention.

Otto Scharmer, in an executive summary of his new book, Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges, describes the U-process as five movements: co-initiating, co-sensing, presencing, co-creating and co-evolving (Scharmer, 2007:5–8). Scharmer describes this as moving “first into intimate connection with the world and to a place of inner knowing that can emerge from within, followed by bringing forth the new, which entails discovering the future by doing” (Scharmer, 2007:6). The following case study demonstrates the five-step process.

Figure 2    U-process case study

Scharmer's U-Process Example

Source:       Scharmer (2007:6)

Case study: The Global Convention on Coaching (GCC)

From July 2007 until July 2008, I played a role as Chair of the GCC Working Group: Research Agenda for Development of the Field, and Carol Kauffman took the part of Facilitator. The GCC was originally established to create a collaborative dialogue for all stakeholders in coaching worldwide, with the ultimate aim of professionalizing the industry. Nine initial working groups were formed by the GCC’s Steering Committee to discuss critical issues related to the professionalization of coaching, producing “white papers” on the current realities and possible future scenarios of these issues. These white papers were presented at the GCC’s Dublin convention in July 2008. Using the U-process model, this case study summarises the working group process of the research agenda, which comprised a 12-month online dialogue process, with the addition of monthly telephone conversations, during 2007–2008. The white papers for all nine working groups (plus the new tenth group, Coaching and Society) are available at www.coachingconvention.org.

1. Co-initiation

Co-initiating is about building common intent, stopping and listening to others and to what life calls you to do. In the Working Group for the Research Agenda, the group built common intent by first setting up the group, defining their purpose and beginning to discuss the process that they wanted to use for their dialogue. It was agreed that the chair and facilitator would invite specific individuals to join the Working Group, and those members would suggest other individuals who might have a key interest in the research agenda for the field (i.e. the emerging coaching profession). The group began their online dialogue, once all had accepted the invitation and received instructions on how to use the online GCC web forum. It was agreed that there would be three communities working together: the Working Group and the Consultative Body for the Research Agenda, and the Steering Committee who were responsible for the leadership and management of the other groups.

2. Co-sensing

EyeObserve, Observe, Observe. Go to the places of most potential and listen with your mind and heart wide open. The chair and the facilitator of the Working Group had to learn to co-facilitate, observing each other’s skill and competence. They had to be willing to listen to each other, observing each other’s style in facilitating an online dialogue. They needed to create the group, and to facilitate the way forward with the group, learning to take constructive criticism and appreciation from each other, guiding the group forward without being prescriptive. Both chair and facilitator agreed to co-chair the process, remaining mentally and emotionally open to each other’s divergent opinions, ways of being and styles of interpersonal communication, whether working with the group online or by phone.

3. Presencing

Connect to the source of inspiration, and will. Go to the place of silence and Young Woman Meditating on the Floorallow the inner knowing to emerge. Each individual in the process reflected and regularly added their thoughts and feelings to the online forum. Debate, conflict and agreement emerged – with chair and facilitator taking responsibility to keep the group on track without being prescriptive. The chair and facilitator had to connect, each one to their own individual source of inspiration and to bring that together as one voice to guide the group.

4. Co-creating

Prototype the new. In living examples to explore the future by doing. This entailed harnessing the energy of the Working Group to draft a current reality document of their online and tele-conference dialogues; this document was revised four times. They brought in a facilitator for a second, Consultative Body who entered the Consultative Body dialogue at stage 1 (co-initiating), but who, at the same time, entered the Working Group dialogue at stage 3 (presencing). Trying to move forward with their own Working Group process, yet move the Consultative Body from stage 1 to stage 2 (co-initiation to co-sensing) was a complex, parallel process. The chair and facilitator enlisted the help of an editor, Nick Wilkins, to manage the writing process of the white paper during the Working Group’s co-creation (or stage 4).

5. Co-evolving

Embody the new in ecosystems that facilitate seeing and acting from the whole. The final stage of the process was the physical gathering at the Dublin convention. This took place in three stages: pre-convention, convention and post-convention (post-convention work has just begun). Several months prior to the convention, all nine working groups began to work together online and by telephone to share their own varied stages in the U-process; in this way they learned from each other as they gathered momentum moving towards Dublin which was to be the culmination of their year-long project. Some groups had lost participants during the 12 months through disagreement; others managed to harness the energy to move through each of the stages together. The three processes were:

  • Pre-convention: Preparation for the presentation of a white paper by nine committees; this was for their committee’s current global reality and future possible scenarios for their topic, with the addition of a tenth committee four months prior to Dublin.
  • Convention: Physical presence, dialogue and debate in Dublin with each of the working groups. This was paralleled with virtual online feedback on a daily basis from those not able to attend the convention (however, there were difficulties with this process which frustrated some who could not access the virtual dialogue during that week).
  • Post-convention: Continuation of the process with a new format. The work was to take place in diverse groups regionally and nation-wide, to proceed to the next step building the emerging profession of coaching. Post-convention, a Global Steering Group began work to harness the energy of those wishing to continue. The GCC saw its role as an organic one, continuing to facilitate a global dialogue, rather than forming another coaching organization. A post-GCC International Coaching Summit is to now take place in July 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA.

This U-process is applicable to large innovation projects where the unfolding takes place over a long time; a year in this instance. The team composition in such projects as this will change and adapt to some degree after each movement: in the GCC process the working group for the Research Agenda had lost and added new members, whereas the consultative body was a looser entity with only certain members playing a strong role. This was a process of discovery, exploring the future by doing, thinking and reflecting. As Scharmer explains, it facilitates an opening. Facilitating an opening process involves “the tuning of three instruments: the open mind, the open heart, and the open will” (Scharmer, 2007:8–9).

At any one time there were three U-process coaching journeys taking place for the Research Agenda: within the working group, the working group interacting with the consultative body, and the working group interacting with the steering committee.

In Conclusion

Models offer a great sense of structure yet flexibility for the coach practitioner, but remember that simplicity is a prerequisite. I explore models from an experiential learning premise as the client always brings their experience into the coaching conversation. The client’s experience is underpinned by a range of factors, including gender, race, culture, education, life experience and personality.

This article is adapted from Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice, Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching, (2009, Johannesburg: Knowledge Resources) and was originally printed in the WABC e-zine: Business Coaching Worldwide, Volume 5, and subsequently in ETD Online, July 2009.

Coach’s library

Global Convention on Coaching (GCC). (2008g). Dublin Declaration on Coaching Including Appendices. Global Convention on Coaching. Dublin, August. Webpage: http://www.coachingconvention.org.

Scharmer, O. (2003). Mapping the Integral U: A conversation between Ken Wilber and Otto Scharmer, Denver, CO, 17 September. Dialog on Leadership. Webpage: http://www.dialogonleadership.org/interviews/Wilber.html.

Scharmer, C. O. (2007). Addressing the Blind Spot of Our Time: An Executive Summary of the New Book by Otto Scharmer: Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges. Theoryu.com. Webpage: http://www.theoryu.com/execsummary.html.

Senge, P., Scharmer, C. O., Jaworski, J., and Flowers, B. S. (2005). Presence: Exploring Profound Change in People, Organizations and Society. London: Nicholas Brealey.

Stout-Rostron, S. (2009a). Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching. Johannesburg: Knowledge Resources.

Stout-Rostron, S. (2009b). Working with Coaching Models: The U-Process. Human Capital Review, September. Webpage: http://www.humancapitalreview.org/content/default.­asp?Article_ID=625.

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About Sunny Stout-Rostron Associates

Sunny coaches at senior executive and board level in corporate organizations and educational institutions. She has a wide range of experience in leadership and management development,  business strategy and executive coaching. With over 20 years’ international  experience as an executive coach, Sunny believes that there is a strong link between emotional intelligence and business results – she works with leaders and their  teams to help them achieve individual, team and organizational goals, gaining  wisdom and knowledge through their own experience.
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