The Quiet Coach – 16

July 14, 2023

Setting up a three way coaching process

“I’ve been asked by the leader of an organisation I’m working with to coach his direct team. Do I talk to him first or to the team? What can I share? Does the contract have to be signed in blood by all parties?”

Ok, so perhaps I may have made up that last part.

I was asked these questions last week by a conscientious coach doing their first 3-way coaching engagement and figured it would be helpful to put down what I shared.

Disclaimer – this is our approach at Navgati, built over a decade of trial and error. You may choose to use a different approach and that’s fine. What is non-negotiable though is that all three parties have the same understanding of that approach.

What makes a 3-way contract more complex than a 2-way one?

To start with, the three parties we’re talking about here are the stakeholder (could be the client’s manager; the HR partner or a senior sponsor), the client and the coach.

So yes, sometimes it could be a 4-way or a 5-way contract but the approach we’re outlining here for a 3-way would apply to manage the dynamics even with more parties involved.

The complexity of a 3-way comes from the fact that

    -the client and the stakeholder may have differing views of what coaching is meant to achieve
    – there may be hidden agendas from either of those two parties (“coach them so I can feel I’ve done my best before asking them to leave” “I’ll agree to be coached so I come across as interested in development even if I don’t believe in coaching” etc)
    – there are other dimensions to the relationship between the client and the stakeholder (eg the stakeholder also needs to make performance decisions and could end up using data from coaching to do so)

Clear contracting is vital to reducing issues that could crop up as a result of these complexities.

So a leader has expressed interest in having me coach their team members; what’s the first thing I should do?

The first step would be to clarify what the process of coaching is and what the roles of the three parties are – to both the stakeholder and the clients. Typically this would be in the form of a short call with the stakeholder and either individual calls with the clients; or a group session with them.

Most of you would be familiar with how to do this in a 2-way coaching engagement (please comment if you’d like a blog on that) so let’s focus on the role of the stakeholder.

What is the role of the stakeholder?

    – To provide inputs to the client, before the coaching process starts, on what developmental goals would be helpful for them and the organisation
    – To ratify the final goals that the client articulates for themselves (in a session with the coach – more details coming up)
    – To provide support and feedback as the client works towards their goals

The stakeholder will often want to give the coach inputs about the client. While it is ok to listen, the one question you must ask is “have you shared this in as direct a manner with the client?”. If the answer to that is no, ask the stakeholder to do so. Coaching is not a substitute for feedback and it can be very stressful (and unethical) for a coach to try and maneuver the client towards the outcomes their stakeholder wants.

In terms of the process, this is what we would normally present upfront (let’s assume it’s a ten session contract):

Pre-meetings Clarify what coaching is; what the process is and what the roles of the three people are.
Ends with all parties committing to what has been discussed.
Coaching conversation 1 Help the client clarify their goals for coaching
3-way meeting to clarify the goals The client presents their goals to their stakeholder who ratifies.
Coaching conversations 2-10 Coach and client work together to deepen the client’s awareness and further the action they need to take.
3-way meeting to review progress The client presents their journey vis-a-vis their goals to the stakeholder

Both the stakeholder and the clients are clear about the process, our roles and the administrative details. The stakeholder has shared feedback with the client. Now what?

You start with a session with the client focusing on contracting for change – helping them identify the 3-4 areas they would like to work through with you.

Here’s one format I have used that works well, feel free to create your own. You will use questions to help the client articulate the content – here’s a sample of what could come up.

Goal area Desired end state Questions we need to address in coaching for you to reach the end state
Build my personal brand with stakeholders in a manner that feels authentic to me I will own conversations with my stakeholders and drive them towards agendas that are relevant.

I will prepare for these conversations in the spirit of collaboration, seeing them as partners rather than as evaluators.

I will be representing achievement and potential accurately, without feeling like I’m pushing or selling

  • What do I use my 1:1 for if I don’t have news to communicate? Will they be interested?
  • Isn’t it self-promoting to tom-tom one’s work?
  • Are my standards (of what is good enough to talk about) too high? Others seem to talk up about much smaller achievement.

It is ok for you to make notes and share these back with the client (or even use a whiteboard to capture these as you are speaking with them) – however make sure you use their language and don’t introduce new ideas into how you capture the goals.

The next session is a 3-way where the coach starts by setting the context that the intent is to make sure there is common understanding of the goals the client is working towards and the support they need. Invite the client to present the goals and invite the stakeholder to comment.

The next few sessions are the coach working with the client; the process ends with another 3-way where the client presents back to the stakeholder – what they learnt; what they experimented with etc. Invite the stakeholder to share what they have observed (you may need to prep them to focus on positive validation) and ask both to talk about what they see as the way forward.

The stakeholder is very invested in coaching and wants me to share updates on the process. What can I share?

This should be an important part of your contracting before the process starts – that in order to make the process safe for the client, the coach will not be sharing any feedback about them with the stakeholder. It would be ok for the client to share inputs on the process (e.g. if a client does not show up for sessions, the coach does not have to keep that confidential) but nothing of the content of the conversation will be shared by the coach.

In the closing session, it would be ok for the coach to share broad strokes about the client’s commitment to the process; their willingness to reflect and act etc. Do make sure you don’t share any specific insights they had etc.

Have more questions? I’d love to hear them. Please comment generously.

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