I have worked with hundreds of people to become coaches, primarily as part of their role. Any coach development training in the area of coaching contracting is a key element of the coaching process and coaching relationship. However, I experience with developing new coaches that the coaching contracting step or process is simply ‘done’. And given no meaningful energy. This is a shame, as it represents a real opportunity for the coach to immerse, engage and excite the coachee for their coaching. As well as for the coachee to begin to feel more psychologically] safe.

Status Quo with new coaches

Increasingly I see coaching contracting as a 4-fold consideration, each having its own importance and each mutually supporting. As such, they need to be given the time and focus they deserve to make up the successful whole.

Often when supervising coaching candidates I will explore their coaching contracting content, approach, and language. I experience something that is short (often only 15 minutes!), and a telling rather than a discussion approach. Commonly, the focus is just on ‘prerequisites’ rather than a more holistic consideration. This doesn’t help the coach, the coachee, their relationship, or the success of the coaching itself.

The purpose of contracting in coaching is well known. To begin to identify with the coach, ways of working and behaving within the relationship and time together. It is also there to help the coachee understand and prepare for the coaching they are about to undertake. To identify and enable their own learning and growth. 

Many coaches are trained on the formal side of contracting. Elements such as ways of working, roles and responsibilities, coaching, commitment to the coaching and confidentiality. Whilst these are valid it makes the contracting quite one-dimensional. It presents a limited picture of its place and role in the coaching process.

4 Considerations of Contracting

For me, this 4-fold consideration toward coaching contracting perhaps should look like:

  • ‘Formalities’ to coaching â€“ an agreed understanding of what coaching is and the process entailed. Discussion around confidentiality. Identifying roles and responsibilities of each person. Beginning to identify the overall outcomes or goal of the coaching. Where, when and how (F2F or virtually). Introducing the coaching model. Understanding commitments to the process e.g. being present, sharing, willingness to explore. Challenge and Feedback in the conversation, etc.
  • Including 3rd parties – typically the line manager, where appropriate, is included in some part of the coaching contracting conversation. Exploring different perspectives on needs and required outcomes. As well as understanding how the coach, coachee and line manager relationship will work. This element is often overlooked by those undertaking coaching development. 3rd parties can also be a key stakeholder to the coachee, depending on the nature of the coaching need.
  • Establishing and building the coaching relationship â€“ coaching contracting provides a great opportunity to get to know the coachee better. Their learning preferences, values, and beliefs. Their experiences of coaching, and what they feel would make a good coaching relationship between the coach and them. The coach can also if appropriate, share aspects of themselves that might be of value to the coachee or the relationship.
  • Preparing the coachee for coaching â€“ Clutterbuck (2020), identified skills required of coachees, which can be discussed during the coaching contracting:
  • Be able to articulate the issues on which they need help
  • Reflect upon the issue before and after the coaching conversation
  • Listen actively
  • Be open about both the rational and emotional elements of the issue
  • Manage challenge – from the coach, from oneself to the coach, and to other stakeholders
  • Relationship management
  • Proactive learning

This 4-fold consideration is not absolute, in terms of how much focus is given to each. It will flex according to the context of the coaching, the coachee, and the nature of the current coaching relationship. However, all four considerations need to be present to achieve the most from a contracting conversation.

If as a coach you had your coaching contracting audited, what would the feedback be on it? Compared to how you could approach it?

Checkout here for further useful information for new coaches around contracting

Clutterbuck. D. (2020) Coaching the team at work. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Boston