Barriers to coaching in organisations – What can we do? (Part 1)

In a previous post we looked at coaching as a “way of seeing people,” along with its key role in facilitating the emergence of teams and community relationships based on values of respect and integrity. But before we all enthusiastically assume it’s easy to establish a coaching style of interaction and/or coaching programmes within organisations, let’s take a step back to consider the kinds of things that can get in the way. And there are many…

Yes, we have to accept that significant potential barriers to coaching can exist in organisational contexts which need to be factored into our strategies.

These barriers fall into three main categories:

  1.    Organisational
  2.    Operational
  3.    Individual

Different combinations of factors from each of these categories may contribute to the creation of barriers. We therefore need to get to grips with the sheer variety of obstacles, and then to gain insight into how they combine. Only then can coordinated strategies be put in place that may have a chance of overcoming the barriers to coaching (and a coaching style) which exist in any particular organisational context.

In this post, I hope to get us to start thinking about that process. We’ll first take a look at a few common organisational and operational barriers to coaching, before turning to what we can do.

1. Organisational barriers

It’s worth remembering that the presence of organisational barriers makes it even more likely that operational and individual barriers will exist as well. Identifying potential organisational barriers is therefore essential as a first step in devising a coaching strategy. Common organisational barriers include:

  • Leadership culture     The tone set by leadership is crucial. Coaching will not be valued or prioritised lower down the organisational hierarchy if it isn’t valued higher up. Look out particularly for dictatorial non-supportive leaders who ‘instruct’ or manage by threat and blame. Such leaders may find it very hard to accept that more supportive, non-dictatorial behaviours bring any benefits. Senior executives in such a context are unlikely to believe in the coaching ‘philosophy’ either, and may even perceive it as a negative influence.
  • Organisational prioritisation     Which activities does the organisation prioritise? Those are the ones that will be fast-tracked. If coaching is not on the priority list as an activity to be implemented as part of the overall learning and development strategy, plans to introduce it won’t get very far very fast. Without prioritisation, coaching will not be viewed by senior management as a valuable business process.
  • Lack of preparation     Sometimes senior management is interested in establishing coaching programmes. Hurray! But programmes can and will fail if there has been insufficient preparation to ensure their success. It’s then very easy for the programmes to take the blame rather than the lack of preparation. Expect negative attitudes to and lack of respect for coaching to be the result. Even worse, if and when anyone else tries to introduce a coaching programme, their first hurdle will be lack of cooperation, lack of resource allocation and general cynicism.

2. Operational barriers

Organisational barriers such as the above can be the backdrop for significant operational barriers to coaching. These include:

  • Lack of cogent rationale     Establishing and maintaining a coaching programme requires a significant investment of organisational time, effort and resources. No-one is going to push this forward if the underlying rationale is unconvincing or inarticulate. Where coaching is new to the organisation, or is not valued at the highest levels, the rationale has to be particularly compelling. If it isn’t, there’s really little hope of attracting the degree of time, effort and resources that will be necessary.
  • Time constraints     Let’s say there’s interest in embedding and maintaining a coaching culture. This will require investment in the shape of adequate time and educational opportunities  –  which will have a knock-on effect touching each and every employee. How? Through modification of schedules and behaviours. And this takes time. Time is always at a premium in organisations, so where investing the necessary time is resisted (in terms of planning/modification of work schedules to accommodate coaching and the changes that will result) efforts at establishing a coaching culture will fail. Systems and procedures will not allow the flexibility for individuals to try new or alternative methods and approaches, leading once again to failure of initiatives.
  • Lack of a clear ‘owner’ or ‘champion’ of the process     If the push for modification of structures/schedules does not come from the top, any campaign for reallocation of resources and time will make little progress. The campaign needs an obvious and respected champion who can drive modifications through. Without such a champion momentum will not be achieved.

3. What can we do?

With careful research and preparation, all is not lost. Here are a few pointers:

  • Accept this will take time     Don’t be impatient. The individual or team intending to establish a coaching programme may need to be in it for the long haul. Spend sufficient time gaining insight into the reality of the organisation on the ground so that future plans can be specific to actual organisational conditions. This requires research, planning and networking. Out of this will come the necessary cogent, compelling rationale.
  • ‘Educate’ key individuals     Once you have that compelling rationale, back it up with case studies from other relevant organisations/high-profile individuals. Organise seminars for high-level individuals from your organisation to attend, send them to related conferences, and begin to organise coaching sessions for them with respected external executive coaches. Once key individuals can study, understand and experience the benefits of coaching they will be much more likely to prioritise it. ‘Educating’ key individuals is also likely to encourage the spontaneous emergence of ‘champions’ for the coaching cause. From these an individual with sufficient profile, charisma and influence can be approached to spearhead the creation of buy-in throughout the organisation.
  • Modification of organisational priorities     The ‘champion’ will ideally be in a position to help push through necessary changes in a number of areas. These might include advocating a rethink of approaches to time allocation (relating to work schedules as well as production/training lead times), which can go a long way towards allowing coaching and a coaching style of interaction to become integrated into the workplace and work practices. Consider also pushing for a reappraisal of HR policies/procedures. Shifting focus onto recruiting, promoting and rewarding individuals who are predisposed towards and experienced in coaching-led management and team-building styles, will signal to everyone in the organisation that these are the behaviours that are valued. Coupling this with offering training opportunities for existing employees to gain the necessary skills required to adopt such behaviours will gradually help bring about and reinforce the wider cultural changes you are working towards.

Remember, successful implementation of contextualised coaching programmes within organisations takes time, determination and clear planning. Create a compelling case, bring on board a ‘champion’ with sufficient profile and influence, and you’re well on the way to success.

This post looked at organisational and operational barriers to coaching. Look out for Part 2, which will examine individual barriers and what can be done to minimise them.

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3 thoughts on “Barriers to coaching in organisations – What can we do? (Part 1)

  1. Hi Kevin Thanks for the comment. It means a lot to me that people find my writing easy to read and understand. It also means a lot that in your busy day you’ve found the time and enthusiasm to continue reading this blog post to the end, as well as comment on it in such an encouraging way! I hope your ILM 5 Effective Management goes well. Keep me updated! If I’ve helped you along the way even just a little, then what I’ve written has been worthwhile. Hope other things on the blog will take you forward too!


  2. A very helpful article. I am both a student working towards ILM 5 Effective Management and a fan of plain English. This has been a really useful study aid for me.

    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Barriers to coaching in organisations – What can we do? (Part 2) | Newbycoach thoughts

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