Differences between Critical Moments for Clients, Coaches, and Sponsors of Coaching


E. de Haan & C. Niess
International Coaching Psychology Review 10.1, 2015

In this study descriptions of critical moments of coaching as experienced by executive coaching clients, their coaches and their sponsors are analysed and compared, to find out more about how coaching conversations are experienced. In this sense the objective of this research was to understand more about ‘sub-outcomes’ of coaching: mini-outcomes as they arise within the process and as a result of the coaching process.

We extend previous studies in two ways. First, we take a process-oriented, qualitative approach by investigating which events are regarded as critical by clients and coaches within their coaching contracts to date. Second, we consider the perspective of sponsors of coaching who refer to the same coaching assignments as clients and coaches have done.

One hundred and seventy-seven critical-moments descriptions were collected (49 from clients, 49 from coaches and 79 from sponsors of coaching), of which 147 could be matched between coach, client and sponsor working on the same assignment. They are coded with an existing and a new coding scheme and analysed with reference to a larger dataset comprising 555 critical-moment descriptions from executive coaching assignments.

Our results suggest that clients and coaches are considerably more aligned in what they regard as critical in their coaching assignments when compared to their alignment with sponsors’ views. Whilst clients and coaches mainly refer to moments of new insight and attitudinal change as critical, sponsors underline changes in the clients’ behaviour, such as their communication or interpersonal skills.

Alongside earlier studies we have found further indications that clients and coaches conducting normal coaching conversations seem to identify critical moments to a large extent with new learning, perspectives and insight, and they pick the same moments well above chance rates. At the same time, organisational sponsors of coaching seem to prioritise more new actions and changes initiated by coaching clients.

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Critical moments of clients, coaches and sponsors