“The Coaching Contract – what’s in a name?” by Lynne Hindmarch

Most professions have jargon, only fully understood by the initiated.  The coaching profession has jargon too, but has the added misfortune of having two words widely used within the profession which have a rather different meaning elsewhere.  One of these is ‘supervision’ (which has been much debated and I won’t dwell on here), and the other is ‘the contract’ (or ‘contracting’).

I have a problem with the use of both the terms ‘contract’ and ‘contracting’ (but I’ll simplify things by focusing just on the word contract in this piece) and I decided to use this blog as a way of exploring my difficulty with the term by reflecting and writing about it.  In that sense I am using the blog as part of my reflective practice.  I am also interested in other people’s views on the word, if they too have issues with it, and how they address them.

The importance of the process of contracting

I am acutely aware of the importance of the process of contracting in working with a client.  Indeed, when I trained in supervision some years ago, there was a strong emphasis during the course on establishing the contract, both as a supervisor and as a coach, and teaching the importance of the coach/client contract to our supervisees.  There was a good reason for this: often difficulties between supervisors and coaches, and between coaches and clients, arise because of lack of clarity caused by an inadequate contract. 

Certainly, in my own supervision practice I have seen a number of problems that have developed because the coach and client have not fully developed the contract between them.  Often this is to do with boundary issues, when the coach confuses the client (and sometimes themselves) by moving between a coaching approach, a consultancy approach or a counselling approach.  Therefore, I can immediately sense some tension, between my dislike of the term, and the value of the process. 

So, what lies behind my problem with the term?

What do we really understand about ‘the contract’ and ‘contracting’?

When coaches talk to other coaches about ‘the contract’ and ‘contracting’ we understand, within the context of the profession, what we mean.  Our clients, however, don’t, and it is easy to forget that they don’t. 

How contract is generally defined

The Oxford Dictionary defines a contract as: “A written or spoken agreement, especially one concerning employment, sales, or tenancy, that is intended to be enforceable by law.”

A further definition is: “An arrangement for someone to be killed by a hired assassin.”

Hmmm. Perhaps it really is time to review the term. 

For me the word ‘contract’ grates with how the values underlying my coaching practice. This takes a broadly humanistic approach, drawing on Carl Rogers assumptions that for people to grow and develop, they need an environment that provides them with genuineness (openness and self-disclosure), acceptance (being seen with unconditional positive regard), and empathy (being listened to and understood).  Although I run my coaching practice as a business, and of course recognise, and work with, the commercial realities of my clients’ organisational lives, when I’m coaching the more ‘hard-nosed’ aspects of my own business are definitely in the background.

The difficulty I have with the first definition (let’s skip over the Mafia-inspired definition) is the commercial and legal connotations associated with it, which feels at odds with my approach to coaching.  So I considered possible alternatives as part of my practice, such as the word ‘agreement’.  The term ‘agreement’ can also have legal and commercial associations, but it has a broader meaning, such as: “an arrangement as to a course of action: eg reached an agreement as to how to achieve their goal.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary.)

How contract is currently described in coaching

At this stage I decided to explore what various coaching books had to say about contracting.   Interestingly a few of them made no mention of the process.  However, a number did, especially those which focus on coaching supervision.  Nevertheless, none of the books I looked at mentioned outright any difficulty with the term.  In fact, some suggest that the practical discussion around fees and cancellation arrangements can be the start of build up a trusting and empathetic relationship with the client!

Some of the coaching texts I read avoided the term ‘contract’ altogether by referring to it as ‘the working alliance’, for example.  This discussion might cover sharing information about each other, explaining the coach’s approach, training and experience, describing the ethical framework the coach works within.  The benefits of this approach are that it gives the coach the opportunity to begin to develop trust, empathy, respect and genuineness.

Pushing the awareness of, and understanding, of the contract and contracting process

Thinking about this further, I wondered if the contracting process could be split into two parts. 

  • Stage One, the Contract
  • Stage Two, the Agreement.

Stage One, the Contract, as a formal arrangement between the client and the coach (or indeed between the coach and the sponsor or organisation) which may include the more commercial aspects of the coaching arrangement.  This may include:

  • the number of sessions,
  • the length,
  • the fee,
  • missed sessions payment,
  • who is going to be involved,
  • confidentiality,
  • where the sessions will be held etc.   

I would describe these as the ‘pay and rations’ aspects of the coaching programme, where I would find the use of the term contract quite appropriate, containing as it does both commercial and potentially legal obligations, with less likelihood of changes being made. Hawkins and Smith (2006) refer to these as the ‘practicalities’ of the contract. 

This would then be followed by Stage Two, the Agreement. This is a conversation I have with the client once the coaching sessions start. It may have been explored a little in the initial pre-programme discussions, but it is the main focus of the early part of the first coaching session. The agreement is a more fluid arrangement, where the process can be revisited and changed if both parties agree.  Indeed in coaching and supervision I encourage revisiting the agreement to see if it needs updating or revising.  How often one revisits it depends on the individual coach, but I tend to touch on it lightly at least every other session.  It might simply be ‘How do you feel about how we are working together?  Is there anything that you might want to change?’.  It gives the client the opportunity to raise any questions and share what is working well for them and what might need changing. 

Having reached this juncture in my reflection, I decided it would be useful to explore further what might be contained in the Stage Two, the Agreement.

Building in complexities through an agreement: meshing various frameworks of Agreement to meet my practice

1. Some authors, such as Katherine Tulpa (in Passmore J, Ed. 2006), describe the agreement as,

  • covering the psychological contract,
  • defining outcomes, and
  • setting realistic expectations, to create an optimum learning experience.  (I liked the emphasis on learning here.) 

Tulpa suggests that it is useful to explain in advance the purpose of contracting session, perhaps by sending a draft learning agreement beforehand.  This may include aims, business goals, potential development areas, desired outcomes, and previous feedback. 

In my practice, I take this a stage further I would also ask if the client has had any contact with the helping professions before.  This can establish early on if the client has had any therapy or counselling, is on any medication for illnesses such as depression, or has had coaching before.   This initial session may include a meeting between coach, client, boss or sponsor.

2. In their book Whitworth et al (1998) provide a number of intake forms and checklists, including a model coaching agreement.  This may be somewhat too process driven for some, but provides a number of useful frameworks for modifying; for instance questions the coach might ask the client in the first session.  They also suggest different forms of agreement depending on whether working with individual client or corporate client.  

3. O’Neill (2000) describes contracting (developing an agreement) as ‘in many ways…..the most important phase’ (p.92), which reinforces my own view of its position.  For her it is about building a relationship and establishing credibility. 

  • It gives the client the opportunity to ask: Can this coach help me?  
  • It also gives the coach the chance to ask: Is this client open to feedback? 

O’Neill suggests starting to coach right away to give the client a flavour of the work.  (I have done this in the past during the initial ‘chemistry’ meeting with a client.  I found that in doing so I covered so much ground with the client that she said she didn’t need any further coaching. This wasn’t quite what I planned.)  Her chapter goes into much more detail on how the relationship develops, and what questions may be going through the client’s head as well as the coach testing the client’s willingness to focus on their own behaviour and the contribution they might be making to their problems.  O'Neill also includes goal setting and establishing measurable goals. 

4. Flaherty (1999) describes (in what he calls the enrolment process) the importance of the coach and client making explicit what they are committed to accomplishing in the coaching programme.  He emphasises the joint nature of this - the commitment of one member is not sufficient.  He also raises what barriers there may be to a successful coaching programme, such as work commitments, an unsupportive boss, or outcomes that may be only temporarily important.

This is in line with my own approach to the agreement process when working with a client.  We draft it together, typically working under four broad headings:

  1. The purpose of the coaching programme (such as providing a safe and confidential space to discuss their developmental goals);
  2. Practical issues (such as building the coaching sessions into their working day;
  3. Professional issues (such as confidentiality); and
  4. Psychological issues (such as delivering feedback). 

It is explicitly stated that the agreement is likely to evolve during the work we do together.

Reflecting on my contract-agreement approach

  • The exploration I have made in this blog of the term ‘contracting’ has been a useful way to reflect on my own difficulties with the term. Used simply in its narrow and more popularly understood definition, I saw it as giving a formal and misleading tone to what coaching actually is about, which is much more inclusive.
  • Taking the time to review and understand how others have reported or described what the contract/contracting involved from various coaching texts has enabled me to think about splitting the process into two components, the formal Contract, and the more fluid Agreement, which I find more attuned to how I work as a
  • It has also helped me revisit my approach to the process and more consciously think about what I cover, particularly during the conversation around the agreement, as part of how I manage the intake with new and existing clients.   

To connect with Lynne Hindmarch


Tulpa K (2006) Coaching within organizations. In Excellence in Coaching, Ed. Passmore, J, pp 26-43, Kogan Page, London.
Whitworth, L, Kimsey-House, H, Sandhal (1998) Coactive Coaching.  P Palo Alto, CA.
O’Neill M B (2000) Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart, pp91-11, Jossey-Bass San Francisco CA.
Flaherty J (1999) Coaching: Evoking excellence in others. Elsevier Burlington MA
Hawkins, P and Smith, N (2006) Coaching, Mentoring and Organizational Consultancy: Supervision and Development, McGraw-Hill, Maidenhead, Berks

"Becoming a human being, as well as a human doing" – how coaching enabled a career transition to new opportunities for me by Chris Paterson (guest)


Finding the good coach has given me an opportunity to reflect on and share some of my journey to becoming a coach and how coaching has enabled some important differences for me as well as for others.

The main theme is Know thyself and the process of reflecting on this journey is a way of continuing with my coaching – especially of myself!

How Awareness started for me

I guess I have always been a coach and I’ve only come to fully appreciate it in the last few years once I had some formal coach training.

By going on my journey of self-discovery, what I’ve come to learn is that learning, development and growth, are some of my most fundamental and core values.

And those have been with me since school days. I really enjoyed school. I enjoyed university. I enjoyed the acquisition of new information. New ideas and new concepts have always fascinated me.

When I first started work as a trainee accountant, I recall a preference for listening rather than talking and also asking friends questions like “what’s stopping you?” This was one of a list of powerful questions that was part of my coaching training 20 years later!

My awareness of Coaching started when I was living and working abroad and I was invited to a one-day ‘Introduction to Coaching’ course. As a keen sportsman, I thought that business coaching would be a bit like sports coaching (the coach doesn’t play on behalf of the player). The distinction between coaching and mentoring and the idea of coaching being about NOT giving advice was totally new to me.  I remember enjoying the course and thinking this is something I want to do more of.

Taking gradual progressive steps forward with this awareness

Some time after that introduction to coaching, I wanted to set up a Twitter account. The name @ChrisPaterson was already taken and I tried @SmileBeCurious and it was available. Since that moment, that has been a call to action for how I wanted to be, almost an identity and it fits really nicely with being a coach. If I can smile and be curious, then what a lovely way to go about coaching.

Starting to practice this Coaching at work & championing the development of others…I had a large team of people working for me and in one-to-one conversations, I was more interested in their career aspirations and how they wanted to develop than the day to day activities. This provided an opportunity for me to take a coaching approach and practice my skills. I enjoyed helping them and they were pleased that I was taking an interest in them.

What I struggled with was the performance management element of leading a large team. I believe I have pre-disposition to see the good in others and some of the feedback I received was that I look at the world through “pink glasses”. I later realised that the ability to hold someone in unconditional positive regard is one of the corner stones of taking a coaching approach. As a coach, I am the sunshine that shines on the brilliance of others so that they can discover it for themselves.

Continuing to build awareness of the Coaching Process … And then when I came back to the UK, I had an opportunity to sign up to an internal coaching training course after which I qualified as an internal coach in a very substantial programme that had been running successfully for a number of years. That took my coaching to a new level, made it much more of a conscious rather than an unconscious thing, and that really started the journey, formally.

Continuing my learning …So I started to notice the difference in my energy levels when I was coaching compared to doing the rest of my day job (leading a Business Unit and team of 50 in sales and marketing). I noticed that I had more energy at the end of the coaching session than the start, a lot of the time. And so coaching was something that energizes me, and something that’s useful to another person and is focused on learning.

So this is really quite a sweet spot for me.  It’s also an opportunity to be a human being as well as a human doing, an opportunity to not just be in front of a computer churning out stuff; and with some freedom in terms of where it could happen and when it could happen, so a sense of liberation, as well, came from coaching.

I decided that I wanted to become an Executive Coach for my company and met the head of coaching to find out how to get there. There were 3 things they look for in an Executive Coach:

  1. Coaching competence
  2. Business Credibility
  3. Evidence of the journey of self discovery


I was told that the experience I had gained from working as a management team member and leader in several countries was plenty in terms of business credibility. I was given some recommendations for how to develop my coaching capability and self awareness to the level needed. I thought to myself that I was quite self aware and so investigated a coaching course. It involved several long weekends and amazingly I was free on those dates but I was not able to secure the funding for the course from my manager. Dispondent, I met with the head of coaching again to see if there was a way to get on the course. There was no central funding available, just a reiteration of the advice to pursue the journey of self discovery by enrolling in the Landmark Forum. This was a tenth of the price of the coaching course and funding was no longer a barrier so I signed up without hesitation. The difference between the person who turned up on the Friday morning at the start of the course and how I was on the Sunday evening was startling as I discovered how little about myself I actually knew. The weekend had been the most powerful learning experience I had ever had and changed the way I saw myself and the world. Looking back, this was much more valuable to me that the coaching course I thought I wanted to go on and over the next 6 months I completed the rest of the Landmark core curriculum which has helped me to continue the inquiry into who I am and my journey of self discovery.

Building the Practice of Coaching … As an internal coach, I have had a steady stream of clients, almost as many as I wanted. And over the last year, I’ve probably had about ten at a time. I started quite small with one or two, and then realised that the more I coach, the more I enjoyed it. And the more I coached, the better I got at it and it’s really gone from there.

Continuing to Use all the learning methods …

Keeping Focus on feedback through Results and Output is really important.  I have been very lucky to be able to take advantage of regular supervision and CPD events provided through work. These have helped me grow my coaching muscle. Every client is also an opportunity for me to learn and develop as a coach and I routinely ask clients for feedback in addition to the evaluation which my company asks them to complete. Through the contracting in the Chemistry meeting, I make it very clear that the only reason I do this is to be useful to them. So if it’s not working for them, it’s not working for me either and that gives them the permission to be in charge and to call the shots.

I have made use of being observed in coaching sessions by a much more experienced coach and they then give me encouragement and pointers for improvement as well.

Sometimes you get those light bulb moments where the hair stands up on the back of your neck and you really know you’re working with something. For me, that’s the most rewarding feedback, although I’ve learnt not to expect that to happen too often.

Another critical element of my development has come from being coached. I have had 3 different coaches over a 2 year period and I found the experience incredibly valuable on a number of levels. At one level, I was able to watch them coaching me and make a note of what worked well that I could use with my clients. I was also able to do some important work to help me on my journey including finding & refining my purpose in life (to grow leaders by supporting others to discover for themselves), becoming better at identifying my emotions and making the preparations for a great ending to be able to allow a new beginning as an Executive Coach.

At the time of writing I have recently left the company where I worked for 17 years to focus on developing my coaching practice, SmileBeCurious and to set up a charity related to coaching young people (more about this in another blog). This would have been inconceivable a few years ago – coaching has transformed me.


And I think the journey has been as much about me developing as a coach as me developing as an individual, and learning about myself. That has probably been the more powerful element of it in fact. By gaining greater self awareness, I’ve been able to develop as a coach.

As a coach, I’m an expert in not knowing. There’s something about me being able to share that with clients that makes them okay for them to be vulnerable, to be able to open up and to know that I’m not going to judge them for this

You don’t need very much training to start coaching, you can set yourself up, get some insurance and off you go. What makes the difference is less about the training or the hours of coaching experience, I believe it comes down to attitude and this journey of self-discovery which is an absolutely critical component of being a coach which you cannot just sign up and get from a training course.

What do I need to do to become a better coach?” Then know yourself, know yourself better. And make sure that you’re clear about why you do this and what it means to you, and the rest will follow.

I really appreciate this opportunity to express, and share my story like this. This has been a useful and valuable exercise for me.

To connect with Chris Paterson

Chris P small photo.png

Chris is a husband, father, executive coach and founder of a charity. Coaching has changed his life for the better and through coaching he has discovered his purpose in life is to grow leaders by supporting others to discover for themselves. After 20 years working for large multinationals, he has set up his own coaching and facilitation business, SmileBeCurious Ltd. The fact that being a coach allows Chris to learn about himself and the world whilst being useful for others is a wonderful sweetspot. Chris has a fascination for the application of coaching techniques in all walks of life.


Teasing out the deeper understanding of how Coaching works at its best – how Teasing, itself, can be productive by Jeremy Ridge


Appropriate Teasing consistently comes up, for me, as important for how Coaching can really work at its best. However, it rarely seems to be mentioned, and its particular potential explored, among all the other terms widely used across the field. So it is good to explore this feature of practice for how I believe it can contribute so importantly.

I have in mind how a high level of teasing can often be the sign of a really healthy relationship, as well as in a group, or team process ( e.g. peer coaching. )  I am often surprised by how readily people resort to teasing as an important way of testing how to relieve tensions that may otherwise go underground, and become highly destructive.

In one form or another, teasing between people even takes place on a considerable everyday scale. Much of comedy relies on it; even marketing and advertising draws on it significantly; even everyday family life often engages in it! For example,

  • Times for giving people presents – carefully wrapped – introduces a form of teasing.
  • Teasing can be a major feature of negotiation. Making an offer attractive, in order to obtain something important in exchange.
  • Even coaching makes attractive promises to people. And then there are all the related books, models and techniques, often equally big in their promises. This is also teasing the reader to believe they are reading all they need to know about how it works.

Teasing, for me, is a way of testing for possible expectations someone may have formed, in a delicate and careful way, for how able another person might be to deal with the possible surprise involved. Learning (as one way of considering what coaching aims to achieve) can often involves surprise because it introduces new things that may not have been fully understood before.

The challenge involved in explaining teasing is often the high levels of subtlety involved in the behaviours that can amount to a form of teasing, e.g. the way people may use all manner of facial expressions, and movements, rather than just words, to convey such messages.

And, of course, it is important to ensure that teasing is appropriately constructive, rather than its other meanings that are often associated with teasing as being more deliberately aimed to frustrate, and even bully.

1. Sorting out the everyday meanings and uses of the term teasing

In starting to consider this meaning involved in teasing, I am immediately drawn to the range of meanings people can bring to it; such as their experiences of teasing being quite negative. So I start with understanding the meaning that appeals to me in the way the word has come into various uses over time.

The origins of the word in a historical sense can be seen, for example, from the old English use of tæsan [1]. 

  • This involves meanings such as to pull about, pluck, tease, in particular, to gently shred or pull apart for microscopic examination.
  • This refers most often to physical materials however, such as woollen thread.

For me, the original meaning in the use of the word teasing is important, which is more about doing something very carefully, lest there be a breakdown in something.

It is even possible to find reported cases where teasing is used overtly and deliberately on an organised social basis, and a clear and important feature of the culture. For example,

“An Inuit principal of learning that follows a similar teasing pattern is known as issumaksaiyuk, meaning to cause thought. Oftentimes, adults pose questions or hypothetical situations to the children (sometimes dangerous) but in a teasing, playful manner, often dramatizing their responses. These questions raise the child’s awareness to issues surrounding their community, as well as give them a sense of agency within the community as a member capable of having an effect and creating change. Once the child begins to answer the questions reasonably, like an adult, the questions would stop, [2]”

After all, our social culture is sometimes something we have to learn about whether we like it or not, that is deemed to be in our best interests to conform to. Teasing can be a form of feedback as to when we have got it right, or not, in gradual steps.

2. Looking further at the ways teasing works positively between people in Coaching

Constructive teasing means identifying something that may be important for someone. But, finding those ways to start carefully to enable the other person to progress towards their learning in a manner that is felt as being in their reasonable grasp.

To be effective, Coaching has to create conditions across an important range of factors, not just through teasing, by itself.

Teasing is one of the later conditions to introduce; see Carkhuff’s detailed and comprehensive framework [3] which laid out a careful and thorough process for first creating a sound foundation for dialogue, and the relationship, before working up to the risks involved in more overt teasing, or confrontation. It is important to build the level of confidence in the established trust and proven goodwill between the people concerned that can insure against the risks sometimes involved in teasing

Teasing can also be a source for light relief – an important break in the otherwise more serious side of any dialogue. For example by introducing some humour, through some sort of surprise observation outside of the otherwise more serious process.

Laughing with a tease – in other words seeing, accepting and joining in the humor involved in a tease is often used by people to signal they are ok with being open to exploring the issues that may be involved.

These short teasing interventions are efficient ways to do some quick testing. Yet there are still times when the space may be best created by the coach more directly. For example, when the coachee refers to having a problem, and the coach offers the surprise perspective that this may be more of an opportunity, rather than a problem, and so taking a much more positive view. Similarly, teasing whether to choose to view the glass as being more half full, rather than half empty.

3. Looking at examples of the behaviours that can be more appropriate approaches to teasing

For me, deeper understanding of how Coaching works at its best is to be able to work at a detailed level about the behaviours that make a difference.

Again, the subtlety of the actual behaviours involved still often defies simple illustration. For example, the investment in building trust is not a simple process, and cannot be fully mapped out in a few lines of text, such as it always takes place in a few sentences, or other behaviours, exchanged between people.

Hence, the whole process involved in teasing may often involve very gradual approaches, of which I name three, in testing readiness and reaction about this matter that may be important.

3.1. More Immediate Evidence of a positive reaction to being teased

The measure of whether teasing is positive is the reaction evidencing a form of genuine attention to what is raised in a manner that leads to mutual satisfaction.

For example: The Coach introduces a perspective that may highlight some challenges to the Coachee. Ideally the responses by the Coachee looked for are, for example:

“I haven’t really thought this through, have I…”
“I haven
’t really tested whether some of these issues are what I have assumed them to be…”
“I am still trying to work out how to test and do something different in these circumstances I have put on the table

3.2. Encouraging the Coachee to tease the idea forward by themselves

At this level of quality of response, it is possible for the Coach to let the Coachee tease out their awareness, by themselves. It may also become a simple matter of having a factual conversation where the Coach can offer his/her perspectives on what might be considered, such as straight forward matter of fact responses…

“That’s great - keep going …”
“Can we look in more detail at some of the examples of this happening”
“Can you tell me some more about (something) you just mentioned - what was involved in more detail

3.3. Teasing based on very careful and small behaviours that tests for possible reactions.

One real feature of teasing is the subtlety that may be important in choosing a behaviour that introduces something of possible surprise.

For example, the hints in non verbal expressions often used provides the other with options that they may want to raise or ignore...to tease whether the other person is open to being offered a different view:

  1. The hint of a nod! Someone says something and the reaction may be to nod – but not rise fully to its implications … or a hesitation – that will be noticed as something that is part of an overall reaction.
  2. The hint of a smile! Someone then says something and there is a hint of a smile in the response to it.
  3. The hint of a frown! Someone then says something and there is this time more of a facial expression –such as a frown, and or a pursing of the lips, a shift in body posture showing some tension.
  4. The suggestion of an offer that may be different in approach: Someone says something and there is an verbal response which says something like – of course there may be a different interpretation of that you are describing …to test interest

These may be the teasing behaviours that are the precursors to next taking a more direct approach, such as, ‘you may need to re-think your view about this in order to fully understand and check you have understood why things happened the way they did.’

As well as the examples of how teasing behaviour can operate between just two people, there is often greater evidence of teasing being evident, and important, when a number of people are involved, such as in teamwork.

4. The importance of teasing in teamwork and Team Coaching – remembering the essential

Remembering the essential basis of teamwork: A team is typically a task where each person involved brings capabilities that are both different, and important to what is needed for the overall task to be completedTeamwork is thus at its best when it starts to enable others to bring the best out of each other.  However maintaining an appropriate balance in how each person makes their contribution can be a challenge, and is often a source of tensions that need addressing constructively.

High levels of effective teasing between people in the team are, for me, one of the clearest signs of the highest standard of process in such a collaborative context, as a team. This is when there is an established, accepted, culture (patterns of behaviours) in the group/ community that clearly gives permission to this careful testing, and teasing, type of behaviour in the group.

The important role for team coaching is often in taking the lead by introducing these sort of teasing behaviours. High functioning teams will often quickly take this initiative up themselves. I am often impressed by the naturally learned high skills many have in doing this.

At its best, in these circumstances, everyone realises that challenges can be surprises for some involved, so there is a collective effort to jointly explore and find the right ways to introduce these challenges in a supportive and constructive way. The people who are the focus for these challenges encourage this exploration by openly disclosing their own surprises, thus enabling more matter of fact exploration of the evidence around it.

For example, One person in the team may be seen as behaving in a dogmatic manner because they believe they have special knowledge, or information, relevant to the task – and others may just not see this – and cannot yet understand why the dogmatic person is appearing increasingly dogmatic in their behaviour.

Even at the very start of interaction in a team, – seen at its clearest among a team of strangers – is often the sort of start which involves some sort of ‘checking in’ process that can take place– albeit apparently innocent commentary about something unrelated to the task.  Usually there is some banter – attempts at a few comments designed to test the laugh/smile index among those involved.

The team coaching task is then to encourage the sense and importance of this ‘non direct task behaviour’ – because for some it can appears off the subject and a waste of time.


  • The importance of Teasing in Coaching:  Teasing is typically an important indicator, and way to test, and develop readiness in Coaching – where Readiness is that important ability to process experience, and learning, willingly and effectively.  Without readiness, coaching has serious difficulty in working effectively.
  • Teasing as ‘easing’:  Progress in a dialogue is about engaging in a manner that others are comfortable with. The comfort may come, first, from positive investment already established, (trust) allowing then more tolerance of risky comments. Otherwise, comments and behaviours that might surprise and disappoint have to be done even much more carefully.
  • The skills of teasing:  Teasing is often very similar to a process of research, carefully testing in small steps to discover what begins to get a positive response. It is about finding the most careful way of testing whether a direction is appropriate. Teasing is a recognition of the importance of small steps in behaviour that can have important impacts – and some themes need to be assessed carefully before going further
  • Teasing does not have to be always negative:  The importance of leading with teasing along positive themes becomes really important before raising more important but challenging initiatives.
  • It is not simple to establish simple principles. Interaction between people takes place on such a scale of complexity, along with the risks of how something might be perceived rather than intended, that there can be real risk of negative reactions.

Coaching will always depend on getting some very small behaviours right, and then continuing to get them right in lots of small steps. I find that looking through this teasing lens is a useful perspective in continuing to learn about, and share, more of the small things that can really make the important difference.

QUESTION: How aware are you of the small subtle sorts of behaviours that you may use in constructive teasing?

To connect with Jeremy Ridge

[1] Webster's New World College Dictionary Copyright © 2010 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio.  http://www.yourdictionary.com/tease#uJ7MhBsDdedBHRIJ.99
[2] Briggs, J. (1998). Inuit morality play: The emotional education of a three-year-old. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
[3] Carkhuff in https://the-goodcoach.com/tgcblog/2016/10/3/getting-trust-is-the-essential-outcome-that-makes-coaching-possible-and-different

"How I used a coaching approach at work to build on and add value to how the system works" by Simon Dennis


Coaching culture is about having the whole organization operate in a way which is much more people aware, much more perceptive and doesn't just get stuck in the aftermath involved in reporting on the numbers. It’s about creating the right conditions to get some real conversations going with the other person, about where they're coming from and what their interests and expectations are. Reporting is one of those areas that I began to experiment with.

We were going through a time where everybody wanted reports and data - data was king. I was due to attend a customer service review meeting and expected my reports to be challenged. I had the service report in my hand. It was about 20 pages long, and it basically showed the customer how we had delivered service over the last month with some year-to-date tracking and trends. I looked around the room and I thought, ‘But actually, this reporting doesn't, in any way, reflect what they actually felt - the quality of the service. It is just a set of numbers and data. It's almost like your bank balance, you know, the statement shows you are in the black but, for whatever reason, you don’t feel particularly rich or in control’.

It was not quite an epiphany moment, but when they asked for copies of the report to begin the discussion I said, "I'm actually going to hang on to them for now. Let's just talk about how things are going for you. What went well last month? What didn't work? What’s your overall perception of the service we’ve provided?” I then started to make some notes, particularly around the service areas that they weren't happy with, but also some of their suggestions for improvement and their future challenges. What followed was essentially a ‘coaching’ conversation. Lots of open questions, challenging of expectations, “Where could we do better?”, “What was the best element of the service?” “How might we work better together?” – genuinely useful and constructive dialogue.

At the end of the meeting, as I was leaving, "I put them [the reports] in the bin." And they said, "Can we see the service report now?" , I simply replied, "What’s it going to tell you that you don’t already know? Those reports are factually correct. Overall last month, we have delivered within the contract boundaries to the levels that we've agreed. But clearly, for whatever reason, that's not the service that you wanted or expected."

Experimenting with expectations about reporting

There was an expectation on my part that rather than simply presenting the data, we could have a much more open conversation about the perception of the service. I've seen it work really well because it is not so much just about what happened last month, it's about what are we going to be doing in the future that's going to be better and improved. The customer’s perception is their reality so your report should reflect that as well as the facts!

This motivated me to write a paper on getting people to think about this approach and talk about what they would really be saying in those reports, and how much we focus on factual data to hide behind versus perception, which may be very different.

Let me share another example, someone I know was working on a contract in which he was the customer. He received a phone call from the service department who told him that there was an issue, but that everything was back up and running within the service levels in the agreement. They also mentioned that "We're planning to do an update - a fix or whatever - with the system at 10:00 PM, UK time”, essentially out of office hours. And the customer just said to them, "I know it was still within the service level but you still took down five of our largest systems which still caused a lot of trouble. And you can't do the changes at 10 o'clock tonight because that's when America will be online and that's one of our biggest markets.”

This got me thinking again, ‘Well, the service report will be accurate, the service department haven't broken any rules. Everything was hunky-dory. They’ve done the right thing, the fix will be applied out of office hours etc. But actually, at no point would the report reflect the reality that the customer is facing.

Comparing expectations across different industries

It's completely different if you looked at something like the radio industry, where I started my working life. We talked about ‘Blackbox’ radio - the fact that you can put together a sequence of music that will deliver an audience because you can just program it. It might not have been a big audience but you can deliver it. Essentially creating a radio program to a formula, using standard ingredients (defined mix of music, news, sport etc.), a process if you like.

My boss used to say that the presenter’s job was to put the “sizzle” on the “sausage”. It’s the producer that creates the sausage; I could plan and write a decent breakfast show but if you give me a great presenter to present it, it'd be better than if I presented it.

The challenging bit is ensuring that the talent – the presenter - doesn’t break the process but enhances it. In radio you’re dealing with egos where if you’re not careful they think they are ‘bigger’ than the process and then you get anarchy. As a producer you work with the presenter to help them understand that, "If you use a process as your baseline, your professionalism will then improve the performance."

In the services industry particularly, that's hugely relevant because there are hundreds of people. Let's take the mobile phone industry. There's lots of mobile phone providers. So the only thing that sets them apart is actually the service they provide, and so the quality of the service is based on the people that you interact with. And when you're delivering people-based services, it's a hugely important thing. It's also interesting when you work in an outsourcing organization because you can think about companies who outsource. They actually move the same staff from provider to provider. So the assumption is you're just going to get the same service because you have the same people. This is where the other organization has to say, "Our underlying core…our basic process, is at a level where the same people are going to make it even more enhanced. So you've got to get that bit – the basic process – right."

For a long time I think we were talking about empowerment. I used to say to our presenters when I was working in radio that, "We want to choose our own music. We want to choose everything we're going to play and put into the show and basically, we all want to produce our own program. But it's a different skill. Actually, the presenter’s skill is in adding to the basic layers created by the producer."

Applying the 80-20 rule

It's about working with the system, rather than breaking the system, or something like that. Working within the bounds of it and saying, "We are empowering you but we're empowering you to add value on top of it rather than change the underlying structure," because once you get underlying structure change, that's anarchy and you can't control that. And then you lose.

I used to say on a simple scale when I was delivering laptops as part of my role, "If you follow a process, you get a laptop from A to B within, let's say, seven days." And I said, "So that's the basic minimum." They said, "That's what we work towards. You all do it. We deliver it. Job done. So we have to have something like 75%-80% of business operating at that level because if everything becomes an exception and you need every laptop in less than seven days, actually that's a different service. The clients may then say, "I need to scale up and I need to have a three-day service, not a seven-day service." It might take a little while to get to understand it but what we did in the end was recognise, "Well, OK. So we know that most of the business just operates on a seven-day turnaround, no problem." That gave us the capacity that when you do need to create a different level of service, you do need something in three days, we've got the capacity to do a one-off or a five-off exception.

Back to the radio analogy, we would be playing a fairly normal set of music across seven days a week and then the Rolling Stones will be in town on Monday, so we'd start every hour with a Rolling Stones record. "That's great. The Rolling Stones are in town. So we're just going to go Rolling Stones mad." And you can do that but you couldn't do it every single day of the year. You wouldn't sustain your audience. So you have to have the basic platform working to an 80-20 rule so that you've got the ability to flex and be outstanding or exponential at certain times.

I think that's when people get concerned that the process is taking away their empowerment by making them follow a set pattern.

Whereas, if everything was ‘emergency’ or an exception, we couldn't do it because everyone would be running about like headless chickens. So, for me, that's the message I've captured and I wanted to get to, "If you get the basics right, you can then coach the individuals to look at how could they make that even better? How could they improve their performance each step of the way?"

And I thought that would make an interesting theme because empowerment can be very strongly informed by the kind of coaching approach.

What this means for me

What I do is I look for those bits of business that are exceptional and I say, "What makes them exceptional?"

Sometimes, it is just the individual and then you say, "That's not replicable." You can try and capture some of those skills and knowledge but it's not repeatable in that sense. But there are some places where you see better performance and you think, "Right, what they've done is they've enhanced that process and they've added an additional template, a specific element or they have an additional meeting or step." And then you say, "Well, actually, if it's receiving a benefit, let's cut it into a system for everybody and we all get the benefits."

Where it is possible to replicate, we have process workshops where we look at a process and we ask, "How can we do this faster, smarter, better?" What we're doing is we're raising that baseline and you're using people's capability to raise the baseline. They might then notice that somebody else had a better outcome than they did following that same process, and so the coaching can explore how that came about. What did they do differently? What made it work well for them?

It's knowing the difference between what is a truly one-off exceptional performance that can't be repeated by just any individual, and then grasping those ones where you can.

Question: How have you found ways to bring a coaching approach to add value to how the system works?


To connect with Simon:

Simon has over 20 years’ experience of service delivery and continuous improvement in a variety of roles and industry sectors. He trained as a coach and coach supervisor and as Head of Coaching at Fujitsu UK & Ireland he established a Coaching Community utilising internal and external coaches to meet the business need for performance improvement and provided a basis for establishing a coaching competency for the organisation.

He has continued as a coaching ambassador for Fujitsu, presenting at conferences and contributing to publications and professional bodies in order to promote the use of coaching for performance and particularly internal coaching as a valid and valued approach.

He is married with 2 daughters and lives in Manchester, North-West England.