Building Workplace Relationships

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.

These eight 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.

2.    Choose a coach for the specific situation and staff member.

        a.    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 as possible.

        a.    Define the reasons for coaching clearly, and the issues or behaviors to be addressed.

        b.    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 employment.

        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 the dynamic.

        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.

        b.    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.

5.    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 it occurs.

        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.

         d.    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.

        a.    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 confidentiality.

        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.

        d.    Although 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).

        e.    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.

7.    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, etc.

        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.

        a.    Be flexible. Coaching is a very human exchange, and surprises will occur.

        b.    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

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Maria Simpson, Ph.D. * Los Angeles, CA * Phone: 641-715-3900 x 1376932 Fax: 310-826-7440 *

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