What is Process Partnering?

From my experience as a mentor coach and ICF Assessor, the concept of Partnering with your coaching client is often understood, yet not well demonstrated in practice, which can affect passing an MCC or PCC credential in particular.

I’ve been thinking about how to convey the concept of Partnering in a way that my mentoring clients can more easily embrace. Recently a colleague I was speaking with talked about the importance of the coach asking the client how they want to partner with them through the session and how they wanted the coach to support them.

This had me think about a distinction, which I’m calling “Process Partnering.” It’s not an official term (at least not that I’m aware of), just a distinction I want to offer you. An ICF Assessor is listening for multiple times when the coach Partners with their client in a coaching session and this is one way to integrate partnering into your coaching style.

Process Partnering has at least two aspects (and possibly more):

  • How the client wants the coach to participate in this session (which could be different from last session/s).
  • Where the client wants to begin exploring their topic, or go to next

Before I explain each of these further, here are a two other distinctions:

Coaching Engagement Partnering

The first place that Process Partnering occurs is about the overall coaching engagement, where the coach and client design the way they’ll work together.

This process design is most often led by the coach, and rightly so because they are educating their client on the process they’ll be going through over a period of months, or longer. I refer to this as the consultative phase of coaching, and it’s up to the coach to keep educating their client on how coaching works, how to get the most from their coach, and what to expect as the coaching engagement progresses. The coach would take into account any requests in the process that the client wants as well.

I’ve written a previous article called, “Creating a Coaching Development Plan” where I share a lot about the process I usually go through within a coaching engagement.

Sharing the Lead

The overall concept of Partnering that I feel fits for coaching is the idea of ‘sharing the lead’ with your client. When I was first trained as a coach in 1998, this was not what I was taught. Instead, the coach was the one that led the client through the coaching session, acting as an expert on the process, and also on where to explore next with the client’s topic.

There are times when I’m more of the leader through the coaching session because my client may not be familiar with coaching or not know how or where to explore. And yet how I do that can be in a coaching framework, versus a teaching framework.

I’ll give you examples of sharing the lead in a little while.

Process Partnering Examples

Back to the two ways I gave earlier of Process Partnering (and there may be more).

How the client wants the coach to participate in this session

Staying with the definition I’ve given of ‘sharing the lead,’ the coach can partner with their client by asking them some questions like;

“How would you like me to support you today?” or

“What requests do you have of me to listen for specifically?” or

“How do you want me to help you with your thinking on this?”

From my experience as a coach, the client may ask their coach to listen for things like congruence between their words and body language, help with role-playing an upcoming challenging conversation, ask them questions to help them think about their situation from different perspectives, make observations when I notice something about their words, tone, facial or body language.

Of course, sometimes the client doesn’t have a specific request, and that’s okay. Yet the act of asking the client is educating your client for next time.

If your client asks for suggestions I usually say something like, “I am happy to do that, however first I’ll be inquiring to understand your perspective and what you know already. Then if there’s something I feel would be useful to add, I will do so.”

Interestingly, the number of times I then offer suggestions is minimal, because the client may not have taken the time to reflect on what they already know, and what they could do. In fact, one of the biggest benefits my coaching clients tell me is our coaching session gives them dedicated time to think, and to reflect, and to consider what-ifs. Then they most often have the clarity they need on what actions they can take to move forward.

Where the client wants to begin exploring their topic, or go to next

Often, after the coach has inquired to understand the client’s topic, desired outcome, and measure of success for the session, the coach then asks a question to dive into exploring the topic. This means the coaching direction is driven by the coach’s curiosity, rather than what the client might want to explore next.

This is a great time to ‘share the lead’ with your client by asking them, “Where would you like to explore first?”

Let’s say the client says they don’t know. Then their coach can Partner by offering possibilities. For example:

“I have a few ideas to offer you from what you’ve shared. You talked about your concern about the alignment of team members, so we could begin by talking about what’s behind your concern, or we could start with what alignment looks like for your team. Or maybe that sparks some other ideas of what we could begin with.” 

This example is a demonstration of a PCC Marker in Coaching Presence core competency (marker 7).

When the PCC Markers were released in 2014, the significance of Partnering as a coaching skill was more clearly articulated. Because of this, the awareness of ICF Assessors has been heightened to listen for this skill being demonstrated, on multiple occasions.

At MCC skill level, a demonstration of ‘Full Partnering’ is the Way of Being of the coach, meaning there is an ease from the coach with ‘sharing the lead’ naturally with their client. There is partnering to establish the coaching session agreement, where the client wants to begin exploring, or go to next. There is partnering by checking in if the direction of the coaching is still moving them in the direction they desire. There is partnering when offering comments and observations by allowing the client to comment, even disagree if they want.

As an example: “I have a thought and please correct me if this doesn’t resonate with you. Then the coach shares their thought and invites client to respond such as, “What are your thoughts on that?” An alternative is, “How do you feel about what I’ve shared?” if your client is more feeling based.

In Closing…

The demonstration of Partnering is critical to successfully passing the MCC and PCC credentials. At minimum, ACC skill level requires partnering to allow the client to determine their topic and desired session outcome, and then attending to the client agenda.

Being in the habit of ‘Process Partnering’ with your client, will have you on the path to demonstrating ‘sharing the lead’ with your client, and positively affect many core competencies.


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Carly Anderson will be ‘flying solo’ in 2017 as Karen Boskemper goes on to work on other projects. I will her miss her wisdom and support, and yet wish her all the best in her next endeavors.

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  1. Karen  September 15, 2017

    Fabulous article Carly!

  2. Jay Perry  September 18, 2017


  3. Ioan Nicut  September 18, 2017

    I once noticed a client responding with a question to the coach’s question:

    – Is it A you want me to dive in or is it B?

    The coach responded It’s A.

    A partnering question would be:

    – I heard you say A and B. What would be relevant for your goal of these possibilities?

    Thanks for the super post Carly!!!

    • admin
      admin  September 19, 2017

      Ioan, your example is great of a Partnering approach! To expand further, coach could inquire, “I heard you say A and B. What would be relevant for your goal of these possibilities, or is there another possibility to consider?”



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