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?

10 Expert Insights

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!  

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.

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.

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.