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Coaching Tip

Coach as Facilitator, by Cathy Bolger

"It's not the answer that enlightens, it is the question.—"Socratic method

The word coaching is used in many contexts. For example, there are athletic coaches, life coaches, and executive coaches. Often, managers are being asked to coach employees.

Many coaches are tempted to give quick advice. It is often easier to tell coachees what to think and what to do. According to the authors of Crucial Confrontations, "We don't even think about it. We're experienced and we understand how things work. It's positively Pavlovian. We see a problem and 'bing' the gate is up and our tongues are off and running."

Sometimes providing an answer is entirely appropriate, especially if time frames are very short and a situation has high priority. However, giving answers and advice can actually get in the way of effective coachee development. Indeed, many managers may see their jobs as "telling" the people who report what and how to do something.

So when I was asked to design a coaching training for one of my clients I wanted to learn their definition of coaching. I was surprised to find that they used the terms "coaching" and "mentoring" interchangeably.

After discussions, my client asked me to emphasize a facilitative approach to coaching. I started looking for resources, and that lead me to three books: Coaching Training by Chris Chen, Coaching for Performance by John Whitmore and Co-Active Coaching by Laura Whitworth et al.

In the Coaching Training book, Chen presents four facets of coaching: coach as guide, coach as motivator, coach as teacher, and coach as mentor. This gave me the idea of presenting three facets of coaching: coach as instructor, coach as facilitator, and coach as mentor.

This model was useful to the trainees. Since their organization was moving in the direction of coach-as-facilitator, I particularly emphasized that approach. I also emphasized the importance, given differing situations, of being able to move fluidly among coaching approaches.

As with all approaches to coaching, the trainees needed review and practice of the following skills: open-ended questions, clarifying, paraphrasing, reflecting feelings and summarizing. In addition, it was valuable to have trainees practice separating facts from interpretations, and how to set goals that are specific and measurable. It was also useful to review the impact of non-verbal communication, including body language and voice tone in a coaching session.

I found it helpful to clarify the assumptions behind the coach-as-facilitator approach. Facilitative coaching is a process based on allowing coachees to come to their own conclusions and solutions.

One assumption is that the answer lies within the coachee. According to John Whitmore, who writes in his book Coaching for Performance, "The coachee does acquire the facts, not from the coach, but within himself, stimulated by the coach." The coach thus encourages coachees to work from their own experiences and perceptions.

In order to avoid too quickly offering ideas or advice, I encourage coaches to slowly count to eight, and then either paraphrase the question, or ask "what else?"

The model I chose to use in my training is from Coaching for Performance, by John Whitmore. There are four steps, spelling out GROW: Goal (of the session), Reality (currently happening), Options (in the coaches view), Will (action coachee will take).

Here are some questions a coach might ask:

  1. Goal for session
    • What would you like to get out of this session?
    • What would be most helpful for you to take away from this session?
    • What do you want to achieve?
    • What role do you want me to play in this session?

  2. Reality
    • What action have you taken so far?
    • What were the effects of that action?
    • What are the major constraints to moving forward?

  3. Options
    Let's list the options you see at this point. What else could you do? What if:

    • budget is not a factor,
    • you had more staff,
    • you had a magic wand and could do anything you wanted?

  4. Will
    • What will you do?
    • When will you do it?
    • Will it meet your goal?
    • What obstacles might you meet?
    • What support do you need?

Another advantage of using a facilitative approach to coaching is well stated by Bob Pike, author of Creative Training Techniques: "people don't argue with their own data." They may however, argue with yours. So whether you are a coach, or you are training people to be coaches, give the GROW model a try.

Chen, Chris W. Coaching Training. ASTD Press, 2003.
Patterson, Kerry et al. Crucial Confrontations. McGraw Hill, 2005.
Whitmore, John. Coaching for Performance. Nicholas Berkley Publishing, 2002.
Whitworth, Laura et al. Co-Active Coaching. Davis-Black Publishing, 1998.

Cathy Bolger is a San Diego-based consultant specializing in Executive Coaching, Presentation, Meeting and Conflict Management skills. She can be reached at 619-294-2511 or Cathy@CathyBolger.com.

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