On the importance and value of using organisational cycles

How cycles help

As you might know, I am quite a fan of cycling – to the station, through town, to meetings in the UK and abroad... observing and thinking as I go. However, this piece is not about bicycles.

Nor is it about the fad cycle, another sort that interests me (from management theories to technology to music to fashion).

It is a bit about the learning cycle, and the associated ideas…from Deming to Kolb.

It is about the cycles that should be at the heart of organisational life. Not the annual cycle, the three year cycle or even the long term economic cycle, despite the exhortations to think out of the short term performance box.

Rather it is the sort of cycle that helps individuals, teams and organisations get (and keep) on the front foot, and so move from:

  • Struggling to good: recovering
  • From good to great: improving
  • From great to brilliant: inspiring

In my work, helping people get onto the ‘front foot’, there is a pattern and rhythm that is worth paying attention to, whether it is in Corporate Boards, project teams or individual leaders. This cycle is the ‘gum’ needed to help when there is a big (t)ask – a big challenge, a significant goal, the need to get going. It helps groups of people deal with change – in team membership, team leadership, team context or team role.

It is seen in the monthly cycle used in individual coaching. It creates the reflection space for leaders to pause, review, think and plan…and so avoid the traps – in a framework I have Stolen With Pride for many years!

It is seen in the 4-8 week cycle in action learning sets.

It underpins the quarterly cycle used in the meeting architecture of productive teams.

It is at the heart of what helps a individual or group recover, improve or inspire.

It is in the pattern of the ‘90-day reviews’ that are very popular with some of my clients – as a way of focusing the work they are doing. In fact, I have just come off a call leading a 90-day review with colleagues distributed across the continents. The after action review is a powerful part of this. The ‘quarter turn of the key’ helps crank insight into action. It keeps the Question:Breakthrough:Follow-through cycle going

I use it in my ‘team gymnasium’. Gym? The ‘technology’ and exercises I use in the team gymnasium is a blend integrated into 6-9 months of activities for individual team members (monthly) and the team together (quarterly). The combination of assessment, pre-reading, talks, sessions and action planning helps to stimulate and maintain momentum. It encourages growth and health.

The framework of mine I get asked for most often, and the tweet of mine that has been retweeted or favourited the most, is the same one. It is about this cycle. That model is a matrix that combines ‘ABC’ and ‘5-30-90’. It is a key part of the Team Gymnasium. It can be used in a rolling manner in line leadership and executive coaching.

So what are the key elements of this ‘cycle’ I have alluded to? It is marked by:

How cycles help

  1. It's pro-activity: the choice to keep moving (and meeting) to maintain and build momentum – no matter how hard.
  2. The underpinning interest and curiosity about improvement, impact and others' individual views (not quite the 4i model – nearly).
  3. The way it becomes the forum for reflection and reflective practice (btw, I argue this is most essential in Noble Purpose Organisations, due to the perplexing patterns many encounter – more on that to come in an imminent blog, or email for my longer ‘Think Piece’).
  4. The way it encourages individuals and teams.

Fundamentally, we are talking of cycles of experimentation and examination...a feature that is at the root of human progress, from science to art; seen in history and in the world today.

So I specialise in ‘cycling’:

  • The 1-month improvement approach in mentoring and coaching
  • The 1-2 month learning set
  • The 90-day reviews in change, improvement projects
  • The ongoing Team Gymnasium – used in management development programmes too
  • The annual business planning or strategy process
  • The ad-hoc post-project review.

Whatever you do (whether you are a line manager or an executive leader), are you a ‘cycle coach’ too?


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