Coaching to establish the Way Forward

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Questions

Coaching Skills Series

This is one of many articles I intend to post this year considering the range of principles, skills and experiences you’ll need to be an effective coaching manager for the people in your team.

This post is about committing to a way forward; the final stage in a series of coaching questions Next time we’ll move on to consider some core skills, starting with body language

way forwardSo we’ve created a destination point by establishing some Aims and we understand the extent of the journey because we’ve taken time to understand the current Reality. A pause for Reflection has enabled us to clarify our thinking and understanding and we’ve generated a number of Options.

Now it’s simply a question of deciding which option to choose, right?


Deciding which option to choose is pointless unless we actually take action. It’s like deciding to move to a nicer area but never phoning an estate agent or deciding to get fitter without changing our diet or exercise habits. Thought without action is just an idle dream.

This then is the point of the Way Forward questions. Our intention at this stage is to turn thought into action. The following questions will help

In relation to your issue:

  •  What exactly are you going to do?
  • When exactly are you going to do it?
  • Who needs to know?
  • How and when will you tell them?
  • What resources do you need?
  • How will you get them?
  • Will this take you towards your aims?
  • What do you need me to do?
  • What is your commitment to this course of action on a scale of 1-10?

You’ll need to be quite tough but encouraging at this stage as human nature seems to get us quite attached to the status quo, even when our current situation is causing problems and anxiety. Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t so the saying goes. Hence using the word ‘exactly’ in the first two questions. The idea is to encourage coachees to articulate detailed action steps; making a commitment to themselves first.

Sometimes, you might need to hold your tongue if you feel that an action step described at the Way Forward stage is over optimistic or just plain wrong. Sometimes it might be better to let your coachee try and fail. At least they’re moving and at least they’ll learn from the experience. Of course, if an action step is against the organization’s rules, illegal, harmful or unsafe, you’ll need to intervene, but you can at least explain to the coachee why a certain plan may not be possible. It’s these sorts of judgements that make coaching an art form and a skill and so much more than just reeling off a list of questions which anyone can do.

The final commitment question is a good way of clarifying the extent to which our coaching has been successful. A response of less than 10 can be followed by ‘What would have to change to make it a 10′ to throw light on where any blockages may still remain. Other useful questions include:

  • What’s the best thing you could be thinking to get what you want?
  • What’s the best thing you could be feeling to get what you want?
  • What could you delegate?
  • What could you start today?
  • What do you gain/lose by this action?
  • What have you learnt today?

Coaching to generate Options

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Questions

Coaching Skills Series

This is one of many articles I intend to post this year considering the range of principles, skills and experiences you’ll need to be an effective coaching manager for the people in your team.

Here we consider the creative thinking necessary to generate a number of options. Next time we’ll explore how coaches can encourage their people to commit to a course of action.



Imagine a large pile of sand and gravel in the middle of the room. Imagine I came along and poured water or some other liquid on the top. The liquid would form small rivulets and run down the sides. If I poured more liquid on the top some more rivulets would be formed but most of the liquid would run into the existing grooves. If I kept doing this – and if the pile didn’t collapse – eventually the liquid would only flow in the existing grooves and rivulets and no new grooves would form at all. Things would literally get stuck in a rut.

I see the same thing happening in business all the time. People’s thinking gets stuck. The same problems recur and we can only think of the same tired old solutions to try in response; even though we often instinctively know they still won’t work.

We coaching managers owe it to our people to help lift their thinking out of these ruts.

Consider these questions:

In relation to your issue:

  • What could you do about all this?
  • What else could you try?
  • What if you had more/less (e.g. time, money, status………….?)
  • Whose advice could you seek?
  • What suggestions would they have?
  • What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
  • Would you like another suggestion?

Some of these questions seem a little odd on the face of it, and you may get some frowns and other odd looks in response, but remember the purpose here is to generate fresh thinking. The first time you ask ‘What could you do about all this?’ you’ll likely get a hackneyed response. That’s why we need ‘What else could you try?’ (or similar). I’ve often found it useful to ask this question perhaps as much as half a dozen times to really encourage my coachees to dig deep and find a fresh idea. It’s hard work but the results tend to be worth it. Asking the question repeatedly also offers a number of chances for the coachee to suggest the thing they intuitively know they ought to be suggesting, but are hesitating over for some reason. Encourage a feeling of looking for quantity rather than quality of answers at this stage. There’s time to evaluate and question the viability of options later on at the Way Forward stage, but doing this too soon tends to discourage creative thinking.

The main pitfall at the Options stage is the temptation to add your own suggestions too soon. It’s perfectly ok to offer your own ideas but not before the coachee has been given every opportunity to come up with lots of their own ideas. There’s also the chance that your ideas will be seen as better simply because you’re the boss and there’s a built-in excuse if they don’t work out or things go wrong!

Here are a few more examples, but do try to think of some of your own as well:

  • What actions have you already considered?
  • Who else could you involve?
  • What advice would you give a friend in your situation?
  • Which options do you like the most?


Take time for Reflection

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Questions

Coaching Skills Series

This is one of many articles I intend to post this year considering the range of principles, skills and experiences you’ll need to be an effective coaching manager for the people in your team.

This post is about the need for a coaching conversation to encourage high quality thinking. The next post will explore how we can generate alternative courses of action.



We have now reached a point where, in your conversation with your coachee, the two of you have worked together to articulate some aims and explore the starting point; the reality. You’re at a point in the coaching session where it would be appropriate to pause and take a moment or two to think about what’s been discovered or reinforced before moving on.


Have a look at these questions:


In relation to your issue:

  • How big is the gap between ‘Aims’ and ‘Reality’?
  • How realistic are your aims?
  • How certain are you about the reality of the situation?
  • How could you find out more?
  • What assumptions are you making?
  • Have you been totally honest with yourself?
  • What’s really going on?

It might be that now we’ve considered Reality, that the Aims look over optimistic. We could revisit the aims and consider lengthening the time frame and perhaps putting some short term performance goals in place to provide some momentum.

On the other hand it may be that we are working from very limited information about current Reality and are dealing with a whole set of assumptions. In such a case it would be wise to consider stopping the coaching session at that point to make some further enquiries. Take for example the situation of a coachee that tells you management doesn’t support new ideas in answer to the question ‘What’s happening now?’ It might be that historically management haven’t supported ideas, but is it the same management team now as it was then? Even if it is, people and circumstances can change.

Asking what’s really going on can be a powerful way of uncovering true coaching issues where you sense that the coaching may only be answering the questions superficially. It’s a powerful question so use it carefully and sparingly but it can take the conversation to a much more productive level.

In some ways putting Reflection between Reality and Options was done purely for my convenience – to help spell ARROW! Whilst it is useful to spend time on reflection at that stage, it can be equally useful to make reflecting and reviewing a part of navigating through the whole ARROW sequence. It may be useful to think of the sequence as a series of loops rather than a fixed linear sequence. We may want to ask our coaching questions in a fixed order but you can be certain that your coachee’s thinking patterns won’t be so rigid and you’ll need to be prepared to jump ahead to Way Forward or return to Aims or to move flexibly in and out of the sequence as required.

Here are some more suggestions for thought provoking, reflective questions:

  • What do you believe to be true?
  • What information are you missing?
  • What could you learn from others who have done this?
  • Where could you get more information?
  • What are the risks?
  • What are you scared of?