The answer of course is as long as a piece of string. The length of a coaching session depends on many things but perhaps the most important is whether or not the needs of the client are being met. Only clients who have significant experience of coaching will fully appreciate that perhaps enough is enough in a given session and there is no merit in continuing.
So it’s very often down to the coach to determine whether the point of diminishing returns may have been reached. The way to check that is to ask the client. Seems pretty simple really but it’s a case of asking how the client is feeling about the current session or how they think things are progressing against their goals. And all the while staying conscious of how long the session was originally scheduled for.
Clients need to understand how long their coaching sessions are going to be, as indeed do coaches. It’s just part of planning and scheduling activities in busy workloads. A series of coaching sessions over a period of weeks or months may each be set for anywhere between 45 minutes to a couple of hours. It’s the coach’s responsibility to keep an eye on the time and manage the process ensuring what a client aims to discuss actually is discussed within the time constraints involved.
There are no rigid rules for the length of coaching sessions. Indeed it’s possible to supplement scheduled sessions with short coaching moments of maybe 5-15 minutes each (usually by phone). These can be arranged at short notice to allow client and coach to discuss particular emerging topics of interest for the client. Such ad-hoc additions within a programme of coaching sessions might fall under some form of coaching retainer arrangement.
So if effective coaching can happen in sessions ranging from just five minutes to a couple of hours how do client and coach work out what’s suitable. Well this needs to happen early on in any discussions between client and (potential) coach. Just as clients have busy schedules so do coaches and there will be restrictions on just what is possible on both sides.
Coaches may have their own way of operating which includes standard timings of sessions. That doesn’t mean that these can’t change. Getting to a length of coaching session that works for the client is what all coaches will want.
Day-to-day realities mean that some coaching sessions may take longer than scheduled, others not so long. When I’m coaching someone I try to be as flexible as I reasonably can be with timings. I certainly don’t schedule activities immediately after the planned finish time of a coaching session as at the very least I’ll be undertaking my own personal reflection of the session.
Understanding how important it is to finish absolutely on time or maybe earlier in a given session is part of the pre-amble in any session. It’s just the professional thing to do. Clients, like coaches, have busy professional lives that they need to attend to.
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© Paul Slater and Reflect & Lead, 2016.