June 18

Internal Coaching vs External Coaching


When organizations are considering offering coaching they often are confused about the difference between internal coaching and external coaching.  The short definition is Internal Coaching is using an existing employees as coaches while external coaching is hiring coaches outside of your organization.

While both can be effective, choosing between internal coaching and external coaching first requires a understanding of both options.  Depending on who the coach or coaches will work with, both choices give organizations different viewpoints which are important to consider to best support and align with the ultimate goal.  That is, to support those on your teams by helping them become better leaders and work through change and transition.

It is not always easy to figure out which is better for your organization and takes some thought and time to explore. While your leadership team might take on some of the day-to-day internal coaching, bringing someone in for one-on-one coaching can be very beneficial as they can bring in a different perspective.

But before you decide if you need internal coaching or external coaching or possibly both, it's important to understand the key advantages and disadvantages of both.

Internal Coaching vs External Coaching: Pros & Cons

Looking at the pros and cons of internal coaching and external coaching should be helpful. Both have their place, but one might fit better with your needs than another.

Pros of Internal Coaching

  • Possibly does not come at an additional monetary cost. (see cons)
  • Coaches have more time with those needing to be coached and can get to know them better
  • Coaches have a strong understanding of the existing processes
  • Coaches understand the general culture of the company
  • An internal coach can work off a company’s larger development program to keep goals consistent
  • Provides better flexibility within the coaching and employee schedule
  • Might have the ability to observe leaders in action to stay current
  • Staff may have more comfort with someone they know

Cons of Internal Coaching

  • Possible additional cost of training and certification
  • It can be challenging to manage coaching time and other responsibilities within the company
  • Might be seen as a less credible coach compared to an external coach. Often outside experts will be given greater respect.
  • Doesn't have experience with other organizations or the best practices
  • It might not be easy for the coach to maintain confidentiality with the coachee
  • A major concern is coachees might go into one-on-one sessions more guarded because they already know the person and work with them every day
  • Coachees might believe the ideas they have won't be heard so censor themselves
  • Internal coaches can be biased to the current agenda and not open to explore new avenues

Pros of External Coaching

  • You can gain access to a specialist with years of experience and credibility
  • Provides sensitive feedback without fear of judgement from the coachee
  • Has the ability to help with performance improvement
  • Won't be impacted by the culture or politics of your company
  • Coachees are more comfortable speaking about delicate issues
  • Coachees can be more comfortable knowing that external coaches cannot share information with others or company management (against coaching ethics)
  • Won't have any other responsibilities within your company
  • Won't have any other responsibilities within your company
  • Provides a fresh perspective for your company
  • Ability to vet perspective coaches for training and specialized certifications

Cons of External Coaching

  • Generally, comes at a higher cost
  • Won't immediately know your company's culture or processes
  • The short-term needs of those being coached might not match up well with the availability of the external coach
  • It may cause inconsistencies with the methods of your internal coaches if they are also being used.
  • Confidentiality and reporting issues

General note: Coaching cannot exist without confidentiality.  Without it coaching sessions usually turn into coachees sharing what they think the company wants to hear not the real truth.  Sessions become acting sessions.

There are plenty of benefits to internal coaching and external coaching. Both have their place and can be very beneficial. However, there is a time when you should bring in an external coach, even if you have good internal coaches.

Characteristics Internal Coaches and External Coaches Should Both Have

Whether you're looking to hire an external coach or use an internal coaching program, your coaches should have the following characteristics:

  • They should use a coaching model or method
  • Your coaches should have a clear detailed agreement with you, in writing
  • Coaches should have a specific level of core competency and responsiveness
  • Coaches should understand the procedures and policies that have to do with confidentiality
  • Coaches should be professionally trained and in best cases have an ICF (International Coach Federation) certification

Along with these characteristics, an internal or external coach should have the ability to discuss any type of leadership issue or conflict including:

  • Project management or completion
  • Communication challenges
  • Relationship challenges
  • Team and Group coaching

They should have clear, specific guidelines when it comes to both the coach requirements and expectations for the coachee.

It is also critical to vet all internal or external coaches you decide to hire. You want to make sure you choose the correct internal leaders to provide internal coaching. All the coaches working for your company should have the proper characteristics, knowledge, training and certification.

4 Important Factors to Consider When Choosing an External Coach

If you know it's time to hire an external coach for your company, you should know how to choose the right coach. Let's look at a few of the most important factors to consider.

1. Choose a Coach that Fits

You might run across many great coaches that simply don't fit with your company. It's important to consider the people needing coaching. Finding a coach that will fit with your coachees is paramount to your success.

It's best to meet with any coach you plan to hire first. Interview them and you might even include the coachee and their manager. Sometimes, the relationship is there right from the get-go. Other times, the coach and coachee simply don't click. You will want to consider an exit strategy if things do not work out.

2. Look at the Experience

It's best to have an external coach that has the experience you need. Coaches often have a specialty and you want that specialty to fit your needs.  Leadership, Emotional Intelligence, Communication etc… are also areas professional coaches will specialize in.  An experienced coach that specializes in the type of coaching you need can be very valuable to your company.

3. Coaching Style

It's also important to look at the style of coaching they use. While the style doesn't need to match the style of the coachee, you should still know the style of coaching that will be used. Sometimes, it can be beneficial if the style doesn't fit your coachees style.  i.e. Do you require formal key benchmark achievement tracking or more informal coaching?

4. Trust

If you don't have complete trust in the external coach you hire, it can turn into a disaster. Your coachees need to gain trust in your external coach and it starts with you. If you trust the coach, it will be easier for your employees to trust the coach.

In addition, while these are factors you should look for when hiring an external coach, you should also consider these factors for internal coaches.

If you plan to implement an internal or external coaching program, make sure you have well-defined goals. It can also be helpful to formalize the selection process for your internal coaches. Make sure you have realistic expectations, whether internal or external. Without well managed expectations what could be a tremendous resource for the organization can become quite negative.

Coaching can be very beneficial for your company. It can help your leaders get the perspective they need to grow. With the right approach, you as well as your employees will see the benefits of coaching within your company. Whether you choose internal coaching, external coaching, or both, make sure you consider what will work best for those receiving the coaching.

Frequently Ask Questions / Article Synopsis

  • How does professional coaching work in an organization?
  • For profit, non-profit and government agencies have two main ways for offering coaching.
    Either use an Internal coach, which means to use a current employee as the coach or External coach, meaning someone not associated with the organization hired as a private contractor.   
  • What is the purpose of coaching?
  • Coaching has several functions.   Clarify goals, clarify value, Increase motivation, Brain Storm, Create a process for success, accountability.
  • How does coaching improve an organizations performance?
  • Research conducted by the ICF International Coach Federation has shown remarkable improvements in employee attitude, ability to create better internal relationships, less stress, greater productivity and sense of well beings when people have the services of a professional coach.
  • Why is coaching an important skill for leaders in an organization to have.  
  • The short answer is the old metaphor.  Give a person a fish and they have something to eat, teach them how to fish and now they can always feed themselves.  A true leader wants to create a team of leaders.
  • Can’t anyone coach someone?
  • Certainly but it just depends on how effective they will be or will they cause harm.   Someone can hire a neighbor to fix their car because they know a bit about cars but don’t most of us want a trained expert?  Professional International Coach Training schools exist because high level coaching is a skill that takes training and experience to master.


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