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Organized chaos – What riding a motorcycle in Italy has to do with group coaching

Read time: 4 min

This summer, I spent a month in Italy. My brother Franco and I rode our motorcycles from the Swiss Alps to Lombardia, through the golden hills of Tuscany to the Amalfi coast and finally then to Puglia (at the heel of the boot), where my home village of Specchia lies – 2300 miles across country.

In Italy, driving is not just a function, it's a passion! Traffic rules are generally considered optional, and if you took a bird’s eye view of an intersection you’d likely see what appears to be utter chaos. And yet, when you are in the midst of that chaos, you understand that there is method to the madness, that the disorder is somehow organized, and that you need to assert yourself and put all your driving experience to use.

We Italian drivers have a curious attitude towards risk: we don’t really see it; or rather, we accept it as an inevitable, even fun part of the ride. The larger the city and the farther south it is that you are driving, the less forgiving the traffic becomes. (With the notable exception of Puglia, of course, where everybody is nothing but calm, collected and always polite.)

Motorcycles, Vespa, scooters are widely used in the country, particularly during summer. Lane discipline is an alien concept. Roads are divided not by dividers but by the traffic itself, by how many vehicles can fit side-by-side without quite touching each other. If there is a skinny gap between cars, squeeze in, it’s yours. Don’t be shy, just take it.

Motorcyclists tend to create their own lane right on top of that double white line in the middle of a road - for both directions! The unspoken understanding is: we all want to get to our destination faster than cars, so let’s give each other priority as needed. Needless to say, my brother and I abided by that rule.

As we were doing so, it occurred to me how similar this situation is to group coaching. Organizations tend to thrive on the premise of order, controlled outcomes, planned progression. However, what one might consider order, to another might be disorder. Just compare the perspective of a motorcyclist who is going through a busy intersection with the perspective of a remote observer viewing that same scene from above. The motorcyclist may see pathways and opportunities, tapping into his or her present experience to find the best way forward; for the distant observer, however, the whole scene may appear as an ineffective and chaotic mess in need of more control and regulations.

Group coaching is a form of dialogue which leverages the insights and experiences of group members to attain professional growth that benefits both the individual and the organization. When I introduce group coaching to an interested organization, I make sure they understand that participants have to take turns in the roles of coach and coachee to understand both perspectives. These roles come with two main responsibilities:

1. A coach must keep in mind that the coachee has answers and knows best how to resolve a problem or achieve a goal. As a coach, you are responsible to help them find those answers.

2. As a coachee, the responsibility is to be self-aware and remove anything that might hinder progress. Coachees need to be open to receiving support while trusting the process as well as the group.

Imagine that buzzing intersection again. Everyone is on high alert, fully aware of all the other vehicles while deciding on the best path towards their destination. Now, let