Internal vs External Coaching

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There are two main types of coaching relationship. The first is with an external coach who is not part of the organisation or line management structure in any way. The second is an internal coaching relationship, where a manager or leader acts as a coach for their team. The two require different ways of working as coach, although they share some similarities.

  • In an external relationship, the coach has no subject expertise and no vested interest in the outcome of any decisions, except insofar as the person being coached is pleased with the outcome of the coaching. They also have no preconceived ideas about the person being coached: they probably don’t know them in a work context and have no idea of the quality of their work performance.
  • In an internal relationship, however, the coach may well have a strong vested interest in the quality of the decision-making, as well as knowing a lot about the subject. They may well know the person being coached very well: they may have been managing them for some time and have some preconceived ideas of the likely outcomes of coaching, which may not necessarily be positive.

The internal coach, therefore, has to work on several issues that the external coach does not encounter:

  • Putting aside any preconceived ideas about the person and their effectiveness. Try to focus on the coaching process, and what you learn about the individual through that.
  • Parking your own subject expertise, and helping the individual to develop their own solutions. One good way is to make an effort never to offer a comment, but only ever to ask open questions (so not ‘Have you thought about doing x?).
  • Not leaping to solutions but, instead, allowing the person being coached time to explore the problem in their own way. Again, continuing to ask questions about the nature of the problem, or what might be a possible solution, is a good way to do this.
  • Being aware of assumptions made, whether about the person, the process or the subject. See our page: The Ladder of Inference to help you recognise and avoid some of the pitfalls.


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