ICF Core Competencies 3: Establishes and Maintains Agreements

agreements coaching conversations ethical principles ethical standards icf core competencies values Dec 19, 2023
Picture of a pathway in nature

Pic from Joe Gardner

Competency 3 of the ICF's core competencies, is Establishes and Maintains Agreements. Coach “partners with the client and relevant stakeholders to create clear agreements about the coaching relationship, process, plans and goals. Establishes agreements for the overall coaching engagement as well as those for each coaching session”

At Stellar Conversations we talk about entering into our coaching conversations with clarity on all sides. That we explain what a coaching conversation is and what it is not. We check in with thinking partners about their understanding, and we don’t enter into it in some mysterious way. 

I (Emma) have talked previously about coaching not being some secret art form. In my years spent coaching and training coaches I have heard others state that people can’t know what coaching is until they have experienced it. I don’t agree with this and it’s not how we teach at Stellar Conversations. We are all about being clear from the outset, which is in line with competency three.  

Coaching conversations can be powerful and transformative and that can take people by surprise and it’s not always clear wha happened where. However, how a coaching conversation is structured, how we work towards an outcome, how it is thinker led and non-advisory, how it is about evoking awareness and facilitating growth, how we work as particular coaches and facilitators of these conversations, what might happen in a coaching conversation, all of this can all be shared prior to starting and revisited whenever necessary. 

Establishing and maintaining agreements is also about mutually deciding what is and what is not appropriate in the coaching relationship. What is and is not being offered, and who has what responsibilities within that. Sometimes this might be a chat between the coach and the thinker and sometimes when there are other people involved it’s a wider conversation. For example, if you are coaching within an organisation maybe what is said in the conversation is confidential, but you will be feeding back key themes to a sponsor. This needs clarity and agreement from everyone prior to starting. 

As the facilitator of these conversations, it is also up to the coach to be clear and reach agreement with the thinker / sponsor about the guidelines and specific boundaries of the coaching relationship. This might include logistics e.g when and where it’s happening.  If there are fees, this needs to be clear from the outset. What happens if they want to stop the collaboration? What is happening in terms of confidentiality and whether other partners are involved. During this process it might become clear that the thinker would be better paired with someone else, this also needs to be discussed and agreed on with openness and honesty, remembering competency 2.

As facilitators of coaching conversations, we partner with the thinker to establish a coaching plan and think about outcomes from the collaboration, whilst also remembering that these outcomes can and often change.

This may sound like “so Robin, we are going to be working together for four months, in terms of outcomes, where would you like to be in four months’ time?” or “so Robin, we are together today for some quality thinking, what would be a great outcome for you?”

This might sound simple but it can often be missed from a coaching conversation.

If Robin wants to be CEO in four months’ time then we can work alongside them to support this goal, whilst also breaking it down for individual conversations. “So we are working towards you being CEO in four months’ time, what do we need to think about today” and also “what would be a great outcome for today to bring you coser to that goal?”

A great question we can also ask, is what Robin thinks we need to address or resolve to achieve what they want to in the session. 

“Partners with the client to define what the client believes they need to address or resolve to achieve what they want to accomplish in the session”

This might sound like “so we are working towards the outcome of becoming CEO, what do you think we need to address today, to get you nearer that outcome?”

This question allows the conversation to be thinker led from the outset. It often brings something to the conversation that the coach won’t have predicted. To follow it with “where shall we start?” ensures the coaching starts in a thinker led way and not where the coach thinks it should start. This is important for thinker-led conversations, which is what coaching is.

Within this competency the coach / facilitator partners with the thinker to manage the time and focus of the session. That might be reminding the thinker, “we are halfway through, where are we in terms of this outcome” or “is this still the outcome we are working towards?” By checking in on where we are in terms of the outcome or whether it is even still the desired outcome, enables the facilitator of the conversation to “coach in the direction of the desired outcome unless the client indicates otherwise”.

Regarding "the client indicates otherwise", we don’t need to wait for the thinker (client) to state “actually my outcome has changed” as they might not articulate it this way or they might not even realised it has. By checking in, we can ensure that the conversation is heading in the direction most suited to the thinker. “Checking in” is an important part of our teaching at Stellar Conversations and something we will come back to in future articles. 

Establishing and maintaining agreements is coaching conversations can really support the conversation to be thinker led, outcome focused and a true collaboration of new thinking and new insights.