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Sustaining Your Internal Coaching Program

2019/11/29 12:00 AM
By Jerry Browning,

Sustaining Your Internal Coaching Program

by Jerry Browning

Internal Coaching increases engagement, commitment, performance and results.  

…but there are challenges

Internal coaching has become popular because it is effective leader development.  Many internal coaching initiatives that began years ago died out; others are struggling to sustain themselves and don’t know how to meet organizational needs beyond the individuals being coached.

Coaching is changing, leadership needs are different, old thinking patterns will not provide the acuity and pace we need for upcoming challenges. 

Training leaders to coach other associates brings more to foster a coaching culture than any other actions.  However, after the coach training is completed, the internal coaches are often left alone to operate solo within the organization.  Regular support is necessary to align the internal coach for thinking beyond a transactional approach to coaching to goals.  Because internal coaches live in the organization along with those they coach there are advantages and risks.

Advantages include understanding the political enviornment, the culture of how the organization navigates changes, and the way people engage with one another to accomplish work sucessfully and how to raise issues that challenge a project are all things that become known by living in the organization.  These things are not part of new employee orientation, they arise in the daily living of work.  

Disadvantages include a list similar to the one above, because the same things that make an internal coach effective at understanding another associate's setting are the things that create biases we are not aware of.  Learning how to see the associate being coached and their situation with fresh eyes is not easy.  Having dual roles with the associates being coached requires that the internal coach have capability to somehow undo what they know in order to fully understand the person in the coaching engagement.  Another layer of difficulty is when the internal coach holds confidential information of all kinds that impact the associate being coached.  We want to believe that it is possible to constantly recreate boundaries to contain this knowing too much stuff, but the truth it is that it can get harder not easier over time.

Inernal coaches who have been coaching other associates for years, can have increased burdens from confidentiality challenges and other 'inside informational' issues.  Bias training helps, but it is not exactly what is needed.  Knowing something and pretending that you don't know it, can last for only so long.  For true support of internal coaches, something radically different kind is needed.  A partnership with a trained professional where the internal coach can safely reflect and introspect on their coaching incidents to identify how they are reacting to associates being coached and the patterns of thinking and emotions they are forming from the coaching they do.  While coaching is built on the premise that we assume our coaching clients are whole and resourceful so that we can engage in coaching with them.  What is being missed, especially for internal coaches because of added complicated challenges of being in the same organization as those you coach, is that the coaches themselves need ongoing support to be whole and resourceful.

Coaching is a helping profession. As an industry and practice it has borrowed many theories and approaches from other helping professions of psychology and clinical counseling.  These other helping professions require something that coaching in the US does not - supervision.  Not the over the shoulder watching you perform kind.  The supportive kind that helps you grow as a professional to be of greater service to your clients.  It is through reflection of your work that a supervisor helps you untangle some things you've noticed about your work and yourself that enables the professional coach to constantly realign themselves to be 'fit for practice.'   This phrase is about clearing the remnants of the emotions and thoughts that impact you in coaching another.  We cannot be effective at coaching without being impacted, as the very nature of coaching is dependent upon a trusted relationship where the coach helps another person take a deep dive into themsleves and their situations they are working on in coaching. 

Coaching supervision helps the person as coach remain whole, restored, and able to support those they coach.  We all know the oxygen mask analogy, that when flying on an airplane an emergency procedure is reviewed for all passengers to remember that if they are travelling with someone, a child or other, that needs their assistance - it is essential that the adult put their own oxygen mask on first. Or, they will not be conscious to help the child or other that needs them.  Coaching supervision is like that - keeping the coach whole, resourceful, refreshed to see more and view from different perspectives in order to help others.  

External coaching supervisors are the best resource for internal coaches.  If your organization has internal coaching, direct your internal coaching manager to a coaching supervisor for a trial session to learn first-hand about the benefits.  Sustain your internal coaching initiative by sustaining your internal coaches.


Jerry Browning trained in Coaching Supervision at Oxford Brookes University and teaches Introductory Coaching Supervision and Peer Coaching Supervision courses to help coaches.