Adaptive Action Coaching: Establishing Fundamentals to Build Capacity


Usually I groan when yet another sports analogy is used to explain an insight about complex human systems. Don’t get me wrong. I love sports and spent the better part of my teenage years in a gym playing basketball. My dad was a football coach, and I love the game. Soccer playoffs and Olympics are amazing displays of human athletic and strategic capacity. I love them all. It’s just that sometimes it seems like sports analogies are a bit trite, but I really don’t see a way around this one. We are coaches, and like every winning athletic coach, we recognize the inescapable value of understanding and practicing a set fundamental skills. From the beginning attempts to the most proficient and gifted execution, coaching and practice still rely on mastering the fundamentals. 

In the HSD Institute, a group has been exploring how to use principles of Human Systems Dynamics (HSD) to coach for personal and professional performance. It’s been an exciting and important journey. Beginning with the most basic concepts, each session is designed to support the client’s practice of applying fundamental skills. We ground our work in a few, critical understandings we call Pattern Logic. Using Pattern Logic, the client:

  • Sees and names patterns of interaction, thoughts, and decision making that shape his or her experience
  • Analyzes the most powerful patterns to understand conditions that shape and constrain them
  • Identifies how each of the conditions could be influenced to shift the pattern
  • Chooses one condition to shift, knowing that in a complex system, a wise action anywhere will shift the whole
  • Takes that wise action and observes its impact
  • Understands the new “current” and re-enters the iterative cycle to see, understand, and influence again

We call this iterative process Adaptive Action, and it is the core of the work we do. Along the way, we introduce other models and methods that help the client gain greater clarity and alacrity in the process. These models and methods help with each step of the Adaptive Action.

We realize that seeing and understanding patterns builds skill in influencing them in both the short-term and in the longer horizon. Sports coaches use videos and pictures to describe skilled play, but that description alone is not enough. Great coaches also have their players practice those skills to learn what it takes to make split-second decisions. That level of integration between skill and action cannot be reflected in a video or picture. A player must possess fundamental skills at a level that allows response and adaptation in the moment of play.

What we have realized, also, is that any client can use Pattern Logic at some level of expertise. It’s like practicing free throws in basketball. Everyone can take the shot, but it’s only through continued practice and feedback that the players become better able to accomplish the goal successfully.

Now as we are about to launch the Adaptive Action Coaching program more broadly, it occurs to me why coaching at this level is so important. I have never heard of a great coach who ignored the fundamentals in practice sessions. I have never heard a great coach expect perfect performance before being sure the players were strong in the fundamentals. And it is only through the iterative cycles of trying and learning the fundamental skills that the grace and nuance of a great performance happen.

If you are interested in being a coach who helps your clients become masters in seeing, understanding, and influencing the patterns in their lives, check out the Adaptive Action Coaching training that’s offered by the HSD Institute. Get more information about upcoming training opportunities.

Join us to bring this level of expertise to your clients. Let us know what you learn and how this changes your practice.


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