Coaching

by Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird

The need for a process

Effective coaching is a combination of a number of elements, including skills and attitude, and having a process helps to guide the conversations you have and ensure a successful outcome.

It is important to understand that a process is there to help with structure – but you are not a slave to it, it is a slave to you!

Actually, before you even think about a coaching process, the best place to start when considering coaching is to raise your own awareness. Think of this as Step 0. By gaining a better understanding of your communication habits, and your tendencies when listening and asking questions, you will start to become proficient at communicating even more effectively than you do at present. Putting your awareness on something often automatically improves performance. In your coaching of others, this constant self-awareness will have a dramatic impact on your ongoing and continuous development as a great coach.

What is included in the first stage of the process?

Here are some tips as to where to start when coaching someone for the first time.

  • Take time to diagnose the issue for yourself as far as you can. It may be that coaching is appropriate and it may be that it is not. Think about what you are seeing in the other person and whether you believe that helping to raise their awareness and responsibility, and helping them to see more choice, is what is needed – if so, coaching is probably useful.
  • Think about where and when you will coach them. Be considerate as to the environment and make sure you make enough time.
  • Start the conversation by checking that you have rapport – focus on this first, or your coaching will suffer.
  • Think about your intent for the coaching and for the other person.
  • Be aware of any beliefs you hold about the other person and whether they support or hinder your coaching (for more detail, see Intent and attitude in coaching).
  • Focus on listening first! Give the other person your full attention and really hear what they are saying – the totality of the message (not just the words, but how they are said and the other person’s body language).
  • Ask open questions to get more information and raise awareness.
  • Be clear on goals and objectives – often, getting clarity around goals is a big help on its own and can build motivation. Remember to be specific here.
  • Manage the agenda – help to keep the conversation focused (see the GROW process, which will help you to do this easily).
  • Remember to listen for at least 60 per cent of the time!

Boundaries and the coaching contract

You may choose to kick off your coaching with what is called an intake or contracting session. This will lay the foundations for an effective coaching relationship.

So what exactly is an intake session? It is a time when you find out more about what makes your coachee tick, decide the ground rules of the relationship and agree goals for coaching.

An intake session typically lasts between one and two hours, depending on how long you want to devote to it. Here is a chronological list of the elements that might be included in an intake session.

Sections Specific areas
  • What is coaching?
  • Define coaching versus training versus managing
  • Set expectations about what might be possible with coaching
  • The designed alliance – together we can work out how coaching can serve us
  • Agree ground rules
  • Confidentiality
  • Times for coaching
  • Respecting time, especially when working on telephone
  • Accountabilities: if an action is agreed, then ensure there is follow through
  • Who will take notes?
  • How will feedback be given and received?
  • What subjects are not for discussion?

 

  • If appropriate, this tool can be very helpful either in looking at work/life balance or balance between different roles in a job
  • Ask the other person to complete the wheel and then ask questions such as:
  • What do you notice?
  • Where is there balance?
  • Where is there imbalance?
  • Where is your focus right now?
  • Values
  • Ask them simple questions:
  • What’s important to you?
  • What drives you mad?
  • Then prioritise. This will give you an insight into the other person’s values to help you with motivating and engaging them.
  • Primary focus
  • In relation to performance, what does the other person want to concentrate on?
  • Coaching goals
  • What specific goals do they have?
  • What would happen if they achieved the goals?
  • Ensure goals are SMART (specific, measurable, ambitious, realistic, time-bound).
  • Closing
  • Anything else?
  • Agree any accountability for next time.
  • Be clear about when the next coaching session is.
  • Ask for feedback on the session and what they got from it.

A typical session

Coaching sessions will vary greatly in terms of their dynamic and what is covered so, in some senses, there is no such thing as a typical coaching session. However, we summarise some elements that are likely to come up below.

At a high level, you would probably go through the following steps.

  1. Follow up on the task set in the previous session
  2. Explore the learnings gained from doing or attempting the task
  3. Agree a goal for this coaching session
  4. Refer to the primary coaching goals for the sessions and measure progress compared with last time
  5. Explore as needed (perhaps using the GROW model)
  6. Agree a task to be completed before the next session

Remember, coaching is not about something you do to the other person. It is about having an intent to assist in a way that develops responsibility that will direct how you interact with them.

A coaching session will:

  • Often have the coach talking for no more than 40 per cent of the time – ideally, much less!
  • Have silences: if you ask a great question, then the other person will need to think; don’t be tempted to fill the silence with other questions
  • Often need to be kept on track by the coach – your role is to hold the other person’s agenda and ensure that you stay on track
  • Often result in the goal being amended and developed as the session progresses; be open to that if it is appropriate
  • Result in clear and specific actions
  • Address personal challenges and barriers to achievement to help the coachee understand and meet them
  • Require rapport and trust to have an open dialogue
  • Often follow the GROW model, but not always and not always in the order ‘goal–reality–options–will’
  • Sometimes be two minutes long and involve you asking only one or two questions
  • Always benefit from your full attention
  • Will involve you in active listening at all times and doing lots of reflecting back and summarising.

The style of sessions can vary greatly depending on the relationship between the coach and coachee. This is OK. There is no ‘right’ way to do it unless you simply consider that the way that gets the best results for all concerned is the ‘right’ way.

Tip

A good coach still controls the process but not the response from the coachee. So it’s important to let go a bit when you coach!

The length and number of sessions

The duration of a coaching session and the number of sessions that you need for a given topic will vary greatly and will depend on the topic, the practicalities and the person being coached.

Coaching can be anything from a few short minutes’ conversation to more formal sessions of two hours or more. When planning your sessions, think about the topic to be discussed and be prepared to arrange other sessions if necessary.

It is important that you do not rush coaching, so if time is becoming an issue, raise it with the coachee and agree how to handle it – maybe through arranging another session.

Tips

Get really clear on the session goals if you plan to have a number of sessions. This will enable you to manage time more effectively while still keeping track of the end objective.

Articulate and agree the time you have available with the coachee to help set realistic expectations for what you can achieve in the session.