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EP: 49 – A Conversation with Richard Boston

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Richard Boston is an Author, Coach & Advisor: Leadership and Team Performance. Richard has written The Boss Factor, ARC Leadership and his latest book Upgrade which he has co-authored with Karen Ellis. Richard has also contributed a chapter to the Practitioners Handbook on Team Coaching. Richard is well respected as a psychologist. He is the MD of Leaderspace and a faculty member of Henley. To my mind he also has a wonderful if not wicked sense of humour.

Show Notes

Podcast episode summary:  In this episode Richard shares the key messages from each of his books and spends a generous portion of the episode illuminating the components of his Systems Wheel a tool he has generated to support individuals, teams and organisations deal with systems thinking.  The focus in exploring the systems wheel concerned teams.

The Systems Wheel Richard Boston

Points made through the episode:

  • Team are complex & Richard is interested in looking at the many patterns often common patterns you see on teams
  • Teams are evolving less than we think-as Homeo Sapiens we have not evolved that much
  • The book ARC is about Authenticity, Responsibility and Courageousness essential ingredients for Leaders and members of teams, The Boss factor is about your manager, but it is as much about managing adult to adult relationships. Similarly, Teams often fall into unhelpful Parent Child dynamic rather than adult/adult pattern . Upgrade speaks to our respective operating systems and how to upgrade using 4 key capacities, Sense-Making, Perspective shifting, Self-relating and Opposable Thinking
  • The Systems Wheel is a good that generates lots of useful questions to help teams make sense of the systems in which they operate.
  • The centre comprises 3 concentric triangles. The smallest in the middle is “SELF”, surrounded by “Team” and then Organisation
  • The corners of these triangles are marked by 3 core capacities , Direction, Commitment and Capacity- essentials for Teams
  • The first ring comprises the 3 disciplines described in ARC, Authentic, Responsible and Courageous- these need to work in concert

The next ring names habits, needs and mindset which can act as enablers or inhibitors on a team

  • Needs can encompass a whole range of things from the more prosaic like budget to the more profound, an example of a team that was stuck because it needed to grieve a bereavement on the team.
  • One useful tool to explore needs is a psychometric called FIRO-B
  • FIRO-B explores 3 needs, Significance, Control and Openness
  • Mindset includes Beliefs, Assumptions and Expectations and provide a useful terrain to explore for teams for example “What is this team assuming that limits our flexibility around the direction we are going to take?
  • The idea behind the wheel is that you can spin the wheel in any direction and link up the different components on different rings and string a sentence or question such as “what needs do we have to meet to secure the commitment of our board with respect to the direction we want to take?”
  • Important for teams to be able to put themselves in the shoes of their stakeholders including the members of the team as many team members are also members of other
  • Sometimes it is difficult for team members to admit their real needs – you have to build trust and build healthy conflict to get at the order of commitment that allows for a needs conversation.
  • Richard shared an exercise he did with a team in Romania, where the team leader wasn’t a Romanian, but the members were. Each team member shared pictures from each decade of their lives and the stories that impacted them. A profound and very meaningful exchange that helped the team see itself as a collection of humans rather than task completers.
  • The outer ring focuses on the macro forces at play on a team, Time, Pace and Exchange. All teams are in flow of time. They have a history a present and a future. All members occupy a place on a team and Richard explored place through the lens of Barry Oshry’s work -what does it say about a team member needs or mindset when he/she is a middle? Exchange is an important concept. What is the give and take between teams for example that limits the commitment each shows?
  • Richard shared a number of examples of teams he has worked with sharing some failures as well as one he is very proud of and it cited in the Chapter, he wrote for The Practitioners Handbook on Team Coaching- Southampton FC.
  • Finally ,Richard shared his own personal commitment to manage the polarity between contentment and fulfilment. His work now is to thrive more and strive less.


Resources: the following include the resources we alluded to over the course of our conversation

  2. Boston, R. ARC Leadership :From Surviving to Thriving in a Complex World
  3. Boston, R. The Boss Factor: 10 Reasons in managing up for mutual gain
  4. Boston, R. Ellis, K. Upgrade: Building your capacity for complexity
  5. Clutterbuck, D. The Practitioners Handbook of Team Coaching
  6. Reinventing Organisations by Fredric Laloux
  7. Oshry,B. Seeing Systems
  8. The Systems Wheel: Turning the magic of systems thinking into a practical tool for team coaching, a chapter written for the Practitioners Handbook on Team Coaching by David Clutterbuck and a host of contributors.

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