Question: Does using the same coach for all executives lead to cultural identity?

We are a VC funded new venture considering coaching for our founders and the executive team, a total of 6 people.

We want to do it early in our organizations' life primarily to bring everyone on the same page, and lay the foundation for our company culture.

Some of us are uncomfortable in sharing a coach. Is it advisable for us to engage the same coach/ coaching firm, or is it better to consider more than 1 coach?

Categories: CultureLeadership









12 Expert answers





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26 answers

You should be congratulated for the foresight to embrace this process. Based on the few data point, you might want to consider the following:

1. One Firm.
If you want to bring everyone on the same page, consider one Firm that will bring you single philosophy and methodology of working with your team and organization. Be cautious of finding yourselves in the middle of different Firms coaching you in multiple directions.

You might need a Firm who has two key competencies:

a) Strategy—Being a new organization, you will be refining your strategy and re-aligning your business model. Staying united on the strategy for a new team is never easy. You also have “founders” and “executives” on your team. The coaching design needs to take this into consideration.

b) Managing Change: Team & Cultural Dynamics—As you adjust the strategy the organization and the team will have to change. Change first is Psychological and then Cognitive in nature—meaning there is going to be a sea of emotions (primarily negative emotions) that will have to be managed on your team and the rest of your culture. The Firm you hire needs to be able to help you with both—Strategy and Managing Change.  

2. Two consultants.
You will need more than one set of eyes to help you with the strategy and monitor the team dynamics particularly if you are "Type A Personalities."

As for your discomfort of sharing a coach:  

• "What is this discomfort all about?"
• "The six of you just got in bed together. What about each of you is that big of a deal that if the others knew they will think you are less than fit to be part of the team?"
• "How many of you felt the anxiety of sharing a coach?"

Remember, “Change, First Is Psychological And Then Cognitive In Nature. Here is an example of why you need someone who is skilled both, in People and Strategy.  

(It is a minimal prerequisite for a professional coach to know how to manage selected personal information while working with multiple stakeholders.)

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32 answers

I have done it both ways. The advantage of using the same coach is that the leaders can reinforce the coaching points & methodology with each other as a form of peer coaching. Using the same coach can also inject some fun into the process, makes communication about the coaching process more effective, and is less confusing to the organization. It can also be more cost effective if that matters. If leaders are uncomfortable with it because of fears of lack of confidentiality, it may be better to use different coaches. Any coach that violates confidentiality won't be in business very long but perceptions of confidentiality matter.

If you use different coaches, I think it is important that they all use the same process. There are a lot of different coaching methodologies out there.

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67 answers

Great question at this early stage of your development!  What is not unusual in many organizations is that those involved have said ‘yes’ to the idea, not all are at the same level of understanding of the process or what is involved in it and this creates some natural hesitance ... of the unknown.  I do agree with other comments to your inquiry that multiple coaches be from the same firm and of the same formal training.  I believe that is an advantage to the organization being coached.  All affiliated with my organization, The Third Zone, have had the same basic training and we continue to take advanced courses to deepen our learning and skills.  Although we may coach members within the same company, we know that we are being consistent in our approach to our client.  I see this 'consistency' as added value.

Given your situation, I believe the right approach for your organization is for the entire team to be coached initially as a team.  During this time (often 1 or 2 days) the entire group will be involved in designing several aspects of the organization.  At least some of the focus of the team's work together would include clearly establishing the vision, goals and strategy that are shared and understood by all.  It is also an opportunity for the full team to learn about one another in terms of their background and strengths thus a clear understanding of the value of each. This lays a solid foundation on which you operate and grow.  That all have had a part in designing these things gives each one ownership and responsibility in achieving them.

Following this, the individual coaching begins and is focused on what each one needs to do to enable them to be effective in their role and the commitment they have made to the team.  At this point they may opt for different coaches which is fine however also at this point the comfort level and understanding of the process and their team is such that the idea of 'needing' a different coach often becomes a non-issue.

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52 answers

Even if you use one firm, every coach in this firm is an individual that provides coaching based on his/her coaching model.

Even if everybody uses the same coaching model the coaching will depend on how the coach approaches his/her coaching process. In order for the coaching to create a common culture, this has to be the objective for each person being coached.

The coach will then have to figure out what questions to ask and how to proceed to make this happen.

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7 answers

Pros and cons - as always.  

Benefits to having the same coach:
- They understand the business
-The are aware of existing issues
- They know the interpersonal dynamics
- They know both sides of the story

Risks and challenges:
- Confidentiality is more challenging when they have too much information
- Trust may be harder to establish when they coach everyone (including coachee's boss)
- Not every executive will click with the coach chosen
- Narrow perspective from only a single coach


Personally, I lean toward multiple coaches and potentially a coaching circle to gain some of the benefits.

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36 answers

I'd say it's certainly easier for the coach if s/he's working with everyone -- that way synergies, subtleties, and interpersonal dynamics can be seen earlier and broached in ways that leverage both accountability and confidentiality.

What's really intriguing to me, though, is your comment that "some of us are uncomfortable in sharing a coach." Take a closer look at what that's about.

It may be cloaking some interpersonal issues within the group that likely need to be expunged and ignoring that very real possibility could unintentionally enable some of the very counterproductive behaviors you're likely looking to coaching to address. Maybe not, but likely so.

Once the subtext of the issue has been properly aired, you can then decide, from a more grounded, conscious, and purposeful place, the number of coaches that maximizes the impact you're hoping to achieve.

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62 answers

there are some great answers to this already so I'll just support what others have said. In my experience there is a challenge with one coach for all. As Michelle mentioned the issue of confidentiality and chemistry loom large. There is also the potential for triangulation like passing notes in study hall trying to attain a result.

So, I agree with the multiple coaches for chemistry reasons (the fit with coach and client is crucial if anything meaningful is to get done) , I also agree with the idea of a single coaching philosophy/model as pivotal in the makeup of the team doing the coaching. This does not always mean one firm. It can mean a collective of disparate coaching all of whom agree on particular process and direction of coaching even if the methods vary slightly. They would have to have regular meetings to ensure they themselves are all on the same page but I've seen that work quite easily.

Bottom line though is I echo the brilliance of holding the contest of coaching as an upgrade in anticipation of the future rather than waiting until something happens and then playing the remedial coaching game called "fix him he's broken"

I wish more clients thought like your group and have enjoyed those times when I've had those engagements most of all.

best of luck in your process and hire well, with very clear expectations of outcomes and closing any gaps you perceive in the team.

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Karl Grass

I would advise against using the same coach in your situation.  Here's the bottom line - you want a relationship with a coach where you have no barriers to exploring important matters - including relationships within your firm with each other.  If your coach serves others with whom you regularly interact he or she will no longer be a disinterested and impartial party.  They will automatically be in a triangle of relationships that hinders their effectiveness.  And you may always wonder if what you share may come up in a session with a colleague.  Coaches need to be free of potential conflicts of interest and serving multiple members of an executive team simultaneously is fraught with potential problems.

Cultural identity will come from your actions as a team and that will come from within each of you - independent of who your coach or coaches are.  However, having the entire executive team using coaching will provide powerful role modeling in support of personal development as an element of your culture.  This will be true regardless of the number of coaches used in the process.

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2 answers

I would honor the concerns about sharing one coach to support the success of the project and support the buy-in of everyone, since it's extremely important to the process that people are comfortable working with their coach. - If everyone had agreed on a single coach, depending on the coach, in my opinion it could work, and support group dynamics.

As others have suggested, consider working with a firm that could provide more than one coach to select; as well as process and practices to support developing the culture that will achieve your organizations' goals and proactively identify what might get in the way.

I'd recommend some group work as well - to articulate shared values; what the shared values look like in practice; to agree on a generative way to address values not being honored;  to develop and agree on group process for resolving conflicts, and raising challenging issues. (Which may be present now, given the concern about sharing one coach.) As Roza has noted, and in my experience, working with a firm that can provide two consultants might be very effective for this firm. Two consultants leading group work like this can be very effective on picking up on issues, energy, and in working with personality, style and diversity issues.

All the best to you!  

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21 answers

What we do sometimes is to go through with the CEO a list of people to be coached and link them up to the best coach from our team. Each coachee then meets their respective potential coach and they agree if they will be comfortable working together. If there's a problem (on either side), then we suggest a better fit based on the learning gleaned to date.

Individual coaching is a personal thing and it's quite unlikely that one coach can successfully and effectively work with everyone.

Once the program is underway, the coaching team meet and discuss systemic issues, while keeping the more personal aspects confidential.

I agree with those who have suggested having some team coaching as well.

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4 answers

I agree with Michelle's assessment.  There are pros and cons.  You could use different coaches but require them to network together (Michelle's coaching circle) to understand any overlapping issues.  I have worked under this requirement several times and it was beneficial for all involved - coachees and coaches.

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5 answers

The answers above all make good suggestions. In my experience, though, a key is the personalities, interests, and unstated tensions between the 6 of you. This could be evaluated rapidly by someone with the right expertise, probably first meeting with all of you to establish rapport, then possibly meeting individually, and following up with an approach that  motivates the 6 of you to inspire yourselves so the whole team to moves forward with high performance. That last step often takes no more than one meeting of an hour or so in duration.

The whole evaluation can therefore be done with only a few hours on or off site. It might need to be spread out over a few days or a week -- that would depend on your team and its work-flow.

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