How does coaching work? Dr Adrian Myers, senior lecturer, faculty of business, Oxford Brookes University, examines ways we can look at the process and how we separate the web of causes and effects

Coaches gain a sense of the benefits of coaching whether expressed in the changes of one client or at a broader organisational level. Demonstrating the effectiveness of coaching beyond subjective reports of client or coach is difficult because it first requires outlining clear outcome criteria and then measuring these over time.

Disentangling the web of causes and effects makes it problematic to relate coaching to eventual financial returns.  It’s equally very difficult to ascertain to what extent other goals, such as a change in leadership capability, employee engagement or the acceleration of minority groups, might be related to coaching rather than any of a range of organisational interventions that are likely to be taking place at the same time as coaching.

Rather than invest large amounts of resources in evaluating the effectiveness of coaching, perhaps the emerging profession of coaching could focus more on understanding what in the coaching process promotes change rather than demonstrating what is already ‘felt’ on the ground about its effectiveness.

In recent years, researchers have become increasingly interested in the coaching process. Researchers at Ashridge Business School (eg, De Haan, 2008) have interviewed coaches and clients shortly after coaching sessions to ascertain which moments of the sessions were in some sense ‘critical’.  Researchers in Germany (Greif et al, 2010) are also identifying the sequential patterns of events that lead to client change.

Much of what we read and learn about coaching concerns dialogue: how we exchange language through questions and explanations. It’s easy to fall into an understanding of coaching that paints a picture of this dialogue as purely verbal; to do with the mind and not so much with the body.

Research at the International Centre for Coaching and Mentoring Studies at Oxford Brookes University is looking at the different ways we can think of coaching as an experience of the mind and body (if, indeed, they can be separated) and analysing in detail what coaches actually do that reflects this perspective.

The Centre has also developed a tool for measuring the coaching process (Bachkirova et al, 2012) that consists of a list of 80 statements describing common characteristics and behaviours that commonly take place in a coaching session. This includes actions on the part of the coach and client as well as the atmosphere that is created between them. A key part of the research at the Centre is the use of video recordings of actual coaching sessions that enable the detailed study of the coaching process, together with the participation of coach and client.

There is much to be done to explore the coaching process. Researchers are always interested in talking to coaches who might be interested in participating in coaching process research or in conducting their own research.

For further information email me at:



T Bachkirova, J Sibley and A Myers, Statements of the Coaching Process Inventory, 2012.Retrieved from:

E de Haan, Relational Coaching: Journeys Towards Mastering One-to-One Learning. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 2008

S Greif, F Schmidt and A Thamm, The Rating of Eight Coaching Success Factors – Observation Manual, 2010.Retrieved from:

P Jackson, The Empty Chair: Where Does Embodiment Sit in Coaching? Paper presented at the Qualitative Research in Management and
Organization: Embodiment Imagination and Meaning, Albuquerque, NM, April 2012

A C Myers, ‘The Rashomon Experience’. Changing Lives, Changing Worlds – Inspiring Collaborations, 11/12 December 2014, London: Special Group in Coaching Psychology 4th International Congress of Coaching Psychology

A C Myers, A Multiple Analysis of a Coaching Session.Unpublished PhD thesis. Oxford Brookes University, 2014