How does coaching commence and what is contracting?

Coaching could be perceived as an informal intervention. At times it can look and feel like you’re just having a chat. Contracting is the formal discussion that precedes a coaching programme.

(unsure what coaching actually is… What is Coaching?)

What’s the point?

In a contracting conversation, the coach, the client (aka coachee) and the sponsor (if there is one) will meet and discuss what they are setting out to achieve. Sometimes the goal is very clear but often it’s not or indeed it evolves. However there is always a reason as to why the coaching is being initiated, and in the absence of a well-articulated goal, it is important that the coach, client and sponsor all understand exactly why they are investing in coaching.

The contracting session will also set out the particulars of the coaching engagement, for example:

  • Where will the coaching take place?

  • How long will a coaching session last (usually 1-2 hours)?

  • How frequently will the coaching sessions be (usually every 2-4 weeks)?

  • For how long will the coaching programme last? (eg a number of sessions, upto a particular point in time or rolling for months/years until coaching is no longer required)

  • The fee for the work and the payment terms

In contracting you agree a review point and discuss the need for-, and method of providing feedback from the client to the coach. (Feedback enables the coach to tailor their approach in the pursuit of a better outcome.)

The Sponsor

A word about the role of the sponsor. Often there isn’t a sponsor as the client is coming direct to coaching but if the client is operating within a business context any of the following people may be the sponsor:

  • the line-manager,

  • someone from HR,

  • a board member or

  • an investor.

The sponsor will have expectations for the coaching programme and therefore it is important to discuss these with the client and coach in a 3-way contracting session before the coaching commences.

Where there is a sponsor it is important to agree on how the sponsor will learn about how the coaching is progressing. Often it will be the responsibility of the client to update the sponsor. This update can be formally facilitated by the coach after, let's say, three or six coaching sessions or it might be during a check-in with the sponsor.


During contracting the need for confidentiality is also discussed. In short, coaching is confidential. But most coaches bind to a confidential agreement that states the following:

  • Everything said in a coaching session will be held as confidential by the coach and will not be repeated by the coach to anyone else. There are two caveats to this:

    • If the coach is genuinely concerned for the safety of the client or anyone else the coach may be compelled to contact, for example, the police or some other services.

    • From time to time the coach will discuss their cases with their supervisors in order to improve their own awareness, learning and performance. This conversation, with a recognised supervisor, is confidential. The supervisor would be operating independently of the clients context and all information would be anonymised. It is entirely for the coaches improvement.


Coaches usually formalise their work with a written contract, signed by the coach, client and the sponsor (if there is a sponsor). The contract will cover the particulars of the coaching engagement and the ethical factors (such as confidentiality).

So, to recap:

A contracting session is a conversation between the coach, the client/coachee and the sponsor (if there is one). The session will:

  • Define what coaching is

  • Discuss and clarify any and all goals, missions or expectations that the client, sponsor or coach have for the coaching work

  • Set out how coaching will operate in this unique context

  • Agree a review point, which is an opportunity to step back and evaluate