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7 Types of Coaching in the Workplace—and The 1 That Gets Results

January 23, 2019

Ryan Heinl


Of all the options for types of coaching in the workplace, one stands out as the best.

7 Types of Coaching in the Workplace—and The 1 That Gets Results

Coaching is a hot topic these days, and it's no wonder given the pace of change. To be agile and adapt quickly, we often need help making the turn.

That's why you'll hear so much about creating a "coaching culture." Companies want to create an environment where people can constantly coach one another for optimal performance. But there are many types of coaching to consider, and they are not all equal.

Let’s talk about the different forms of coaching and their value:

1. Humanist coaching

Humanist coaching has everything to do with helping leaders reach their full potential. You've probably heard the term self-actualization and that's what this one is all about. It relies heavily on the relationship established between leaders and coaches and the idea that the depth and trust created between the coach and the leader ultimately create success for the leader.

This one definitely takes on a more therapy-oriented perspective where the leader being coached may already be in the midst of crisis and the coach is helping the leader find greater stability and confidence. While this is great for the leader, it doesn't necessarily help him or her get more done for the organization.

2. Adult development coaching

Adult development coaching focuses on the different stages of adult development. This means that the coach is working to figure out where the leader is in his or her development and helps the leader to move toward a more mature understanding of authority and responsibility, as well as a greater tolerance for ambiguity.

This is, again, a more therapeutic coaching strategy and is centered on the issues that one experiences at each stage of adult development. When you think specifically about types of coaching in the workplace, this one also doesn't scream, "I'm gettin' more stuff done!"

3. Cognitive coaching

Cognitive coaching is centered around addressing the maladaptive thoughts that might be getting in the way of a leader’s success. This is yet another more therapeutic approach to coaching where the coach challenges the way the leader might think about the actions of others in non-productive ways and thereby hinders his or her own performance. This one definitely has its place at the right time for the right leader, but it doesn't feel very holistic, does it?

4. Positive psychology model for coaching

The positive psychology model for coaching has seen a surge in popularity over the last few years. This approach is often seen as a strengths-based approach. The thought here is that the coach would help the leader expand existing strengths as a way to build positive emotions, creating greater happiness, and in the process, higher levels of performance.

While it sometimes can be used to achieve specific goals, it's primarily designed to change perceptions and attitudes in a more positive direction.

5. Systemic coaching

Systemic coaching, as the name implies, takes into account a wide range of factors that impact performance. Its focus is on looking at patterns that may be causing drag on a leader’s performance and seeks to disrupt them. It also highlights the importance of making small changes that can add up to big results over time. This one is consistent with much of the writing you may have seen recently on taking small steps to form new, more positive, habits.

6. Goal-oriented coaching

Goal-oriented coaching is probably the type of coaching in the workplace many of us are most familiar with. It's about helping leaders regulate and direct their interpersonal and personal resources to better attain one or more goals. The primary method is to help the leader form well-crafted goals and develop an effective action plan.

Combining the Best From These Approaches

Each of these approaches varies in terms of how directive, solution-focused, and dependent they are on the relationship that is established between the coach and the leader. And while each approach has shown some level of effectiveness, the value that's delivered to the leader by the coach can certainly be improved upon for each of them. 

That's where a new style of coaching comes in, one that takes the best from each approach and creates something more attuned to the challenges of today's leader. Enter adaptive coaching.

7. Adaptive coaching

Adaptive coaching is fundamentally goal-oriented in nature. However, it also incorporates the best aspects of approaches like systemic, positive, and even cognitive. It balances the personal and practical needs of the person being coached. 

An example of this is DDI’s ACE coaching model. The goal of adaptive coaching is to understand the context of the leader being coached as much as possible, in a short period of time, to help them to achieve some tangible results. 

In contrast to a number of the methods described above, the objective is not to create a long-term relationship with the coach involved. Rather, it focuses on determining what is happening in the leader's business (e.g. what project he or she is focused on currently), what challenges exist for the leader in his or her role as a result (e.g. the people dynamics), and how a deeper understanding of the leader’s personal patterns that drive them and derail them in certain situations can help to overcome those challenges. It uses a current challenge a leader is facing to determine the best course of action a coach can take to support a particular leader. 

It starts with understanding the details of the current situation and tasks involved, but before getting focused on coaching to these tasks, it enables the coach to collaboratively create clarity on the situation and explore options. 

This method also focuses on quickly establishing trust between the coach and the leader and emphasizing how the leader’s strengths can be used to drive a solution. Research tells us that this creates much more energy for trying new things. At the same time, the coach provides the leader with support and resources to shore up development areas and create the confidence needed to explore uncharted waters.

An example of adaptive coaching 

In the process of focusing on overcoming a challenge with the support of a coach, the leader is simultaneously developing in ways that will serve him or her well over the long term. The coach provides leaders with exactly what they need in the moment. This comes in the form of learning resources and tools, self-insight, and supported action that the leader can take toward overcoming the current challenge. 

Here's an example of how this works:

Let's say Morgan has been recently promoted into a team leader role. One of the members of Morgan's new team is especially talented in some technical area, but doesn't collaborate well with the rest of the team, and is perhaps even a bit snarky. It's a tight labor market and Morgan doesn't want to lose the talented person by giving him tough feedback, but things can't continue as they are because it would put other team members at risk of leaving, as well. This challenge has direct impact on the team's performance.  

Applying adapting coaching, the coach can help Morgan quickly take stock—What is at risk if the team isn't successful on the current project? What is her relationship currently like with the snarky team member? What concerns does she have about how to approach the discussion(s) with the snarky team member? 

The answers to these questions can form the foundation for a series of actions. Additionally, Morgan is great at quickly establishing rapport with people and connecting. So the coach is going to use that strength to help her deepen relationships with her team members. Because of Morgan's focus on relationships, she can sometimes be a bit conflict adverse, however, and she doesn’t have a lot of experience giving feedback for improvement. So the coach provides her with opportunities to practice giving this type of feedback, and gives her a discussion planner to help her think through the first conversation with the troubled team member. 

Then, the first coaching conversation actually happens, and after, Morgan debriefs with the coach. 

The first meeting wasn't a success, but it was progress. The coach can then help Morgan with thinking about how to adjust the strategy, provide additional resources, and gain her commitment to try again. With each subsequent discussion Morgan learns a bit more about herself and how the best leaders handle these kinds of situations. Not only is the coach helping Morgan to solve an immediate challenge, but Morgan is learning a skill that will serve her well as she grows as a leader.

Using adaptive coaching, as this example shows, might be a new way of thinking about coaching in the workplace, but it stands on the shoulders of some great pioneers in the coaching field. 

By taking this more holistic, leadership context-based approach, we can help leaders be successful now, while at the same time continuing to grow them into the top-performing leaders of the future. 

Learn more about creating a coaching culture.

Ryan Heinl is Director of Product Management and Leader of DDI’s Innovation Lab, where he brings innovative leadership solutions to life. He is an entrepreneur, writer, chef, CrossFitter, mindfulness junkie and occasional yogi who travels the world in search of the perfect moment (and secretly hopes he won’t find it).

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