Ways of working

Five tips for co-coaching

‘Continuous professional development’: the most deadening phrase in the English language?

Two coffee mugs by Flickr user Porsche Brosseau

It’s a contender. Conjuring Sisyphean corporate slog, grey cubicles, relentless managerial oversight. Is that just me?

And yet, way back when, it must have emerged from sound insight: that we need to commit to learning beyond the official student phase of our lives.

I’m sure people have good experiences under the unpromising umbrella of CPD (worse!). But for many of us, especially outside of the closely regulated professions, less formal but more inspiring styles of learning are available.

That’s why for more than a year I’ve been co-coaching (or ‘peer coaching’) with a good friend.

I’d previously had some experience of being professionally coached through work. Once I’d got over my suspicion it was a vehicle for corporate indoctrination I found that coaching helped me become much clearer about what I wanted out of work, and how to get it. I’m not sure I would have found my way to Neo without it.

The idea of co-coaching was introduced to me by Meri Williams’ talk at Dare Mini. As soon as she mentioned it I knew I wanted to give it a try.

It’s been an incredibly rewarding arrangement. I’m lucky to have found a great partner for it first time, but the opportunity’s open to anyone.

I know lots of people are interested in setting up a co-coaching partnership, so here are some of the things we’ve learned about making it work.

Invest time

Good professional coaching is wonderful, but it can be a big financial investment. With co-coaching, it’s the time and attention that you’re investing. If you’re busy, finding the time can be a challenge in itself. So think about asking for that time out of work. We put aside an hour every week or two. We meet in a coffeehouse close to work (of late, Brighton’s London Road has some good options). But it could easily be a Skype call.

G.R.O.W. together

Yes, the process we lean on is based on a tool that may appear to bear the hallmarks of Management Bullshit. For a start, it’s an acronym. And it’s generally delivered via the kind of PowerPoint slides that will make you want to bite your fist.

But GROW is a useful, simple tool. It stands for Goal – Reality – Options – Way forward. These are stages you can use to break down the most contained issue or the hairiest, most audacious challenge. The role of the coach is to help guide the conversation along this path, and bring things back to the model when it strays.

GROW coaching model visualisation by Neo

The point is to ask questions that help your partner think about what’s true at the various points. That takes a little getting used to, and it’s easy to stray into giving advice – we’ve found it’s best not to get too hung up on whether we’re always doing it right, as long as we acknowledge what ‘mode’ we’re in and keep trying.

Refresh goals over time

We set overarching goals every once in a while, around six months or when there’s an obvious deadline. The topic for the goals has switched around, but has generally been within the areas of: finding the work you want to do, harnessing creativity, promoting yourself better without selling out.

We’ve both tended to use our sessions as a way to keep focus on projects and ideas that might easily fall by the wayside with no-one else keeping an eye on them.

Make notes

Sounds obvious, I know, but we’re not always good at this and it really helps. If you manage to draw out a epiphany or a commitment to action from your partner, don’t rely on them to remember it for next time. Write it down, and bring it with you to the next session. Your job as coach is to help keep the thread as things develop, to nudge and remind. We’re not talking about essays or case notes. Just a few key points.

Don’t be a coaching jerk

There’s probably a good case for partnering up with someone you don’t hang out with much socially. If you co-coach with someone you know and get on with really well, it can be tricky to keep focus.

We agreed a while back that it was ok to have sessions when we just caught up, gossiped, threw the coaching rulebook out of the window. It’s ok. We just set expectations at the beginning of the session, or ahead of it.

And an hour goes quickly, so we try to alternate sessions between each others’ goals, so there’s enough time to explore properly rather than switching to the other person just as it’s getting interesting.

We’re pretty new to co-coaching, and would be interested in other people’s experiences. What resonates with you? What else is important to setting up your sessions? What do you do differently?

Find me at @cpev on Twitter.


Coffee mugs by Flickr user Porsche Brosseau 

GROW coaching model visualisation by Neo.

Article updated Thursday 8 Oct 2.35pm to make the beginning less worthy (thanks Rose)