As an external coach serving individual or corporate clients, there are typically one or two parties in each coaching relationship. There is your client, which may be an individual, a team, or a group. Then there might be a payee or sponsor – the one who brought you in to coach that person or group.
That makes external coaching a 1 to 1 or a 1 to 2 model.
As an internal coach working within an organization, however, you need to manage multiple relationships. It’s a 1 to many model.
One of the first relationships you have as an internal coach is with the leadership – whoever is bringing you into the role – this is typically a supervisor, manager, or department head. This is who supervises you and coordinates your work, and this is who advocates for funding for the coaching – the payee or sponsor, just like in external coaching.
Then there are your clients, and there are lots of them: teams, groups, and individuals. And you have agreements and relationships with all of them, so you can be clear about what you can expect from them, and what they can expect from you.
But what about when your agreement with one client or set of clients overlaps with your agreement with another? This convergence of client agreements (sometimes known as conflicts of interest), becomes another type of relationship.
For example, a supervisor having a coaching session may mention the name of an employee. Meanwhile, the internal coach may also be coaching that individual as well, even if they’re in another department.
Sometimes the convergence is more subtle, where even the possibility of conflict can create issues. One internal coach shared that they must be careful about even being seen talking to a supervisor because people could read into that.
The fourth relationship in internal coaching is with the system, or culture, which you’ve likely been brought in to change. So you are in essence coaching the system. Ideally, as you change things in the small unit you are working with, that impact will spread throughout the organization. Unfortunately, that doesn’t often happen because the change is frequently stopped at a higher level of leadership.
It’s important for internal coaches to recognize the multi-dimensional, multi-faceted nature of these four coaching relationships, and how different this is from external coaching. And this applies both in corporate settings and in ministry, where more coaches are being brought in to create a coaching culture and serve as internal coaches.
Use this quadrant of the four relationships in internal coaching as a quick check-in of how you’re doing. My hunch is that one or two will come more naturally to you, and there will be at least one where you may need to lean in further.
As a training provider with more and more internal coaches coming through our program, we’re doing the same assessment. We’re solid in equipping coaches for their work in client relationships, and with leadership. We’re still developing training resources for the other two areas, including my book about internal coaching.