How Agenda Setting Provides More Exploration through Structure

October 04, 2017 by John Andrew Williams

There are many different styles of coaching. Some coaches focus on corporate settings, where outcomes are expected to follow a format somewhat similar to consulting outcomes. Other coaches dislike nearly any kind of structure, in the hopes of providing more freedom of exploration for the client. With this being the case, coaches have many perspectives to learn from and approaches they can test out.

Always Room to Improve

Ever since I started coaching, I have been growing. I can still vividly remember my first session. It was absolutely terrible. I was so bad that my practice client literally hung up on me. I appreciate that memory, as embarrassing as it was because it’s a good story. If I can learn to become a master coach, anyone can learn to become a master coach. This is why I believe it’s important for new coaches to start practicing right as they get into training – I want them to share in the joys of feedback. As every coach experiences, there is always something more to learn.

During the process of earning my certifications with the International Coach Federation, I received very helpful feedback on my agenda setting, even though it wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time.

Early in my coaching experience, I felt that focusing too much on agenda setting prevented the client from having the ability to fully express themselves. I thought the agenda caged the client. However, my Mentor Coach helped me see things from a new perspective.

Agenda Setting Promotes Freedom

At first, my opinion was that structured agenda setting was more of a checkbox that needed to be marked off by the ICF, in order to pass certification. I didn’t see it as something that was really helping the client. My mentor coach’s perspective was that spending extra time digging into the agenda would actually provide more value for the client. Also, helping a client voice a deeper, more specific outcome of the session provided more freedom in exploration. These areas of free exploration were highly relevant to the client.

After practicing agenda setting this way, I came to the realization that the more specific an agenda and outcome, the more freedom a coach has in exploring new territory. When a client has let you know what areas they are most interested in exploring, and, generally, what they are looking for by the end of the session, it is much easier for both the coach and the client to know that this exploration is relevant to the client’s growth and development.

How to Use Structure to Make Freedom

So, for more freedom in your coaching, begin a session with your student or client with this structure:

  1. Ask the client what they want – The agenda structure doesn’t start with what the coach wants, but with what the client wants. Why are they paying you as a coach today? What makes their investment in you worthwhile? You and the client can both uncover this information by asking what the client would like to discuss for today’s session.
  2. Probe deeper under the surface agenda – Coaching can always go deeper. So make sure to ask at least 2-3 questions that probe into why this topic is so important to them. Ask what difference it will make to discuss it. And help them narrow things down to what is most helpful.
  3. Help the client voice their practical takeaway – Next, help the client explain what type of ending they would like to experience once the coaching journey comes to a close. Do they want a plan? Do they want a new perspective? Do they need to develop a better vision for the future? The coach cannot know the question to these questions on their own. It’s always best to ask the client what practical takeaway they would like from each session.

Always be willing to reflect and adjust – As the coaching session moves forward if a client seems to need or wants to go another direction, allow the client to make this choice with him or herself. Ask, “At the beginning of the session you wanted to accomplish _____ with our time. How important is this new direction in comparison to what you wanted at the beginning?”

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