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Matching leaders in Coaching Pairs for six months then sharing key insights at a team Awayday, after which new pairs are formed

Updated at February 27, 2024

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Establishing Coaching Pairs

Coaching Pairs can be introduced in a number of different ways.


On this page we write up the idea as an initiative by a Chief Executive to help strengthen their wider leadership team.

When a CEO commits to introducing Coaching Pairs, the impact on the culture of the organisation should be really positive.


Everyone is given a clear signal that Coaching Pairs are part of the future.

Another way of introducing Coaching Pairs is through a Chief Officer/ Executive Director introducing them for their own leadership team, or perhaps all of the staff across their directorate.

Alternatively, an entrepreneurial leader running a small or medium-sized business might decide to introduce Coaching Pairs for all of their staff.  Nowadays more and more organisations say that they regard everyone who works for them as a leader.

Whoever the team leader might be, and however large the team, the four key principles remain the same:


leaders coach each
other as equals

you work together in
matched pairs

you all share insights after 6 months

you're then matched with another colleague in the team.

When the Chief Executive takes the lead


The CEO convenes a meeting of the wider leadership team. The team agrees a common approach towards working in pairs, based on the six key elements below.


Involvement in round one is voluntary.  Individuals joining Pairs are matched with colleagues they have few dealings with on a day-to-day basis, in order to keep Coaching Pairs completely separate from formal line management arrangements. 


Following the meeting, the CEO and Chief People Officer/ HR Director suggest individual matches for pairs.  The CEO joins a pair as a symbol of their personal commitment to the team working together as one.


Anyone who feels they would not be a good match with the person recommended as their coaching partner has the right to make their own suggestion.  The only proviso is that they can't nominate someone who already works closely with them.


Each coaching pairs agrees its own way of working together, on the basis that they have at least six meetings across the six month period, each one lasting for around one hour.


In the afternoon they come together as a single team, with opportunities for individuals to share with the rest of the team any key insights and breakthroughs in their thinking.


 At the end of this time they come together for a team Awayday.  In the morning they pair up with different colleagues and test out  their top take-aways from their time in their Coaching Pair.


After the Awayday, any team members who held back from joining the first round of Coaching Pairs are invited to join round two.  The CEO and CPO propose new matches for Pairs and the next coaching cycle gets underway.

The principle of voluntary participation in round one of Coaching Pairs makes it easier to adopt this as a team-wide approach in an extended leadership team - or on an organisation-wide basis in SMEs.

The ambition is that after six months those sceptics who sat out round one will want to join in, having accepted Coaching Pairs as a natural way of developing themselves and supporting each other more as leaders.

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The six key elements of working together in Coaching Pairs:



​If we are to be truly open and vulnerable with our coaching partner, we have to trust them.


This is why it is so important that any leader has the right to say they are not happy about their proposed match, and would rather be paired up with someone else who inspires trust in them - and they believe trusts them, in return.



Trusting our coaching partner is essential to our second core element of championing each other.

If we are to take on board any feedback that we'd rather not hear, we have to believe that the person saying these words is a champion of ours.  We have to believe that they "see us" as a leader with real potential, and we in turn feel the same about them.



Championing makes possible the third key element of coaching leadership, which is empowerment.


We encourage our partner to focus on what they can achieve in their role, appreciating the authority and power of initiative they already possess as a leader.



These first three elements make possible the centrepiece of coaching pairs, which involves each of us challenging ourselves as leaders.  This requires us to be ready to share a tricky leadership issue that is causing us concern.  


If we want our coaching partner to feel they can do the same with us, one of the best ways of encouraging this is to practise it ourselves.  More about this on the next page!



Questioning and encouragement are crucial to helping us sustain our self-challenge, and not let ourselves become distracted by side issues.  This can easily happen when we're each trying to engage with a behaviour of ours that has become habitual, and is compromising our effectiveness as a leader.

In these moments when we are trying to find the bravery to focus on a tough challenge that we have "danced around" for rather too long, we need someone who respects us enough and knows enough about the job that we do to ask the right sorts of questions, and help us BELIEVE IN OURSELVES AS A LEADER that much more.


 for ourselves and the rest of the team

These five elements lead in to the final core element of coaching leadership: a genuine sense of shared accountability.


We each know that, as individuals, we will be held to account for how we handle the challenges facing us.  


We also know that we will be held to account AS A TEAM.  Every one of us shares responsibility for each other's successes and failures.


This recognition helps us to leave behind the blame culture that always exists in teams without a strong sense of mutual commitment.​

Creating more of a
playing field

Coaching Pairs are intended to create more of a level playing field among members of the wider leadership team, minimising the ways in which deference to hierarchy can prevent honest and open conversations. 


This is why it is fundamental to Coaching Pairs that the two leaders in a pair coach each other, irrespective of their particular position in the leadership hierarchy.


During their time as coaching partners, they are equals in offering each other support and drawing on each other's wisdom and insights.​

In 2022/23 we tried out Coaching Pairs with one leadership team without making this explicit.

​At the outset, all seemed very positive, and when we had an Awayday after a few months some useful ideas and practices emerged from the pairs. 


Yet we were struck by how many of the pairs had become coach-coachee relationships, with the most senior member of each pair taking on the role of coach and their "junior" partner slipping into the role of coachee.

In the absence of any advice to the contrary, everyone slipped into the habit of letting the conversation in their coaching pair reflect the hierarchy that governs the rest of their working lives.

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Entering a hierarchy-free zone

This is why our advice is that​ from the outset, you should encourage everyone joining a Coaching Pair to see themselves as entering a hierarchy-free zone, whenever they spend time with their coaching partner.


This will help to establish the principle that Coaching Pairs are designed to enable BOTH PARTNERS to contribute and gain as much as they can from their time together.

No need for experts
or 'gurus'!

When leaders work together in Coaching Pairs, they know that their coaching  relationship is genuinely two-way.
Neither of them are under pressure to claim to be an expert or some sort of guru figure.  

They're helping to create a culture of coaching leadership that should become self-sustaining over time, without having to pay for external coaches.

More and more of those teams that use external coaches are told that the costs are so high nowadays that anyone who's "doing fine" doesn't need coaching.

This rationing of external coaching support has resulted in many leaders being given the message that if you under-perform you might be given a coach, and if you're doing quite well you'll be left to get on with it.

This doesn't really support the development of a high performance, high trust culture in the way that coaching pairs should do!

New feedback pairs for the Awayday

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We recommend that as part of your planning for the Awayday at the end of the 6-month cycle, leaders should be asked to nominate two colleagues in the wider leadership team - other than their coaching partner - who they would like to work with in a feedback pair.


The idea of asking for two names is simply to signal that you don't expect to be able to pair everyone up with their first preference. 

Early on in the Awayday, 45 minutes or so should be set aside for leaders to work in your new pairs.


In each pair, you take it in turns to share your key leadership take-aways from your time with your coaching partner.


We suggest that you concentrate on:

  • one or two aspects of your leadership where you now feel MORE CONFIDENT, and


  • one or two aspects of your leadership where you're still working to IMPROVE YOUR PERSONAL  STYLE in some way. 

After your personal review, you each ask your feedback partner whether these outcomes ring the right bells with them.


  • Do they have any ADDITIONAL INSIGHTS that could support you in stepping forward more confidently as a leader?


It helps a lot if you can make a point of saying that you'll do all you can NOT to respond defensively to whatever they have to say.


After all, you nominated the person you're now asking to give you some honest feedback!

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Sharing key insights
and breakthroughs

Where team members share insights with each other in this sort of way, it's important for everyone to have the chance to hear some of the messages that others have taken away from this experience.

This is why we suggest that during the second part of the Awayday, the CEO should ask whether anyone would like to share one or two personal insights they have gained from the conversation they've just had.

Whenever a member of a leadership team shares a personal breakthrough in this sort of setting, this can help so much with  forging a stronger sense of oneness among the team. 
Once a few people have been brave enough to share a personal breakthrough, others should be ready to share some aspect of their own leadership challenges next time round.  

On the next page we suggest how to make best use of your time in Coaching Pairs.  PLEASE make a point of skimming this  page before your first session with your new coaching partner.

You just need to send round a link!

We have written the page in the way we have done to make it possible for leadership teams to use it as your own personal resource. 


You literally just need to send a link to this page to everyone who will come within the scope of your new Coaching Pairs, and hopefully this will help with setting the context and explaining the process.


All we ask is that you let us have some feedback, please (Pete's email address is immediately below), so that we can learn from your experiences.

We will update this page regularly, in the light of different leadership teams’ experiences.

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