When we learn something, we change. However, it may take several steps during a coaching session to help a coachee become aware that they have learned, and recognise the relevance and application of their learning, which in turn, can help them realise the power of a coaching session. While each coaching session will be different (Haynes, 2005), there are eight stages that are common to them all (Southern Institute of Technology, n.d.). The structure can help the coach and the coachee prepare for sessions, select and prioritise a focus for a session, and make the most of the time during a session by ensuring that the conversation doesn’t go astray. The structure also encourages regular evaluation of progress (meeting of agreed deadlines, and the results of the action plan), and process (how satisfied both parties were with the session).
The eight stages are:
Stage 1 – Rapport
Successful coaching sessions are, in part, reliant on the ability of the coach and coachee to foster a connection, which will help them develop the trust required to move into spaces that aren’t comfortable and to “explore what is true” (Allen, 2013, Para 18). To help (re-)build rapport it is useful to start is with a ‘what’s on top’ type questions that will check how the coachee is. This will also provide an opportunity for the coachee to share (or do) something that, before the coaching starts, might otherwise distract them.
Stage 2 – Evaluation of progress and main focus / goal for the session
The format for stage 2 depends on whether this is the first, or a follow up, coaching session.
If it’s the first coaching session the coach works with the coachee to identify their goals for the session by asking, for example, ‘what would you like to get from the next 30 / 60 minutes?’, or ‘what do you want to cover today’? (Southern Institute of Technology, n.d.). Where possible the goal(s) for the session should come from the coachee, but sometimes it may be the coach suggests a focus that can then be negotiated (or dismissed) by the coachee. The session goal should be achievable, unambiguous, and preferably easy to measure / evaluate.
However, if this is a follow up coaching session, the coach and coachee would revisit the agreed actions and outcomes from the previous session to evaluate progress. The coach might support the coachee, by asking open questions, to reflect on what they did and what happened as they worked through their previous agreed action points. They might also delve into what they felt worked well, what needed further work, and what, based on their main take away, they might do differently next time. This process can help guide a coachee to find out why something was (or was not) as successful as they hoped and to start to consider next steps, as well as helping to foreground details that they may not have been consciously aware of (Roesler, 2005). This process will also confirm the focus (and goal) for the session – the context for learning – and also establish the topic the coachee would like to move into first.
Stage 3 – Current reality
During this stage the coach will ask questions about what is going on for the coachee to help establish the coachee’s perception of their current situation. The coach helps the coachee reflect and evaluate without becoming side-tracked by the ‘story’ – something that can be worked on in follow-up coaching sessions if required.
The questions should be designed to encourage the coachee to identify what they have already done, to see patterns and progress, as well as to identify what is and is not within the their sphere of influence. Digging deeper into a coachee’s current situation can help provide information about ‘gaps’ (what isn’t being said – or recognised by the coachee) and connections that can help shape the questions the coach asks. Sometimes the coach will need to ask questions to untangle overlapping themes until a point of clarity is reached (Roesler, 2009). The coach may also recognise learning that has not be consciously noticed, and help the coachee ‘see’ the learning and how they might apply it (which can in turn help a coachee realise how valuable the coaching process is for them) (Allen, 2013).
The coach has to avoid taking responsibility for carrying out any of the actions or for the outcomes (Southern Institute of Technology, n.d.), although they may help with accountability (for instance, the coachee might ask to email them once they have completed an action).
Stage 4 – Finding a solution
This is sometimes considered the most rewarding stage for both the coach and coachee. During this stage the coach supports the coachee to find a way forward by helping the them consider their options and generate ideas for solutions to issues – without judging factors such as practicality. This will initially involve questions about what the coachee can do about their situation, if they want to do anything, and whether they need to do something. The coach can then encourage free-form brainstorming to collect as many creative ideas as possible, including some that may appear slightly ‘mad’ but that can end up starting a train of thought that can lead to a great solution. The coach can offer suggestions here especially if the coachee is struggling (Southern Institute of Technology, n.d.).
Sometimes this stage can be tricky, especially if the coachee appears to be focussing only on what is going wrong and why possible solutions couldn’t work for them. To help them move from this point a coachee can be encouraged, for instance, to imagine what it would be like if the perceived barriers didn’t exist – if this were an ideal situation for them.
Stage 5 – Choosing a solution
Part of this stage involves the coachee considering the options to identify whether any are appealing. The coach will then work with the coachee to evaluate each option to find a preferred one. Questions will be phrased to refine and prioritise the decision criteria, as well as to encourage comparison to select the option the coachee feels is best.
Stage 6 – Session evaluation
During this stage the coach and coachee check that they have achieved the result they agreed on at the beginning of the session, and if they are satisfied with the session. It may be that the goal for the session has not been achieved, and this will be the opportunity to discuss why and to agree whether to revisit it in the next session (Southern Institute of Technology, n.d.).
Stage 7 – Action plan
This is the stage that focuses on the coachee’s volition, desire and intention – and what they plan to do before the next coaching session (Haynes, 2005). The coach and coachee work together to develop a plan of action (1 to 5 tasks) including what the coachee will do before the next coaching session, what resources are required, and how progress will be measured. A timeframe is put together, alongside an exploration of the coachee’s motivation. The coach will ask questions that invite the coachee to think through what they feel will be most important to achieve, do, or prepare before the next coaching session.
Accountability for action should be built into the action plan. This may be as simple as the coachee identifying who they will tell about their intention to do something, which will increase the likelihood of follow through (Roesler, 2009). The coach can ask questions such as ‘Who else will you tell about this?’, and ‘Who else needs to be involved to help you accomplish this?’.
Stage 8 – Closing
The closing stage is where the coach summarises key points from the session, and offers feedback and acknowledgement (Southern Institute of Technology, n.d.). They will ask for feedback on the session from the coachee, especially around what they feel could have made the session better. This stage can highlight ways of working more effectively together, as well as things that are going really well.
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