8 Guidelines for Effective Coaching Relationships
Maria Simpson, Ph.D.
Coaching is a wonderful opportunity for both the organization and the coaching client. When done well, everyone benefits.
When done not-so-well, the opportunity is lost and the situation may deteriorate rather than improve.
steps will put you well along the road to achieving the very best results from coaching and avoiding some common pitfalls.
1. Understand the coach’s role.
a. The coach is there to help the staff member prepare for new responsibilities or improve
certain areas of performance, not to provide basic feedback. Coaching is not training, supervision, mentoring, or managing
although these conversations may overlap.
b. Coaching is
defined as developmental and positive, not punitive, no matter what circumstances initiate it. Unless coaching is explained
to staff members in this light, no amount of positive description by the coach will counteract the perception that coaching
is provided only when there are performance problems or someone’s job is at stake.
c. Coaching should not be used to create a “legally defensible position” for a possible employment
action. That approach indicates that appropriate action was not taken soon enough to avoid the potential legal problem and
undermines the coaching process.
d. Coaching should be
considered as early as possible, not as a last resort. If coaching is delayed, relationships may become so damaged that they
cannot be repaired no matter the level of improvement achieved after coaching, coaching will be seen as having failed, and
the resources spent on coaching will have been wasted.
a coach for the specific situation and staff member.
A coach should be selected primarily on the basis of experience and expertise in the areas that need to be addressed. Explore
background and experience, and call references.
b. A coach’s
style and flexibility are important to developing trust with the staff member quickly, an ability that may be more art than
science. Organizations might want to identify several coaches with different backgrounds and styles so that they can make
good coaching matches. When possible, the organization might allow the staff member to interview two coaches to determine
with whom the staff member will be most comfortable working. A trusting and respectful relationship is the most important
element in successful coaching.
3. Give the coach as much information
a. Define the reasons for coaching
clearly, and the issues or behaviors to be addressed.
Explain the context for coaching, for example, preparation for a promotion; part of a performance plan; enhanced feedback
and personal development; organizational culture and how well the staff member fits in; the real possibility for continued
c. Describe the supervisory steps that have
already been taken to address the issue. Coaching is not a replacement for effective supervision.
d. Discuss the relationship between the staff member and the supervisor to understand
e. Describe the information about coaching
that has already given to the staff member.
4. Prepare the staff
member for coaching.
a. Be sure the coaching client
has been well-informed about coaching by the immediate supervisor. Unless this conversation has occurred, a call from a coach
to establish the time and place for the first meeting will be a complete and disconcerting surprise to the staff member, and
will generate significant trust issues that will be hard to overcome.
Clarify expectations for the staff member’s commitment to coaching. Commitment can be seen in a speedy response to the
offer of coaching, willingness to meet on a specified schedule, keeping and being on time for meetings, few if any cancelled
or postponed meetings, and full engagement with the process by asking questions and receiving feedback openly. Without this
level of commitment, coaching will become one more meeting someone has to attend.
Define goals and expectations clearly and get the staff member’s agreement on them.
a. Goals should be clear enough so that “success” can be recognized when
b. If there is a significant difference between
the organization’s and the staff member’s goals, this discrepancy should be reconciled or brought to the attention
of management as it indicates a misunderstanding of the purpose of coaching.
c. Initially, coaching goals may be defined as short term, behavioral changes. However, coaching may reveal
underlying issues or circumstances that must be addressed at an organizational level rather than a personal or interpersonal
level. The coach should raise these issues with management.
If the coach finds that the coaching process is not going well and does not want to breach confidentiality by talking to the
immediate manager, then the coach should call these concerns to the attention of senior management after trying to resolve
the issue with the staff member. Organizations want to see results, and the coach should expect to explain a lack of results
or lose credibility with the organization.
e. Results of
coaching may not be evident immediately so time must be allowed for change to occur.
6. Define the limits of confidentiality.
The specific content of coaching conversations should be considered by the coach to be confidential. Without the protection
of confidentiality, most staff members will be reluctant to disclose difficult or sensitive information that will help in
understanding the situation, and coaching will not result in positive change.
b. The staff member can discuss the content of a coaching session with anyone the staff member chooses.
Some coaching clients want to share new information or insight with others, including their managers. Others prefer to maintain
c. Unless the coaching client specifically
authorizes the coach to discuss the details of conversations with others, the coach should limit feedback on coaching, especially
with immediate supervisors, to very general comments such as the coaching client’s willingness to participate, level
of engagement, receptivity to feedback, etc.
coaches are not legally included in the term “mandated reporters,” it may be useful to use the requirements of
this position as a guideline for when confidentiality should be breached (when there is the real possibility of harm to self
or others, such as possible workplace violence, for example).
When the coach determines that the coaching client has engaged in unacceptable behavior of some kind but which may not be
considered potentially harmful to self or others, the coach must decide what to do consistent with his or her personal ethics
and those published by various professional associations to which the coach ascribes. In some cases, the coach may not breach
confidentiality but may encourage the coaching client to take the initiative and report the behavior by a certain deadline
or the coach will end the coaching relationship while still maintaining confidentiality. These issues should be clarified
with the organization and the staff member before coaching begins.
Adjust goals for coaching groups.
a. For group coaching
to be successful, members of the group should have something in common that determines participation, for example, members
are from the same department, members are working on a new project team, members are newly promoted managers with new responsibilities,
b. The focus of project or department team coaching
is most often improving team effectiveness and focuses on individual behavior only as it impacts team process.
c. Individual coaching of team members combined with team coaching is particularly effective
as it helps each person develop skills to contribute to the team’s increased success.
8. Ensure success.
flexible. Coaching is a very human exchange, and surprises will occur.
Be patient. Short term behavior changes may be evident quickly, but changes in relationship dynamics or more complex areas
can take months before they become evident.
©2006 Maria Simpson