John Bennett/ May 7, 2023/ Development, Executive Coaching, General

A Foundation for Coaching

Coaching is a process where a coach guides, motivates, and inspires individuals or teams to achieve their goals by unlocking their full potential. It involves using a structured approach to guide people toward positive changes in their personal or professional lives. A coach—peer, manager, or professional coach—acts as a facilitator, helping team members identify their goals, develop a plan of action, and overcome obstacles hindering their progress.

In the workplace, managers can adopt a coaching approach and serve as a manager-coach. The coaching process is based on mutual trust, respect, and collaboration between the manager-coach and the team member. The success of coaching depends on the ability of the manager-coach to establish effective communication and build a positive relationship with the team member. One way to achieve this is by applying Roger Schwarz’s (Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams, 2013) mutual learning model. This model provides a framework for effective communication, problem-solving, and decision-making, enhancing the coaching process.

The mutual learning model emphasizes the importance of mutual learning and communication in coaching. Unfortunately, most leaders use a unilateral control mindset and behaviors under pressure. Unilateral control involves values such as win, don’t lose; be right; act rational; and minimize expressions of negative feelings.

A person using this approach is likely to state their views without asking for the opinions of others, withhold relevant information, speak in general terms without gaining agreement on what important words mean, keep their reasoning private and not ask others about their reasoning, focus on positions over interests, act on tested assumptions and inferences, work to control conversations, and work to avoid or ease into complex issues.

These behaviors have many negative results, such as lower-quality decisions, increased costs, a lower commitment by others, reduced learning, unproductive conflict, reduced motivation, limited development opportunities, and increased stress. (Schwarz, 2013)

Model of Mutual Learning

The mutual learning model is based on the principles of systems thinking, emotional intelligence, and the theory of action. According to Schwarz (2013), mutual learning is a collaborative problem-solving process where individuals work together to generate solutions that benefit everyone involved. Mutual learning requires an open mindset, curiosity, and a willingness to listen and learn from others. Mutual learning involves the coach and team members working together to achieve the desired goals.

The mutual learning model comprises values that are:

  1. Transparency: individuals openly share their perspectives, beliefs, and assumptions.
  2. Curiosity: individuals ask questions to understand each other’s perspectives and to seek new information.
  3. Free and informed choice: This involves making decisions based on available information and ensuring that all parties have the autonomy to make decisions that align with their values and goals.     
  4. Accountability: This involves ensuring that all parties are committed to the decisions made and that they take ownership of the outcomes       
  5. Compassionate interactions involve showing empathy and understanding towards others and maintaining positive relationships even under challenging situations.

The mutual learning model employs eight behaviors:

  1. Share all relevant information. 
  2. Use specific examples and agree on what important words mean. 
  3. Explain reasoning and intent.
  4. Focus on interests, not positions.
  5. Test assumptions and inferences.
  6. Jointly design the next steps.
  7. Discuss un-discussable issues.

Benefits of Mutual Learning in Coaching

The mutual learning model has several benefits for coaching. Some of the benefits are:

  1. Improved problem-solving: Mutual learning fosters collaborative problem-solving, which leads to more effective and sustainable solutions. By working together, manager-coaches and team members can generate solutions that consider all perspectives and interests.
  2. Enhanced communication: Mutual learning promotes open and honest communication, which improves the manager-coach/team member relationship. When team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas, they are more likely to be receptive to feedback and guidance from their coach. By being transparent and empathetic, manager-coaches can create a safe and supportive environment for their team members.
  3. Increased accountability: Mutual learning promotes internal commitment to decisions, which leads to greater responsibility. When team members take ownership of their goals and actions, they are more likely to be motivated and committed to achieving them.
  4. Increased self-awareness: Mutual learning encourages team members to reflect on their beliefs, assumptions, and values, which enhances their self-awareness. By understanding themselves better, team members can make more informed decisions and take actions that align with their goals and values.

Strategies for Mutual Learning in Coaching

Manager-coaches can use several strategies to apply the mutual learning model to coaching to create an environment that fosters mutual learning. The following are some of the strategies manager-coaches can use:

  1. Creating a safe space for open communication: One of the critical principles of the mutual learning model is the importance of creating a safe space for open communication. Manager-coaches can achieve this by actively listening to their team members, acknowledging their feelings, and responding with compassion and understanding. In coaching, this means creating an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment or retribution.
  2. Focusing on valid information: The mutual learning model emphasizes the importance of valid data. In coaching, this means ensuring team members access accurate and relevant information to help them make informed decisions. Manager-coaches can achieve this by conducting research, gathering data, and providing team members with feedback that is both constructive and actionable.
  3. Encouraging free and informed choice: The mutual learning model also emphasizes the importance of promoting free and informed choice. In coaching, this means helping team members develop a plan of action tailored to their individual needs and circumstances. Manager-coaches can achieve this by asking open-ended questions, exploring various options with their team members, and helping them make choices that align with their values and goals.
  4. Fostering internal commitment: The mutual learning model also emphasizes fostering internal commitment. In coaching, this means helping clients develop a sense of ownership and accountability for their goals and actions. Manager-coaches can achieve this by encouraging team members to set goals that are meaningful and achievable and by helping them develop a plan of action that is realistic and sustainable.
  5. Active listening: Manger-coaches must actively listen to their team members to understand their perspectives and experiences. Active listening involves paying attention to verbal and non-verbal cues, asking open-ended questions, and paraphrasing to ensure understanding.
  6. Clarifying assumptions and beliefs: Manager-coaches must help their team members define assumptions and beliefs that may limit their thinking or decision-making. This involves asking probing questions to uncover underlying assumptions and challenging them when necessary.
  7. Encouraging multiple perspectives:  Manager-coaches can encourage team members to consider various perspectives when problem-solving. This involves exploring different viewpoints and brainstorming solutions that benefit all parties.
  8. Promoting transparency: Manager-coaches must be transparent with their clients about their intentions, strategies, and limitations. This involves being honest and open about what can and cannot be achieved through coaching.
  9. Providing feedback: Manager-coaches need to give feedback to their team members to help them improve their performance and achieve their goals. This involves providing specific and actionable feedback based on observation and evidence.

Application of Schwarz’s Model in Coaching

The model of mutual learning has several implications for coaching. Manager-coaches can apply the four elements of the model to enhance communication, problem-solving, and decision-making in coaching:

  1. Transparency: Transparency is essential in coaching as it helps build trust and respect between the manager-coach and team members. Transparency promotes honesty, openness, and accountability, which are crucial for a successful coaching relationship. Manager-coaches should encourage team members to be transparent by openly sharing their thoughts, feelings, and concerns. Manager-coaches should also be transparent by sharing their perspectives and feedback with the team member.
  2. Curiosity: Curiosity is another critical element in coaching. Curiosity helps coaches and team members gain new insights and information they might not have considered before. Manager-coaches should encourage team members to ask questions to understand each other’s perspectives questions also shows a willingness to learn and grow, which is an essential component of coaching.
  3. Informed Advocacy: Informed advocacy is the presentation of an individual’s views and opinions based on their knowledge and expertise. Informed advocacy promotes critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making. It also allows team members to take ownership of their learning and development. Manager-coaches should encourage team members to present their views and opinions, primarily based on their knowledge and expertise.
  4. Reflection: Reflection is the process of considering feedback and alternative perspectives. Manager-coaches should encourage team members to reflect on their experiences and feedback to gain new insights and learning. Reflection helps team members become more self-aware and develop a growth mindset. It also promotes continuous learning and development.

Coaching is a discovery process that involves learning, shifting mindsets and behaviors, and achieving goals. Mutual learning enables coaching. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts and ideas, so do leave your comments, feedback, and suggestions below.

Photo by Alex Green at


© 2023, John L. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.

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