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I am a M.A. in industrial/organizational psychology. Most of my experience has been in human resources and change management. My passion lies in employee assessment, organizational development and employee opinions. Website: www.IanMondrow.com LinkedIn Profile: http://linkd.in/drBYoC

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Comparison of Face-to-Face and Distance Coaching Practices: Coaches’ Perceptions of the Role of the Working Alliance in Problem Resolution

By Ian Mondrow, PHR

In psychoanalytical psychology, the term working alliance discusses the relationship that buds between a patient and a therapist but there are many professionals who claim that the working alliance is also prevalent in the relationship with a leadership coach and their client. A working alliance is defined by the commitment between a client and a therapist to agree on the planned therapy outcomes, the process to achieve the outcome, and the bond created between the two that a established a relationship with a capacity for warmth. Much of these factors are also crucial to the success of coaching within the corporate realm. In any coaching scenario, this relationship is essential for success.

However, technology has introduced some modifications to the therapeutic process. A coach now have the option to use telephone, web-conferencing, or e-mail to provide services; with telephone being the most prominent means. Within psychotherapy, the practice of using these technologies has been found to be equally effective to face-to-face sessions when achieving the end result. This study intends to examine the impact of distance relationships on business/leadership coaching.

All data for this study was collected exclusively from professional coaches using the internet as a primary recruitment method. 51 coaches provided all of the needed information. 20 coaches only provided details on a face-to-face client while 26 coached completed the details only about a distance client. Only 51 responses were utilized as these coaches utilized both methods.

 Participants completed a survey online that included a form to collect data on their demographics and coaching experiences/practices. The coaches were asked to identify one coaching client who primarily receives face-face coaching within the past year and are still seeing.  They were also asked to identify an individual who they have and continued to coach over the past year on a distance format.  Participants were asked to complete the Working Alliance Inventory-Short Form, which demonstrates a strong working alliance with higher scores and the Target Complains Scale that lists one to three conditions and the level of severity for which treatment was sought. Additionally, the researchers developed a short survey to understand the coaches’ background.

When examining the results, it was found the clients working with their coach face-to-face or  at a distance had similar levels of problem severity, t = -.37,  p > .05. A repeated-measures MANOVA was conducted to determine the difference between working alliance and the method used by the coach (face-to-face vs. distance). No significance was found and no follow-up analyses were completed. When examining the severity of a client’s condition and the working alliance, a regression showed that the face-to-face condition did not have an impact. However, when working in the distance condition, results were significant between working alliance and client severity, R2 =.11, F = 9.65,  p < .01. A MANOVA was conducted to determine if the coaches’ experiencse differed whether they provided services via distance or face-to-face, but no significance was found.

Overall, the study demonstrates that face-to-face and distance coaching are similar in regards to effectiveness. Specifically, working relationships between a client and a coach are not impacted by the distance. However, the change in severity was higher in the distance relationship, which may be a result of a stronger working alliance.
While the study produces some interesting findings, there are some important limitations to consider. One big constraint is the fact that there was a low ceiling in scores in the working alliance and problem resolution measurement, making data difficult to analyze. Furthermore, since the study used a convenience sample, there was an overall low response rate. It is also suggested that recruiting participants online may have been a factor because these participants may have already been technologically savvy.

Although the limitations of the study demonstrate that further investigation is needed, the findings reveal revelations that could be utilized by learning and development professionals. Primarily, future organizational leaders do not have to be limited by locations. Organizations that don’t have mentors available on-site for these employees can utilize mentors at other site to provide distance coaching. The findings show that the coaching relationship continues to impact others even if done through the telephone or internet.

If an organization decides to implement this approach, the structure of a program is the key to success. Organizations should not rely on mentors alone to create the coaching program for growing talent. Instead, human resources can create a structure developmental program by using scheduled telephone calls with the coach, weekly online journaling (to be reviewed by coach), and online group discussions for all employees. Effectiveness of a leadership program relies on providing individuals with a well-rounded a background and therefore introducing a variety of events can enhance the learning experience, whether it be local of through technology.

This also introduces cost-saving methods for organizations. Many smaller organizations have not been  able to afford executive coaches due to the costs of travel expenses. However, today’s technology offers organizations the same coaching quality through a long-distance relationship. Human resources departments can rest assured that there will be resources available to them even if they are not located in a primary city without the need to pay for the travel of the cost.

Much like many other aspects of human resources, technology introduces cost saving methods to assist the organization with its continuous growth. Thanks to technology, affordable and competitive programs can be implemented by organizations without fear of going bankrupt.   

Source: Berry, R.M., Ashby, J.S., Gnilka, P.B., Matheny, K.B. (2011). A comparison of face-to-face and distance coaching practices: coaches' perceptions of the role of working alliance in problem resolution.. Consulting Psychcology Journal: Practice and Research, 63 (4), 243-253.


  1. Small Business Leadership Coaching is no less different. But yes, business leadership skills can definitely be polished and sharpened with the help of executive coaching. It helps you to get an objective view of problems to be able to apply different remedies to different situations.

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  2. Since most small business are only known to locals or a small group of people, its owners are at stake of being alone as they face the challenges their respective ventures undertake. Small business coaching should be sought when times like this come as no one else can save struggling small business other than its owner.

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