Types of Coaching in the Workplace

Older male business leader coaching younger colleagues.

Coaching in the workplace is expanding and “has become a more accessible development option which can help to shorten the learning curve and adaptation to a new environment or role,” according to The Journal of Positive Psychology. Business leaders have focused on this practice to help employees enhance their skills and knowledge.

While organizations recognize the importance of business coaching, few managers know how to make it work, says Candice Frankovelgia of the Center for Creative Leadership in Forbes. More than half of organizations use some form of internal coaching and the rest plan on doing so, yet nearly half of all managers spend less than 10 percent of their time coaching.

Business leaders should consider how they can implement two different types of coaching in the workplace.

Calendar-Driven Coaching

Scheduled, calendar-driven coaching sessions are more than a quick “How’s it going?” chat, according to management consultant Dick Grote in Harvard Business Review. These meetings should have the following characteristics.

  • Take place in formal, structured, sit-down sessions.
  • Be initiated, led and controlled by the manager.
  • Cover work conducted over time — not a singular event or project.
  • Offer a forum to discuss and review multiple events and competencies.

This type of workplace coaching occurs regularly. Every three months is a good frame of reference. Managers and employees should work together to make them an ongoing routine. Moving a date is acceptable, but it is important to stick to an agreed-upon basis for meeting.

Calendar-driven coaching sessions have a simple structure. Managers start by asking employees what major events took place since the last time they met. For the next 30 to 45 minutes, they discuss what went well, what challenges took place and what lessons were learned. Prior to the meeting, managers can also have employees email a list of topics they want to cover.

Event-Driven Coaching

The other major type of coaching in the workplace is event-driven coaching. This form of workplace coaching takes place when an event or activity prompts a session.

Events can range from discrete incidents to “teachable moments” that present themselves. The manager or the employee can initiate the coaching discussion, as this event-driven coaching relies on interaction and accountability. A session is warranted anytime discussion is needed.

Compared to calendar-driven coaching, event-driven coaching is not only spontaneous but informal. “You can even hold an effective event-driven coaching session while you and your team member are walking down the hall after a meeting ends,” Grote says. Questions can revolve around how the other person thinks the meeting went, asking about the employee’s reaction to specific recommendations made in the meeting and asking what parts of the presentation went best. Then insights — including agreements, disagreements and “in additions” — can be provided.

“The best technique I’ve seen for structuring these coaching sessions may be the after-action review (AAR) procedure developed by the U.S. Army in the 1990s,” according to Grote. “AAR is a structured review or debrief process for analyzing what happened, why it happened, and how it can be done better by the participants and those responsible.” Key questions include the following.

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What happened?
  • What are some improvements?
  • What can be done to improve the training next time?

Coaching Skills

Managers can become more effective at coaching by focusing on specific skills. Frankovelgia identified research from the Center for Creative Leadership that breaks down these skills into five categories.

  1. Build the Relationship: Trust is important for enabling someone to learn from another. Establish boundaries and build trust by being clear about learning and development objects, showing good judgment, being patient and following through on promises and agreements made.
  2. Provide Assessment: Try to help your employees gain self-awareness and insight. Provide timely feedback and help clarify behaviors that employees would like to change. Assessment typically focuses on gaps or inconsistencies, current performance vs. desired performance, words vs. actions and intention vs. impact.
  3. Challenge Thinking and Assumptions: The coaching process involves thinking about thinking. Ask open-ended questions, push for alternative solutions to problems and encourage reasonable risk-taking.
  4. Support and Encourage: Coaches listen carefully, are open to the perspectives of others and allow employees to vent emotions without judgment. Encouragement and recognition are vital.
  5. Drive Results: Effective coaching achieves goals. Help employees set meaningful goals and identify behaviors or steps for meeting them. You can help clarify milestones or measures of success and hold the employee accountable for them.

Effectiveness of Coaching in the Workplace

Research on coaching in the workplace reveals that it can have benefits for teamwork, quality, communication, job satisfaction, flexibility, performance, ownership, succession planning and career planning, according to a meta-analysis from The Journal of Positive Psychology. Workplace coaching is noted for being one of the most powerful methods of developing soft skills.

The journal also conducted a study analyzing the effects of workplace coaching and found significantly higher levels of general self-efficacy, compared to a sample of non-coached staff. Comments from coaches and in questionnaires from coached staff supported this notion.

  • “…through the coaching I have received I have learned to turn threats or barriers into opportunities.”
  • “I can now go into different places that I do not know and feel ok about myself and that I can deal with whatever comes with it.”

Literature also suggests that the process of workplace coaching results in learning from the coach, representing a largely untapped potential for adding strategic value. Findings verified this idea. “The majority of coaches in the sample felt they had improved their ability to deal more effectively with issues, generate solutions to problems and gain clarity on personal goals, due to undertaking a coaching role,” researchers in The Journal of Positive Psychology said. “This is an interesting addition to the area and one that would benefit from further investigation.”

Advancing Your Career in Business

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