How in-house coaches can effectively conduct 1:1 coaching sessions

Many organisations use in-house coaching as a way of facilitating culture change and one-to-one coaching is a highly effective way of improving learning, motivation and personal ownership. When this approach to development is used widely across the organisation, there can be a very significant uplift in employee engagement, leading to a more empowered and self-reliant culture, improved performance and better results.

Typically, the organisational HR/OD department will identify and train a small group of managers from across the organisation in coaching skills. The coaching training programme may offer a coaching qualification, such as the ILM Level 5 coaching qualification, to ensure a consistent level of quality of coaching competence within the in-house coaching team.

Once trained, the coaches continue their day-to day role (which usually includes managing and coaching their own team) and they are also available to coach other individuals across the organisation in one-to-one coaching sessions through a selection process managed via the HR/OD function.

 When an in-house coach is shortlisted for an in-house coaching assignment, they are being invited to contribute to an individual’s personal development and growth. This is an important responsibility. The success of any coaching assignment starts with commitment and attention to the coaching process by the coach and here are some key points to consider ensuring they are creating the best environment for coaching to succeed:

Chemistry session

This is the initial meeting between coachee, and coach and the purpose is to establish whether both agree that they can work together successfully in a coaching relationship. This meeting is critical to success. Expectations should be discussed about the coaching process and duration, the ground rules such as confidentiality and boundaries and whether the coachee has agreed goals with the line manager. Both coach and coachee must establish mutual respect and can feel able to have honest conversations within the scope of the coaching contract. The coachee must feel confident that the coach will strictly adhere to ethical and confidential guidelines. The coach should check that the coachee is ready for coaching – are they ready and willing to engage and commit to the coaching process? Are they in the right frame of mind and do they have the appropriate level of support to maximise the value of coaching? See blog: How in-house coaches can effectively establish a 1:1 coaching relationship and contract

Contracting session

It is best practice to have a three-way contracting meeting between coach, coachee and their line manager to align on what the coaching is for, expected outcomes, duration, and the ground-rules and boundaries. This creates clarity and gives the line manager opportunity to support the process by agreeing time required for coaching in work hours, and to offer their own supplementary coaching support if useful. This support is vital to the success of the in-house coaching process. All parties must be clear on the confidentiality boundaries and the line manager/any other third party such as HR/Personnel must respect this. The content of conversations between coach and coachee are private except in the very exceptional circumstances of illegality or harm. The expectation is that the coachee will share the relevant parts of 1: 1 coaching conversations with their line manager and/or the HR/Personnel department

 Conducting the one-on-one coaching sessions

Typically coach and coach will agree to have up to six 1:1 coaching sessions about 4 weeks apart, each session of roughly 90 minutes in duration. If the chemistry and contracting sessions have been done well, the coaching assignment will be off to a good start. Most problems that arise in coaching assignments stem from ineffective chemistry meetings or contracting sessions. Throughout the coaching assignment, the coach should keep in mind:


  • The original agreed goals: as the coaching continues, sub-goals can emerge which often lead the coach and coachee away from the original outcomes agreed with he sponsor/s. Divergence from expected outcomes is common as new goals emerge, but these should be agreed with the line manager, and for this reason a review meeting half-way through the coaching assignment is essential


  • Embedding behavioural change: as the coachee develops new behaviours and habits to become more effective, they need to practice embedding them. The coach should have a focus on helping the coachee to do this practice through agreed actions between each session, and requests to others (such as the line manager) for support


  • Maintaining objectivity: it is often the case that internal coaching relationships can slip into a ‘support friendship’ where the coachee unconsciously (or consciously) attempts to get the coach ‘on their side’ and create an ‘us and them’ situation. The internal coach must be on their guard against this kind of friendship transference. The role of coach is not a friendship but as an honest and challenging supporter to facilitate the coachee towards their goals


  • Raising the level of challenge: As coaching progresses, the coach should be consistently aware of the degree of challenge they are using, and gradually raising the bar to stretch the coachee out of their ‘comfort zone’. Coaching should have a clear element of target stretch to force the coachee to adopt new ways of operating to achieve greater things. This might require the coach to take themselves out of their own comfort zone too –which many coaches find challenging. If the coaching sessions are becoming more like cosy chats, it’s time to review the coaching process. Coach and coachee should re-contract the level of challenge in the coaching and the coach should consider supervision
  • Regular coaching supervision It is very important that all internal coaches have access to regular coaching supervision. Supervision allows coaches to discuss their coaching in confidence, work through coaching issues, learn from their experiences and gain help and advice from their coaching supervisor and other coaches. This kind of ‘quality control’ raises the general standard of internal coaching and ensures that coaches are maintaining ethical and organisational boundaries, retaining objectivity and avoiding potential drama triangles and coachee collusion

At the end of any coaching assignment, the coach, coachee and line manager should meet to evaluate the one-on-one business coaching assignment. This review of the 1:1 coaching process should look at what has been achieved and next steps for the coachee to embed their learning and performance improvement into their daily work. This is also an opportunity for the coach to receive feedback from both the coachee and the line manager. Getting client feedback is important for the internal coach to gain further insight into their effectiveness and areas for improvement as a coach. This should then feed into a regular coach development plan that includes occasional further training, peer coaching feedback and ongoing supervision, either 1:1 or in a group setting.