Coaching skills


Coaching is “a process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve. To be a successful coach requires a knowledge and understanding of process as well as the variety of styles, skills and techniques that are appropriate to the context in which the coaching takes place.” (Parsloe, 1999, p. 8).


Both coaching and mentoring are processes that enable individuals to achieve their full potential and they share the following characteristics:

  • Facilitate the investigation of needs, motivations, skills and thought processes to assist the individual in making a lasting change;
  • Use questioning techniques to facilitate the client’s own thought process in order to identify solutions and actions;
  • Support the client in setting goals and methods of assessing his/her progress in relation to these goals;
  • Observe, listen and ask questions to understand the client’s situation;
  • Creatively use methodologies such as one-to-one training, counselling and networking;
  • Support a commitment to action and the development of personal growth and change;
  • Maintaining an attitude that is supportive and non-judgemental of the clients, their views and aspirations;
  • Evaluate the outcomes of the process, in terms of creation of a successful relationship and achievement of personal goals by the client.

The main difference between Mentoring and Coaching is that traditionally the first is the process of learning and exchange of knowledge and experience between an experienced colleague and an individual who recently got a similar job role. On the other hand, Coaching does not always relate to the coach direct experience in an occupational role similar to the one of his/her client.

Skills coaching

Skills coaching focuses on the core skills an employee needs to perform in their role, therefore skills coaches should be highly experienced and competent in performing such skills. Skills coaching has been conceptualised because of the constant changing nature of job roles and the inflexible and static nature of traditional training programmes, unable to deal with such a changing environment. In a similar scenario, one-to-one skills coaching allows a flexible and adaptive approach to skills development. Skills coaching programmes are tailored specifically to the individuals, their knowledge, experience and ambitions and the goals they want to achieve.

Coaching questions and facilitation

Through 'guided questioning' skills the coach allows the client to talk about their challenges or opportunities. The questioning is about discovery, trying to understand more fully any underlying issues which it would be fruitful to explore further. Thus the focus is on questioning rather than advice giving. Similarly when completing exercises regarding self-development or self-reflection, clients are encouraged to question their responses and to support other group members (if applicable) in questioning why they responded to an exercise in a certain way. This process strengthens the development of self-reflection.  The two models below (Action Learning Process and Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle) are useful in further explaining the purpose and process of coaching and of Inova's Mentoring Circles™ methodology.

Fig. 1 Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle (1975)

When facilitating Mentoring Circle groups the coach usually uses action learning as a methodology which is very effective for enabling learning.

The action learning model can be seen in the next diagram.

Fig. 2 Action learning Process

Very often group coaching is facilitated in a fairly non-directive manner; however each facilitator will have their own style which may be more or less directive. It may be necessary to use a more directive approach when appropriate e.g. when an individual might be about to undertake risky or damaging actions which can be foreseen. The size of the group also dictates the level of direction required. Larger groups tending to be led in a more directive fashion than smaller ones.

We would expect the learning process to feature some of the following exploration for learners:

  • Exploration of what may cause particular conditions or consequences; reviewing decisions or actions and reveal how this has led to the current situation. Could problems have been avoided? What are the implications if a similar situation occurs in the future? What have they learned from this situation?

  • Examining their own thinking that led them to believe something or act in a certain way. Is a decision built on fair assumptions? Have assumptions been tested?

  • We can also learn from mistakes; Argyris (1993) suggests that learning occurs whenever errors are detected and corrected.

  • The facilitation should also be future focused and solution focused.  It is useful to assist members in predicting possible outcomes. Have they taken everything into account? What is the back up or contingency plan? Have they considered all the options in a situation?

  • Your facilitation will explicitly get people to commit to goal and action plans, report on their own progress, redefine goals and review outcomes.

  • The facilitation should also involve awareness of group dynamics and group process; this may occasionally require that the facilitator may have to intervene to protect someone’s time, to keep issues on track when challenge may be causing distress, when someone is perhaps using power inappropriately or behaving in a way that frustrates or blocks the group’s learning.

  • Encourage group members to be creative, to work outside comfort zones and to maximise opportunities.

Further reading

Arygyris, C. (1993). Knowledge for Action: A Guide to overcoming barriers to organizational change.  Jossey Bass

Bandler, R. and Grinder, J. (1979). Frogs into Princes: Neuro Linguistic Programming. Real People Press

Block, P. (1981). Flawless Consulting.   Jossey Bass Publications, San Francisco USA

Kolb, D. A. and Fry,  R. Toward an applied theory of experiential learning  in C. Cooper (Ed.) Theories of Group Process, London: John Wiley. (1975)

Parsloe, E. (1999). The manager as coach and mentor. Institute of Personnel & Development, London

Revans, R. The ABC of Action Learning in Mike Pedlar Library: Developing People and Organisations. (1998).

Coaching & Mentoring Network, Everything you ever wanted to know about coaching and mentoring.