A common habit I’ve observed is for coaches to automatically schedule 60-minute sessions. Where do we get this idea? Likely it’s from a lifetime of experience in other professional settings, where the one-hour meeting or the one-hour (or 50-minute) session are standard.
Maybe we think all we can do in a shorter session is just skim the surface of an issue. This is a false belief, but it’s so deeply ingrained that even when a client has a huge breakthrough and feels complete, we still feel like we have to give them that full hour.
Let’s revisit one of the guiding principles of coaching:
The real coaching happens after the coaching conversation.
If the client’s journey is a flight, then the coaching conversation is a brief stop to refuel—just enough to keep going. It is after the session when the valuable a-ha’s and hmms are translated into action, behavior, and implementation.
So if I’m really sold on that guiding principle, I can focus on the quality, and not the quantity, of each session, and let it come to a natural end. Time is really precious to people. This is especially true for the leaders I coach. They want to stay on task, and once they’ve got what they need, they want to move on. “Let’s go!“
The coach doesn’t need the full story.
Another premise that traps coaches into 60-minute sessions is the belief that we need to understand all the details in order to help our clients. Trying to do that not only takes time, it can get in the way of our client’s progress. Our clients know their story; they only need to say enough to gain clarity for themselves.
Break the 60-minute habit.
Have you ever noticed that the “good stuff”—the breakthroughs, the insights—always seem to happen at the end of a session? And that’s true whether it’s minute 25 of a 30-minute session or minute 55 of an hour. People fill the space we give them (known as Parkinson’s Law).
Teach your clients what to expect.
Personally, I coach for 30 minutes, but there’s nothing magical about that number. Forty minutes would be fine, or you might do well with 20. Whatever your decision, set up this expectation in your initial discussion and coaching agreement.
Let clients know that sometimes you won’t even need the full time. If I think they’ve got what they need and they’re ready to go, I might say, “I think we’re done.” I want to make sure they feel complete and hear them say, “Yeah, I’m good to go.”
Time is a container; it’s not one size fits all.
There are unique cultural approaches to time, and personality differences as well. Some people expect to spend time warming up the conversation. For them, that’s a very important part of creating space, so you’ll need to build that into your schedule.
And the reverse can be true: people want to jump right in and get down to business, with no time for pleasantries. In fact, I find the majority of people appreciate shorter sessions and the opportunity to get in and out quickly.
If you’ve never worked with a seasoned coach, work with one. See how they use time. Notice what it feels like when they end early. One coach I worked with was a 30-minute coach. Never a minute over, although he would end early. In eight years, I think there was only one occasion where something major was going on and we went over—but just a few minutes.
What do you think? Does it feel wrong to book a session for less than an hour, or to end a session earlier than planned? Or have you already broken this coaching habit?