Virtual Coaching

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Coaching Circles from a Safe Distance

I hope that everyone is safe and dealing well with this current shock to our inner and outer worlds. As I imagine being the case in your own settings and your own coaching practice, I have shifted all of my interactions with clients to the web, including the 4 coaching circles I am currently leading with participants from across the world. We had been holding these sessions live until early February, even though occasionally some participants were joining through Zoom for different reasons.

I thought I would share some initial reflections on my experience in leading coaching circles through Zoom, hoping they might give you a sense of the feasibility of the approach but also to gather any thoughts and advice you may have for those venturing into delivering online coaching circles for the first time. Please feel free to contribute in any way you can! I am using Zoom but I am sure that what follows also applies to using other videoconference platforms.

To cut right to the chase, I can say that video conferencing works extremely well for coaching circles. I have been doing such sessions for at least 10 years (well before Skype and Zoom came along) and it is possible to create through this medium a wonderfully supportive and caring environment for collaborating, sharing and achieving the purpose of coaching circles. How does that happen (in 5 key points)?

1. Inherent structure of coaching circles a big plus

The very structure of a session is really conducive to collaboration. There are clear phases to a coaching circle session: connecting (i.e. checking in), coaching (i.e. the airtimes) and completing (i.e. sharing around learning themes and how the day went). The 4 stages of each airtime also guide participants really well on what is expected of everyone (i.e. the coaching request, the collaborative inquiry, the solo reflection and the voicing). That kind of structure is not always so clear in regular meetings over the web but it is definitely an advantage in the coaching circle configuration. This is an observation the participants have made repeatedly in the coaching circles I lead.

2. Technology + Behaviours

The quality of the technology these days means that the faces and upper bodies of people on the video conference call are very clear. One can easily observe reactions, impulses and the subtle moves people make when they reflect, when they want to engage, when they need help formulating a question, and so on. From one’s screen, you can see everyone in a matrix configuration and everyone is “close in” (sometimes even more than in a physical setting).

All that’s needed sometimes is for people to slightly exaggerate their movements (e.g. raising a hand or giving a thumb’s up) so that they can be clearly seen when they want to speak, make a particular request or acknowledge a request made by the client or the facilitator-coach. I have also found that the “hand raise” and “chat” features on Zoom to be particularly useful when one of the participants wants to call attention to something important to them, either publicly or privately to me as the facilitator-coach or to another member of the group. I have also “shared my screen” when presenting a model or a distinction to support the group in their work. What I’ve learned with the shared screen feature is to have your document already open and ready to share on your desktop to facilitate its introduction to the group.

One of the behaviours I also find helpful is to ask everyone to slow down just a bit to allow for any lag in transmission to be integrated in the process. This minor adjustment has helped to minimize interruptions and confusion.

3. Feedback Loop

I have integrated into the process, especially at the beginning, a frequent “quick check” on how we are doing in working through the new online medium. Through this, we have been able to make any adjustments needed to ensure everyone is taking full advantage of the process. In the same spirit of continuous learning, I also have asked people to share any lessons learned from working through this medium elsewhere.

4. Purposeful Socializing

All of the participants on the coaching circles I lead remotely have said that getting together to talk, learn and work their issues and challenges has been extremely helpful, especially in this current period of mandated isolation. I’d call it “purposeful socializing”. Our gatherings have generated a much-needed sense of connection and solidarity in a time where the meaning of “relating” is being stretched into new territory. Those who had any resistance to moving from a live to a virtual setting quickly adjusted to our new way of working even if they, like many of us, long for a good hug!

5. Setting Up for Success

I’d say that my usual discipline of preparing each group for their coaching circle session and following-up with relevant articles, practices and the like is also contributing to sustaining the momentum of learning and support in and around our time together. I should also mention that the four coaching circles I am currently working with have had many opportunities to meet in person already, i.e. prior to the move to video conferencing. This is probably quite an advantage over groups who may be getting started in this virtual environment. So it may take a bit of extra sensitivity to build the trusting environment needed for people to feel comfortable in this setting, but I see this as a minor challenge, not a hazard. The care needed to set up a group for success in the first place still applies, e.g. through individual meetings with participants.


I hope this is helpful! I would really appreciate any feedback, comments and ideas you could share with our community about working, collaborating and learning in this exciting virtual environment.

Find out more about coaching circles by visiting: [link]

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