Contracting in the coaching relationship
The contracting session is possibly the most important meeting that you will have with your Coaching client. Within it, the boundaries in which the Coaching relationship operates will be established and the mutual expectations under which both Coach and Coachee will operate will be set.
As importantly, but perhaps more intangibly, it will set the ‘tone’ for future meetings and the professional basis on which future meetings will be held.
The contracting session does not need to be exhaustive, nor does it need to cover every possible eventuality, but it does need clarify a series of issues.
- The Objectives of the Coaching Programme
- The Psychological Contract between the Coach and Coachee
- The Logistics and Process under which Coaching will take place
The Objectives of the Coaching Programme
It is of fundamental importance to ensure that there is clear mutual understanding of the goals and objectives for the Coaching engagement. The identification of these goals will on occasion form the basis of future Coaching sessions, but an initial guide as to what these are can guide the future course and success of any Coaching intervention. This contracting phase will also explain that these goals remain ‘private’ and completely confidential between the Coach and the Coachee.
Coaches should also be aware that a significant amount of work may need to be undertaken to identify what ‘success’ in the future will look like for the Coachee and the ‘milestones’ that will give both the Coach and the Coachee some indication of how they are progressing towards their objectives.
Coaching within a client organisation
While the above process can be reasonably straightforward if the Coachee is also the ‘client’ or the person paying for the programme, a new dimension of the contracting phase arises when the Coaching is being paid for by an organisation for which the Coachee works. In such a situation, Coachee and the client are in fact two different entities.
In this case, it is important for the organisation to identify an internal ‘Sponsor’ for the Coaching programme. The Sponsor is most appropriately the organisational representative who can clearly articulate to the Coachee the reasons that the organisation wants to invest in them in providing Coaching support, while explaining how the organisation will measure the success of the Coaching skills programme.
The Coach will often facilitate a three way ‘triangular contracting’ discussion where the goals that the organisation want to see from the Coaching intervention will be discussed and agreed to by all parties. These goals, while not openly discussed – are seen as ‘public’ goals.
A high level of transparency and openness is required from the Sponsor of the programme and the Coachee at this stage. It is essential that the Coachee is clear on what is being asked of them by the organisation and that there is not sense of a ‘hidden’ agenda or of being forced into a position where they feel they must ‘undergo Coaching’. Such unexplored feelings may jeopardise the integrity of the Coaching relationship between Coach and Coachee – and the Coachee’s ability to actively engage in a process of reflection and change.
In the course of the Coaching sessions however, ‘private’ goals may emerge for the Coachee in terms of how they want to address and respond to the ‘public’ goals. These private goals must remain strictly confidential between the Coach and Coachee if a feeling of trust and rapport is to be maintained – though there is a need for the Coach to be aware of when such goals might stray from the aims of the Coaching intervention.
The Psychological Contract
The ‘psychological’ contract can be thought of as the expectations and sense of engagement that both Coach and Coachee ‘expect’ from the other person in entering into a Coaching relationship.
The term 'psychological contract' is normally associated with employer and employee contracts. Over and above the explicit expectations outlined with formal written contract – the psychological contract is more implicit and frames the perceptions of two parties as to what their mutual obligations are towards each other'. It is the psychological contract that effectively tells employees what they are required to do in order to meet their obligations in working for the organisation, and what they can expect from their job. It may not – and most usually will not - be strictly enforceable, though legally, there are implications in the manner that the psychological contract pertains to the underlying relationship between employer and employee.
It is informative to a Coaching relationship in that it looks at the reality of the situation as perceived by the Coach and the Coachee as the two engaging parties. It may be more influential than any formal contract in affecting how the relationship between Coach and Coachee is established and develops and opening up a conversation that will enable rapport and trust to grow.
Logistics and Process
Finally, there is a need to examine and explain the logistics, under which the Coaching programme will operate, from the number of sessions to their duration and spacing.
In the case of working with an individual within an organisation, there will often be a requirement to have appropriate conversations with both the Coachee and the organisational ‘sponsor’, in the terms of contractual obligations, payment terms and how the process actually works. Where the Coaching client is also the Coachee – such conversations will be combined.
Other resources that may be of interest: