Coaching to generate Options

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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?


Matt Somers

Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His coaching skills training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people.

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