Five Pitfalls to Avoid when Building an Organisational Coaching Culture

Updated: Aug 30, 2019


Coaching has seen exponential growth in recent years and has transitioned from being a 1-1 intervention, to a 1-many intervention and then to a systemic intervention. Organisations are rapidly becoming aware of the benefits of coaching as a highly effective vehicle for development, engagement, change management and enhanced performance. Several organisations are also now at the stage where they are successfully using coaching: its competencies, principles and philosophies to inform cultural development in terms of values, environment and even social conscience and impact.


On the one hand, this is a fantastic development for the profession of coaching and it’s significant, positive contribution on many levels. On the other hand, I notice such a wave of popularity of coaching that its usefulness as a tool or resource could be compromised if we do not take care of some common pitfalls. By way of example, several years ago, research indicated that if a customer service professional uses the customer’s first name, it can facilitate a greater level of rapport and connection. So, what happened? People in call centres were trained to do this and we ended up with conversations where the customer’s first name was so “over-used” that it had the opposite effect. Here are some pointers to avoid five key pitfalls when thinking about wider scale access to coaching in your organisation.


1. Anti-role modelling

A characteristic of an organisation with a strong coaching culture is that senior leaders value coaching. It is therefore important that the senior leaders not only actively sponsor coaching and the use of good coaching skills within their organisation, but that they also personally and genuinely engage in the process, perhaps by working with a coach themselves and actually being aware of what coaching is and its basic skills so that they too can act as powerful, positive role models in how coaching is perceived and received throughout the rest of the organisation.


2. Let’s take it all in-house

Some organisations, once they have used external suppliers for a while to provide a service, eventually take a strategic decision to in-source that service and build the capability internally. This has been seen in coaching, where initially coaching services were predominantly provided by external coaches. Over time, some organisations have taken the decision to in-source coaching and build their own internal community of coaches. This is a very positive and progressive step towards building a coaching culture, and…research by the International Coach Federation indicates that organisations utilising a blend of all three key modalities of coaching are more likely to have success: (1) external coaches, (2) internal coaches and (3) managers and leaders using coaching skills.


3. Keep it clean

Coaching, whilst now widely used, is still sometimes misunderstood. This can lead to one or more of the parties involved holding a different expectation around what the proposed way of working is and how it will be done. A common misunderstanding is between coaching and mentoring, where the coachee is expecting a more directive approach with the coach giving guidance, advice and possibly suggestions for solutions and the coachee is left disappointed and dissatisfied when the service they received did not work for them. In this way, the intervention may be judged as having failed or not added value, when in fact it was simply a case of not being clear on what was expected from both or all parties. Confusion between coaching and mentoring is not the only area of misunderstanding. This can also apply to coaching and counselling, coaching and consultancy, coaching and training, coaching and managing, coaching and facilitated learning and any other way that we might engage with another individual in a professional conversation. All of these ways of working are incredibly valuable, and it is important that expectations are mutually clear on what that “way” is so that we can make the very best use of the interaction.


4. One size fits all

No, it doesn’t. Whilst packaging coaching interventions can be good for economies of scale, it can be counter productive. Putting all leaders though the same type of development or coaching “package” is going to meet the needs of some, but not all. If this approach is adopted, then the Pareto principle of 80/20 may come into play, in which case we need to be very clear about the 20%, otherwise we may well find that we simply didn’t reach enough of the right people in the right way.


This also applies to training internal coaches and developing managers and leaders to use coaching skills. Not everyone needs the same amount or type of training in the use of coaching skills and a “fit for purpose” approach is going to yield better results as well as being more cost effective. On this note of training however, International Coach Federation research also indicates that organisations with strong coaching cultures provide managers and leaders and internal coaches with accredited coach-specific training.


5. Not every conversation needs to be a coaching conversation!

Finally, whilst I am a strong believer in the power of coaching and its potential for immense positive impact in organisations, I also know that coaching is not the answer to everything. Sometimes coaching is just not the appropriate way to engage with a person or a situation and so it is important, especially for managers and leaders, that coaching is clearly positioned as being part of their range of leadership and management skills. Not only do managers and leaders need to know how to engage in a coaching conversation, they need to know when, why and if that is best type of intervention and so development in this area needs to factor in some of these very practical matters of skills integration.


Being aware of pitfalls is a great way to underpin the success of your coaching initiatives. If you want to know more about how to really make the very use of coaching in your organisation, then sign up for future issues of the Coaching Culture Insider. This monthly resource will provide you with hints and tips from leaders in organisations who have already done this successfully, case studies that give great ideas for strategies and approaches as well as our own coaching culture blog series where we will be sharing what we have learned from work in this field over the last 15 years. We want to help you bring coaching into your organisation in a way that truly makes a positive difference and is done by developing a strategy that is just right for you, your people and your business.


Tracy Sinclair is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with the International Coach Federation (ICF). She is also a trained Coaching Supervisor, Mentor Coach and an ICF Assessor. Tracy trains coaches and works with managers and leaders to develop their coaching capability. She works as an international Corporate Executive and Board Level Coach, a leadership development designer and facilitator working with a wide range of organisations. Tracy also specialises in working with organisations to support them develop coaching culture. She was the President of the UK ICF from 2013-2014 and has been an ICF Global Board Director since 2016, serving as Treasurer in 2017, Global Chair in 2018 and currently holding the position of Immediate Past Chair.

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