Pair Coaching

Just like pair programming, there are a lot of benefits to pair coaching. In fact, the positives – two pairs of eyes, direct feedback, observation from two different perspectives – are even stronger motivators for pairing up when coaching! We see a lot of pairing when it comes to teaching classes, and larger facilitations, why not apply the same benefits to coaching as well!

The coaching context

In an individual coaching session, there are a lot of things going on. First, there is the content of the conversation. Then there are the thought processes and emotions within both the coach and the person being coached. As well as the communication and dynamics of the relationship between them. This is already a complex situation that can benefit from an added perspective. Imagine the complexity when we start talking about team or group coaching. 

To summarize, there are tremendous benefits to both the coach and the person being coached by pairing. 

Getting started – Pair up with a buddy

Of course, if you’re going to be pair coaching, you’ll need someone to pair up with: a buddy. When possible, it’s good to have the same buddy over a period of time because it gives you continuity in the coaching relationship. This fosters a safe and open environment for feedback.


Having a buddy:

  • Helps you significantly accelerate your growth as a coach. It is very difficult to observe yourself coaching so having an extra pair of eyes can be invaluable. Buddy coaching gives you the opportunity to observe each other and to give each other feedback.
  • Gives you someone to bounce ideas off of and to brainstorm approaches with for your next coaching session.
  • Provides you with a supportive ear in difficult situations. Problems in a team can get projected onto the coach so having buddy support is key. 
  • Means you have someone to share and celebrate your growth and successes with.
  • Allows you to practice coaching and skill development in a safe to fail environment.

Your clients also benefit:

  • A back-up coach. Your buddy will develop a relationship with the team or group you coach. So if you are not available for a coaching request your buddy can step in.
  • The experience and perspective of another person, helping them uncover even greater potential. 

Accelerating your own growth as a coach through short learning-cycles 

The key is to design short learning cycles optimized to improve your performance. Similar to a sprint for Agile teams. You should start out by going through the steps with your pair coach. We recommend a four-step process to get started:

  1. The setup: Set a learning goal. What do you want to get better at? The scope of the goal can be for the current week or for the next coaching session. By setting your intention for what you want to get better at you will automatically create focus and awareness. 
  2. Design or choose the learning environment. When and where will you practice your chosen skills? Your pair coach can help you prepare and come up with ideas. 
  3. Go out and play. That is practice. Make sure your pair coach is there to observe.  You might also switch things around and you can observe while your pair coach coaches. 
  4. De-brief. Reflect on the results. Get observations and feedback from your pair coach and evaluate feedback from the people who have been coached. Change or tweak your learning goal for the next iteration. 

Coaching with an observer

Isn’t it scary to coach when someone is observing you? This is the same fear people experience when pair programming. The feeling that you’re being judged. What if you don’t measure up? Pair coaching is not about judgment. It’s about helping the person or people you’re coaching. Luckily in the process, you will also improve. You’ll pick up on new ways to manage situations and you’ll be able to get direct feedback! It’s important to verbalize your own confusion when you’re coaching, and it’s doubly so when your pair coaching. Finally, the more you pair coach the easier it gets. 

Working with a junior coach

What about coaching with someone who is just starting out? You will both learn from one another. When you’re new to something you’re naturally curious about why doing something one way could be better than doing it another way. A beginner will ask a lot of great questions. Be honest and open in your answers. Maybe you haven’t noticed or thought about a particular behavior that they ask about, let them know! Ask them what their experience was like. What they thought was effective or not. And most importantly give them a chance to learn. Discuss what they felt worked or didn’t work. How can they apply it to their own coaching? What did you learn from their observations and insights?

Pair coaching

The most important aspect of pair coaching is listening. As a coach you listen to the person you’re coaching, and as a pair coach you’re going to listen to your partner as well. You want to create a conversation that feels seamless. While the other coach is speaking, listen to what they’re saying! Some coaches forget about this during pair coaching and start thinking about what they would have asked instead. That’s a recipe for a confusing conversation. Listen to what your partner asks and then listen to the answer. This is an amazing chance to observe where you don’t have to be focusing on which question to ask or how to phrase it.

Learning how to listen (really listen) is important to becoming a great coach. When you coach together with someone else you have an amazing opportunity to practice and improve your listening skills.

Dare to pair!

Finally, we’d like to leave you with this advice: 

  • Listen
  • Be open to input
  • Be honest about feedback

With these three ingredients, you’re ready to pair coach. We’d love to hear about your experiences, so let us know how you get on!

P.S. This article was pair written 🙂

Get in touch via my homepage if you have questions or comments!