Contracting – establishing the agreement of how we will work together

The Free Dictionary states contracting is ‘An agreement between two or more parties, especially one that is written and enforceable by law’; that it is ‘The writing or document containing such an agreement’; and makes reference to ‘The branch of law dealing with formal agreements between parties’; To enter into or make an agreement where an agreement is ‘harmony or accordance in opinion or feeling’ and there is ‘the absence of incompatibility between two things’ that there is consistency.

The ICF [International Coach Federation], as part of the Core Competencies, describes contracting thus:

 Establishing the Coaching Agreement – Ability to understand what is required in the specific coaching interaction, come to agreement with prospective and new client about coaching process and relationship

  1. Understands and effectively discusses with the client the guidelines and specific parameters of the coaching relationship (e.g., logistics, fees, scheduling, inclusion of others if appropriate),
  2. Reaches agreement about what is appropriate in the relationship and what is not, what is and is not being offered, and about the client’s and coach’s responsibilities,
  3. Determines whether there is an effective match between his/her coaching method and the needs of the prospective client.

Simple …  on the surface yet closer attention, being curious, letting go of assumptions, asking powerful questions all highly recommended and essential to effective, relevant contracting. It applies equally to coaching for an individual or coaching bought in by an organisation. Contract for the piece of work is different from contract for the work itself.

In the process of contracting and establishing the agreement language is key. Check what words mean don’t assume Be curious always about what isn’t said. A contract in the coaching sense is a living document. To re-visit regularly to make sure it is fit for purpose both at individual and organisation level. Before even starting it is essential to discover if everyone knows what contracting is, for what purpose it is being created.

What will make it possible to put aside personal / departmental agendas to discover an even better outcome and to truly think through what will be of most service to the organisation? How can the time frame + what the shape of the journey is + what is desired to be different + who will know it’s useful and how + what’s the plan + where to start + who’s involved and why be discovered as clearly as possible?

Firstly with whom is the contract being made? The organisation, the holder of the purse strings, the leader, the line manager, the team or individual destined for the coaching? Amazingly all of them, frustratingly all of them, sensibly all of them in order for the whole picture of the purpose and the desired outcomes of the coaching programme to be brought on to the table, clarified and agreed. Listening deeply, asking probing questions, summarising and gaining agreement all play their part in what can be a challenging process. From the wealth of what is required by all the stakeholders it is the skill to elicit the 3 priorities that is key so that achieving the outcomes is possible. The question is how can we trust enough to put our distrust on the table? 

Secondly, the coach who ideally ‘explores fully what client wants from session, establishes measures of success for client in session, and ensures that client and coach are both clear about coaching purpose. Coach returns to check regularly of whether direction of coaching is continuing to serve client’s coaching purpose and makes changes in direction based on feedback from client. [ICF MCC requirements]

Secondly part 2, the coach’s part of the contract? How established? What includes? Confidentiality, partnership, ethics, in service of the client, getting one’s stuff cleared via supervision, knowing when to say NO, being clear about what a coach is and isn’t, making sure that the contract with all parties is consistent and transparent.

Thirdly, how is progress to be measured and reported on to whom by whom? How will the end results be communicated to whom and by whom? And all achieved in such a way to maintain the ethical confidentiality for each individual being coached. How to top and tail the coaching project with clarity at the start with possibly a launch briefing to all involved and a concluding session for outcomes, successes, learnings shared to forward plan.