What is Collaborative Coaching?

A question we get asked often at CMOE is “What is collaborative coaching?” It simply means working jointly with someone to create a solution, plan, or agreement regarding a situation, opportunity, or dilemma. Collaborative coaching is about helping people develop, learn, change, and ultimately become more effective. When people feel they are part of the process rather than feeling like changes or solutions are being imposed on them in a directive or authoritative way, they will be more successful in their growth and development efforts. Seeing the logic and purpose and having an opportunity to influence the direction of their own growth and learning, causes people to feel ownership and a sense of personal accountability for changes in their skills, behaviors, and attitudes.

Who Initiates Collaborative Coaching?

Collaborative coaching can be initiated by any partner in a work environment. It could be a leader or boss, a colleague or peer, or even a direct report. In short, anyone who sees an opportunity, or has an issue they want to resolve or has feedback to share and wants to explore it in a more cooperative way should consider a collaborative coaching approach. Even though a collegial or collaborative approach to coaching and leadership can require more time, patience, and skill, it produces enormous benefits when it comes to ingenuity, commitment, and motivation to implement meaningful and sustainable agreements or solutions. Furthermore, it builds strong connections and lasting relationships that can be extremely helpful and provide long-term value as people progress in their roles or take on new career opportunities that require allies and advocates.

Another question often asked is “What does it take to coach in a more collaborative fashion?” From our research studies and decades of experience in the leadership and employee effectiveness field, there is one collaborative coaching capability or trait that stands apart from all others: flexibility. Flexibility is at the core of collaboration. Collaborative coaches have an open mind to the ideas, thoughts, data, insights, and contributions of others. Remaining flexible can be the most difficult aspect of collaborative coaching because we all have some need for control, ego, and a degree of impatience or a desire for a speedy resolution to issues. Many coaches implicitly trust and rely on their own experience, judgment, and data. This makes it difficult to invite others into a dialogue and be open to creating a solution that is a blend of the ideas, experiences, and recommendations of others. While flexibility is a critical ingredient to collaborative relationships, it is a rare trait for people who are in a role or position of authority. Leaders tend to be naturally directive and may feel more comfortable when controlling a conversation. Most people believe they are flexible, open to the input of others, and good listeners but our observations and research indicate that this is a blind spot for many leaders—they are in denial about the scale and scope of their inflexibility. Some coaches might appear collaborative or go through the motions, but in the end, they very much want the outcome to validate their point of view. Collaborative coaching will produce its intended results and work best when people are sincere and authentic during their coaching discussions. So, when you encounter moments when you can’t or don’t want to be collaborative, we suggest you make your intentions and commitment to be collaborative clear and save yourself the time and anguish of going through a merely superficial collaborative conversation.

What Are the Three Types of Collaborative Coaching?

There are three fundamental types of collaborative coaching:

Type One: “Alignment” coaching

This is collaborative coaching that is focused on helping people adapt and change, align with the organization’s strategic direction, and support the priorities of the enterprise. Alignment coaching helps people understand how they can contribute and are a part of the mission, how they fit and why they are relevant to the future of the organization, and how to elevate their performance to support the long-term, sustained success of the organization. Collaborative coaches help others create a line of sight to the organization’s strategic agenda and work together to identify how they will make a difference and add value.

Type Two: “Improvement” coaching

This type of collaborative coaching occurs when people have encountered a problem, when they are struggling with a task, or when they are failing to achieve desired results. At some point, we will all come up short of expectations or miss the mark. In these instances, the coach opens up a constructive dialogue, exploring possible solutions and learning that people can take away from a situation that isn’t working out as expected. They do this in a way that doesn’t come across as judgmental or condescending. When collaborative improvement coaching occurs and people feel included in resolving the situation, they are less likely to be defensive, and more open to feedback and suggestions.

Type Three: “Reinforcement” coaching

This type of coaching is focused on leveraging achievements and helping people understand the full implications of a successful idea, decision, or action they have taken. We call this the “positive” blind spot because when efforts are successful, people often overlook the opportunity for reflection and growth. In these celebratory moments, it is important to have clarity and collaboratively discuss how and why things worked out successfully. Reinforcement coaching recognizes the effort of others, explores how to repeat the successful effort, and examines how to share their newfound practice or best practices with others.

The three types of collaborative coaching, Alignment, Improvement, Reinforcement is what we refer to as the AIR approach to collaborative coaching. Effective coaches know that everyone needs to come up for AIR from time to time. All people need to experience the benefits of a little uninterrupted, one-on-one time with a good coach who practices collaborative coaching.

The Collaborative Coaching Process

The Coaching TIPS2™ process from CMOE is a clear and concise framework that people can use to guide their collaborative coaching discussions. This research-backed process provides structure for the dialogue, but also allows for flexibility.

Tip 1: Support

Collaborative coaching is an opportunity to build constructive and supportive relationships with others. Supportive behaviors should be present throughout the coaching conversation because it creates a safe and open environment where both parties can collaborate and share their perspectives. The goal is to establish a positive connection and support the interests of the other person. Support occurs both verbally, through the words that are used, and physically, through body language, eye contact, and attentive listening.

Tip 2: Topic

The next element of the collaborative coaching process is defining the topic or focal part of the conversation. You can set the stage for the conversation by clarifying positive intentions and introducing the issue, opportunity, concern, achievement, or observation to be explored.

Tip 3: Impact

Once the topic of the collaborative coaching dialogue is established, a coach helps the other person step back from the topic and reflect on actions, attitudes, skills, or decisions from a different point of view. As people deepen their understanding of how their actions contribute to or detract from the success of the team or organization, they will feel inspired and get interested in taking action.

Tip 4: Plan

Another important element in the collaborative coaching framework is co-producing solutions and action plans for addressing the coaching topic. Initiating a plan involves asking critical questions and considering different ideas, solutions, and options to come up with the best decisions and strategies for moving forward.

Tip 5: Sustain

Sustain in the collaborative coaching process involves reviewing and getting agreement for the steps in the action plan. Sustain goes beyond the initial coaching discussion as the coach follows up with support and reinforcement and ensures accountability for the established plans and agreements. This creates opportunities to reinforce a healthy relationship, celebrate progress, and collaboratively problem solve when challenges arise.

The Business Case for Collaborative Coaching

Collaborative coaching is a powerful skill that results in better results and enhanced performance from people in an organization. There are some challenges that can get in the way of collaborative coaching. First, it requires a willingness to step away from daily demands and engage in productive dialogue with others. Second, collaborative coaching demands some courage to be candid and willing to let go of preferred ideas to find win-win solutions. Third, a collaborative coach needs to be self-aware about their natural behavior and clear about aspects of their personal style that support collaboration and those that interfere with it.

Organizations achieve results and drive meaningful change when people engage in collaborative coaching that is supported by trust, patience, candor, and a willingness to collaborate as partners.

To learn more about how to build a collaborative coaching culture in your organization and the Coaching TIPS2™ process, contact a member of the CMOE team.

Coaching TIPS²™ is a trademark of CMOE (Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness).