Types of Coaching Assignments

Coaching assignments can vary depending on the engagement. To have a common understanding, can we all agree that a Coach has to ask the correct questions and the Mentor has to give the correct advice? From this what stems out is the feeling that Mentor has to have in-depth knowledge on the business, whereas the coach need not have and will extract the information from the person being coached by asking the correct questions and get the individual to commit to a plan and follow through the plan.

Coaching assignment could be of two kinds,

  1. An individual feels he needs help and seeks the help of a coach

  2. An organization feels a need for change and seeks the help of a coach.

The first one is typically Executive Coaching and the latter assignments are the ones which get classified into Agile Coaching, Transformation coaching, scale up coaching. The big difference between the two assignments is that in the first one the individual is deciding for himself and in the latter, the decision maker is deciding for others.

Let us now explore more on the second type of coaching assignments. It is safe to assume that the organization is some sort of stagnation or a negative spiral. You will not find many companies to engage coaches while they are doing well to further improve themselves. In the sports arena, the coaches are a constant companion irrespective of the lean season/busy season. But it is not the same in the case of Business Organizations. This happens because; in sports, results are immediately known and the basic objective of sporting is to win. In business, this may not the case always. Now let us look at the business organization, here the results of coaching efforts are known over a long period of times and the results are attributable to multiple dimensions of the business environment. The discussion in this article pertains to coaching assignment where the organization seeking the help of a coach to overcome certain felt/perceived deficiencies/drawbacks/improvement areas.

Now let us look at what are the red flags you need to look out for when you get such assignments. It is also important to be aware of these red flags, reasons/rations behind these red flags and knowledge to overcome these red flags. I firmly believe that one should not rush into coaching assignments, although the organization could be looking for an early start in order to get quick results or our eagerness to grab the opportunity before some else takes it. We will deliberate on 4 aspects,

  1. Get skin deep into the assignment

  2. Organization routines/habit

  3. Mindset

  4. How patterns influence

  1. Get Skin deep into all aspects related to your coaching assignment

When you ask a coach, you will get to understand that the individual to be coached is not very co-operative or enthusiastic. Reasons behind this could be,

a) Organization did not make the individual feel that he is the chosen one because the organization feels that he is their best bet. On the contrary, most of the time, the individual or the team feels very low when they are selected.

b) The Individual and the team feel that they know their business the best. If you are a young coach, they will form an opinion that you have no experience. If you are an elderly coach (with some grey hair), the individual or the team will feel that you do not have experience in their area.

So what should you do as a coach in order to overcome the above situation?

1. Do not rush into the assignment very fast: There is a popular saying ‘skin in the game’. When some one’s skin is in the game, the other members start trusting the individual. It is this trust that helps the individual to integrate into the team, understand the team, understand the requirement and deliver the best.

As a coach, you need not have your skin in the game, but you need to understand that you need to get into the skin. This will mean that you need to take time to understand the coaching assignment, understand their business, understand the business environment, and understand the competition – their strengths & their weaknesses and how the company you are going work with stacks against them.

2. You will need to get the leadership team of the company to project this assignment as the most important assignment the company is embarking. The individual or the team is selected is based on who can lead the change and rest of teams will also be following the suit soon.

Now let us look at the benefits you achieve in accomplishing the above,

  • The individual or the team looks forward to taking up the assignment as they are going lead the change and not that have a been selected as they have a problem.
  • When you exhibit a superior understanding of the organization the teams starts trusting you the way the team trusts someone whose skin is in the game. To further strengthen this feeling you could even make them aware that some part of the consulting fees to the success of the assignment.
  1. Understanding the organization Routine and finding ways to change the routine  

Let us briefly look at the habit loop. Every individual has a set of habits. These habits are stored at neurological tissue known as the basal ganglia. Basal Ganglia is one of the earlier most portions of the human brain evolution. These habits residing at basal ganglia are difficult to be removed/deleted from the memory, do not need support of human memory and very needs little or no support from prefrontal cortex the logical thinking portion of the brain. These habits have the ability to act independently on their own. The important aspects we need to understand are,

  • A strong motivational factor can only make changes in the habit
  • Rewards can make changes in habit

Now let us look from an organizational perspective, Organizations also have evolved their own un-written habits over a period of time. When you take up coaching assignment it is not necessary that you will be told about it because it is not a written or established procedure. These habits are very difficult for you to understand as they are hidden and come to the surface only when there is a cue.

As a coach, you need to be aware of the Habits of Individuals and established routines in the organization. You need to watch out to get a hand on these habits and routines. Next, we need to understand what can make these habits and routines to change.

In case of an individual, a strong motivation can make the change. We should not be thinking of tweaking reward as we generally do in everyday life as a way of changing the habit. A reward can only temporarily alter the behavior. Example the dog behaves better due to a stick or a biscuit. Kids start eating food when you show a cartoon film.

In the case of an organization, it is important to understand making changes in keystone habits. It is extremely important for you to accomplish a small win which will then set in motion forces which will result in many more small wins. These series of wins will change the well-established routines in an organization.

As a coach, you need to constantly look for understanding the individual’s habit, the team’s routine, a strong motivation which can change a habit and small wins which can set in motion a serried of subsequent wins.

Many successful leaders have realized that the best results are possible when the organizations going through a crisis and you make use of this opportunity to usher in the change. It is also true to that many successful leaders have induced small dosages of crisis artificially.

  1. Understanding the organization – Fixed Mindset/ Growth Mindset

Individuals have grown to have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. Individuals with a fixed mindset want to make sure they want to succeed. People with a fixed mindset believe that their proficiencies are carved in stone and they have the urge to keep proving it to themselves and everyone around very often. It is also equally true that the individual with a fixed mindset does neither want to fail nor he wants others to feel that he has failed. They strongly look for success or failure in everything they do. They will be the first to embrace if they feel that they can succeed and also will be the first to abandon when they feel that they are going to fail. These are the individuals who excel in their comfort zone and resist any change.

Now let us look at an individual who has a growth mindset. This individual is best defined as someone who understands his strengths and weakness clearly. These set of individuals look at learning all the time. They look at failure as an opportunity to learn and they have the mindset to endure the short-term discomfit to achieve a change which will benefit in the long term.

As a coach, it is important for you to understand the individual you are coaching falls into which category. You will have to devise your coaching strategy based on the mindset of the individual.

Now let us turn our focus to the organization’s mindset.  Organizations can also have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. These mindsets in an organization are typically top-down driven. Typically the fixed mindset organizations are obsessed with the worship of talent. They would want to recruit the one who appears to have the best talent. These individuals with high talent have a tendency to develop a fixed mindset if already not have one because they want to prove that they are the best in the organization. An organization where the leader takes all the credit for the success and blames the team for all the failure is a typical organization with a fixed mindset. These organizations have huge resistance to any kind of change

On the contrary in an organization with a growth mindset will recruit people who have the ability to learn and these individuals may not be the top rank holders. One can also recognize that in these organizations always looks to giving recognition to the individual who is lower down in the hierarchy. In such organizations, they are constantly trying to improve, they look for people who squarely look at their mistakes/deficiencies and are constantly asking/acquiring the skills that the company will require in the future.

If you were to get an assignment in the growth mindset, the chances of a successful coaching assignment are very high. In case you get to work with a fixed organization mindset you need to work with the leadership team and managers to apprise them of the mindset and have them switch to a growth mindset. I believe that this will be very long drawn and as a coach, one should have the ability to endure and perseverance to convert the organization mindset. If you are able to make this change, the success of the coaching assignment is very high. In case you are unable to make this change, the success of the coaching assignment is very low.

  1. Patterns

Now let us briefly look at the human evolution. From the nomadic times, the human brain has evolved through patterns. The pattern started establishing when early humans started looking at the availability of food based on the footmarks of the animals. The same was also used to determine when they are going to confront a dangerous animal. The pattern further got established when humans started settling down and growing food. The recognition of rain pattern was responsible for establishing farming. Gazing of the sun to determine the time, gazing of the stars to establish the season and travel route maps further strengthened the patterns in our mind.

Though the human brain has evolved over a period of time and the Prefrontal Corte is able to logically think and act in the right direction, the human being even today sub-consciously looks at patterns while making a decision. The pattern recognition is situated at the earlier most evolved portion of the brain. This portion of the brain overlooks the logical reasoning of the Prefrontal Corte while taking many decisions. Many researchers go on to prove that our brain is not completely evolved to handle the modern day complexity.

We need to look at how to use this to the advantage while taking up coaching assignments. We have heard many a time the humans have a herd mentality, humans follow the successful individuals & try to emulate them, implement what was successful elsewhere.  The coach has to use this to his advantage while engaging in a coaching assignment. In the course of your coaching assignment, you should look for successes which could act like a lamppost or a lighthouse. This instigates the patterns within an individual’s brain to follow a similar pattern. This will lead to individuals and teams being attracted towards the successful project with least resistance.

A coach should develop mastery over the above psychoanalytical aspects, which in turn will help in ensuring that the success of the coaching assignment.



Author: JP Shivakumaraswamy is a multifaceted personality wearing multiple hats in the field of industry, commerce, finance, and environmental conversation. An accomplished business leader and a voracious reader, his passion lies in generating continuous improvement and high performance in individuals and teams. Lately, he has taken a foray into the world of coaching and has been selflessly contributing to its cause.

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