Getting the setting right for a coaching session

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

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Getting the setting right for a coaching session

Getting the setting right for a coaching session

Alongside the other matters we’ve examined in previous posts, we need also to think about the physical location for a coaching session.

On our coaching skills programmes we encourage our participants to do their coaching practice outside wherever possible and weather permitting. This is not just to give people a good time (although coaching is undoubtedly more successful when it’s enjoyable) but to recognise that successful coaching requires people to feel at ease and free from distractions. Remember that one of our main intentions is to use coaching to promote high quality thinking so we need an environment that can help.

When you become skilled at coaching you’ll be able to coach pretty much anywhere and anytime, but to begin with it’s probably best to hold coaching sessions in a separate room or office.

The primary consideration needs to be how easy it is for each of you to listen in the room you’ve chosen. And remember that in coaching we are seeking to employ a level of listening that requires much more focus and concentration then when we are in normal conversation. Try to avoid large glass windows in open plan meeting rooms that look out into other people’s work areas or that have lots of people walking by. This just creates too many distractions. Similarly you’ll want somewhere that is completely private. Nobody is going to give really meaningful, honest answers to coaching questions if they fear that they’re going to be overheard.

Other practical matters include finding some seating that is comfortable and appropriate. The typical chairs used in training rooms are maybe a bit too stiff, but big fluffy arm chairs that you sink into until your knees are level with your chin are no use either! I also like a room that has natural daylight and where you can open a window for some fresh air if needs be. If not, air conditioning is probably essential.

I always find it useful to have some ‘thinking tools’ with me. I’ll always have a stock of pens and paper for us each to write on, but I also like to have a flipchart so that I can write or draw some large impactful images that my coachee and I can both look at and add to in an interactive way.

I am mindful of how challenging it can be to find meeting rooms in organizations these days and that what I’ve said here is an idealized description. People often ask me if it’s ok to coach off site and I feel it is if both coach and coachee and truly comfortable. You need to get as close to the criteria I’ve outlined as possible and accept that the coaching will be a little trickier where you can’t. In the end it’s about finding a setting that will be a positive anchor. By this I mean that the places in which coaching takes place should be associated with high performance. Over time it is quite possible for people to feel more motivated and resourceful just by being in these places.

Defining roles and responsibilities in a coaching session

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

Defining roles and responsibilities in a coaching session

Defining roles and responsibilities in a coaching session

This may seem at first glance to be something of a daft heading. Roles and responsibilities in coaching are obvious and implied in everything I’ve ever posted: we coach, they learn. Simple.

But is anything ever quite so straightforward in organizational life?

Coaching never happens in a vacuum. If you’re coaching your own team member it may seem that only the two of you are involved, but that’s probably a mistaken assumption. I’m guessing your boss will be very interested in the outcome of any coaching sessions as they too will undoubtedly benefit from improved results and they’ll also be keen to see how you’re developing. What about the colleagues of the team members you coach? It may be that they have a stake in the outcome too or you may have to seek their support to accommodate the learning needs of your current coachee.

If you’re coaching people from outside your reporting line (and this is well worth considering) you can bet that those coachee’s direct line managers will want to be involved. Deciding how much detail you can tell them about things discussed in coaching their staff is quite delicate. On the one hand you’ll want to treat things discussed in coaching as confidential, but on the other hand they do have a right to know what’s going on in their teams.

It seems our key principle of trust offers the best solution and suggests that the stakeholders in any coaching relationship should get together and establish some ground rules. To take a typical example, this may mean you, your coachee and their boss – if that’s not you – agreeing matters like: how often coaching will take place, what will be reported, how any action points that emerge from coaching sessions will be accommodated in the work schedule and so on. This seems to be the best way to make sure that all parties are agreed on how the relationship will work and avoids any conflict down the line. Attendance at such meetings may need to be extended sometimes to include members of the HR or Learning and Development departments who may have been given responsibility for establishing a coaching culture and need to monitor how that’s progressing.

I think it’s worth stressing that coachees have a high degree of responsibility for making coaching successful and that this needs to be emphasized from the start. Coachees need to engage in the coaching conversations with enthusiasm, give well thought out answers to coaching questions, be prepared to challenge their limiting beliefs and be willing to try some ways forward that might make for a little discomfort. If we do not stress the active role that coachees have to play we run the risk of making ourselves, as coaches, responsible for the outcome. This is unfair. You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink, so the saying goes. In the same way you can provide a climate and a structure for coaching but in the end it is the coachees that will need to make changes.

How to structure and run a coaching session

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

How to structure and run a coaching session

How to structure and run a coaching session

In my next few posts I want to concentrate on the practicalities of scheduling and running coaching sessions or conducting coaching conversations. We need to consider what needs to happen before, during and after coaching to give us the best chance of achieving a successful outcome. These considerations range from the seemingly simple (though often frustratingly difficult) matter of booking an appropriate meeting room, to more complex and subtle concerns like handling emotion.

Before we do that though, I want to examine in a little more detail what precisely is meant by a coaching session. The term covers many different ways of providing a basis for coaching and we may sometimes need to decide which way is best. So let’s look at the options:

Scheduled v spontaneous. Is it best to have a coaching sessions pre-arranged and entered in the diaries or should we just invoke a coaching approach when the need arises? You’ll not be surprised when I say that there is no right answer, it depends on the needs of the situation and the people concerned. In a busy working environment scheduled sessions can be a good way to ensure time is ‘ring fenced’ to talk about long-term developmental matters; time that would otherwise be soaked up on day to day issues. On the other hand scheduled sessions can seem a bit heavy handed and our people might prefer to capture a moment and have a coaching conversation just before or just after a key incident.

Formal v informal. Similarly, do we sit people down and announce that coaching has commenced or do we just get on with it knowing that our intentions are sound? Much will depend on the relationship you have with your team. If you want to signal a deliberate change of pace or management style you may want to err on the side of more formal sessions. Where you have more established, trusting relationships you can pretty much slip into the coaching approach at will.

Separate v part of something else. Should coaching be a stand alone activity or weaved into some other business process such as appraisal? Once again, there is no hard a fast rule, but unless coaching is a natural part of the other discussion and you’re going to be talking about learning and improvement I think you’re better off doing it separately. It would be difficult for example to include coaching as part of a disciplinary meeting. The coaching would be better afterwards when the person concerned has had time to take in what they’re being told and choose (perhaps) to do something about it.

Requested v arranged. In the ideal world coaching would only happen when people requested it because this is most in keeping with the principle of responsibility. However most coaching in a work context needs to be arranged by the coach or the manager until it has taken root as a legitimate part of day to day business.

In depth v quick and dirty. Deciding whether to go into great detail or just have a quick conversation is a matter of time and appropriateness. Awareness, responsibility and trust can take time to establish, so where we can go in deep we should. On the other hand, let’s not dismiss how useful a quick conversation and a few judicious coaching questions can be.