Which is Best - Internal or External Coaching?

Where there’s a need for coaching, the question often arises as to whether that need can best be met by an internal or an external coach.  In one-off instances, this might be easily answered but where we are considering coaching for many people, or in many diverse locations and time zones, or indeed where the need is a long-term one, then we may well consider internal coaching as an alternative.

So when is it best to use internal and when to use external coaches?

Before arriving at a decision as to the best solution, we should consider a few key questions:

  • What are we trying to achieve?
    If you need a coach for a single person, a team or a specific initiative, then hiring professional coaches is more likely to get the results you need, more quickly.  If, however, there is a recurring and long-term need or if the objective is to create a coaching culture within the business, then internal coaching definitely has its advantages.  Its also worth thinking about the nature of the change you are trying to create.  For example, external coaches are likely to have more experience in supporting behavioural change, whereas internal coaches will have more nous around the particular politics and dynamics within the organisation.  Often internal coaches are actually mentors, imparting key knowledge and experience specifically relevant to the organisational context which is highly valued by the coachee.
     
  • How much is it going to cost?
    In considering costs, the obvious headline figure is the cost of hiring external coaches.  But internal coaching has costs too the costs to train people to coach, the cost of the time spent training them and then the cost of the time they actually spend coaching.  No such thing as a free lunch! Also consider to what degree your internal coaches will be diverted from their other duties and what the opportunity cost of that might be.  However, the experience of coaching others can be extraordinarily developmental and a great way to ensure up and coming talent are visible at more senior levels in the business.
     
  • How cost-effective is it going to be?
    There’s little point in looking at cost in isolation.  What’s important is what you get for your money.  What results do you want to achieve?  What is the cost of not achieving those results? And how quickly do you need to see progress? 

    If your organisation has mature internal coaching capability then you’re likely to reap the rewards more quickly if not it will take time to build internal capability and, as with so many things in life, not everyone you develop as a coach will be a success.  Good professional coaches have specific expertise and experience in delivering results; it is, after all, what they do for living.  If you’re looking to build internal coaching capability then an initial hybrid solution can work really well where you engage external coaches to train, coach and mentor internal coaches whilst they build their capability and experience.

     
  • At what organisational level is the coaching to take place?
    There’s little doubt that at the upper echelons of most organisations, its very difficult for internal coaching to work well.  There are many reasons for this, but one important factor is that executives and directors want to know that the coach is independent and can be trusted. Senior leaders often say it is lonely at the top and it can be they use their external coach as a trusted sounding board who is removed from the organisation. Sadly, organisational politics often precludes the use of internal coaches.

The answer then, as we might expect, is that whether you use internal or external coaches depends on a large number of factors all of which need to be balanced against the prevailing business need and climate.  What’s your perspective on the merits of internal vs external coaching?

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