Confidentiality is a fundamental aspect of the coaching relationship. It creates an environment of safety where a client can share what is needed in order to address their coaching and development needs. It is clear that confidentiality needs to be maintained between coach and client when coaching an individual. However, when working with teams this raises an ethical challenge. Should pre-meetings or one on one interviews, if conducted, be confidential? When is confidentiality in the best interests of the team, and when not?
Whenever I have held one on one interviews, I have always provided an assurance that our discussions will remain confidential and that I will only share emerging themes, or an aggregation of the feedback. Never attributing specific comments to an individual.
As I move deeper into team coaching and reflect on my own processes and practices, I’ve been wondering if maintaining such confidentiality simply perpetuates an existing drama, or worse, trauma within the team. Am I taking on a role that should sit within the team? Am I taking away choice or responsibility from the client?
More recently I have been experimenting with asking interviewees upfront to let me know, as we dialogue, what they would specifically like to keep confidential. Reactions have ranged from surprise & acceptance to a plea upfront to keep everything confidential. In exploring these reactions further, some commented that I was making a request of them that, in the moment, they were not prepared for. Based on previous experience, they had an assumption as to how our discussion would progress.
I delved a little deeper with those who rejected my invitation outright. What emerged was a sense of fear, which in itself led to a useful discussion about the team and psychological safety. This actually proved to be incredibly useful in support of the team dynamics.
Another interesting experience has been that the teams where I have not started from a position of confidentiality have, on reflection, found that keeping the conversation in the open fast tracked their development. The act of bringing in an ‘independent’ coach created a catalyst to place issues on the table; make the undiscussable discussable. It gave permission for the unspoken to be voiced.
I’m yet to make this a standard way of working but will continue to experiment. As always, I welcome your thoughts, reactions and experiences.
And if you would like to discuss further improving your teams performance, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org