Coaching Ethics Executive Coaching

Contracting Boundaries

This article is adapted from Sunny Stout Rostron’s book, Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching (2009), which is available from Knowledge Resources (

Contracting the relationship

Developing the habit of both formal and informal contracting is one of the first steps in beginning to understand the dynamics of formulating a coaching relationship and setting boundaries. The coach and client agree to conditions of time, space, fees, confidentiality and goals. In contracting, the business coach agrees to a specific set of conditions.

The purpose of the contract is to open up the potential for trust between coach and client. This is essential if the client is to trust their own self-exploration. As the agreement lays the foundation for the relationship, it must be adhered to in action for trust to develop.

Contracting definitions

The contract between coach and client sets out which services have been agreed to, and delineates all fees as well as the outcomes and deliverables that can be expected. The contract sets out ground rules for the coaching relationship so that both parties are aware of their obligations. This helps prevent future misunderstandings and provides a firm basis to deal with disagreements. The contract describes the relationship between the coach and multiple parties, such as the individual client, the client organization, the HR unit, and line management.

Objectives for the individual executive and for the organization need to be clarified, with boundaries made explicit in terms of confidentiality, fees, cancellation and termination of the contract. Often in coaching, the contracting process is linked to the generation and fulfilment of outcomes. Contracting usually deals with the management of the process, roles played, evaluation of the process, learning and outcomes, and the exit clauses.

Another important aspect of contracting is the evaluation of the contract, including termination or renewal. In any business contracting process, it is important to draw up the “marriage” and the “divorce” papers at the beginning: a bit like a prenuptial contract. It is as important to specify the boundaries and parameters of the entire coaching intervention, i.e. how the process will proceed from beginning to end, and how to terminate the process, whether at the contracted termination point or sooner if required by either party.

Defining coaching in your contract

It is useful to include a definition of coaching within your contract, specifying how coaching differs from the other helping professions. For example, “the services to be provided by coach to client are coaching as designed jointly with the client. Coaching, which is not advice, therapy, or counselling, may address specific personal or professional projects, business issues, or general conditions in the client’s life or profession”.

Also to be included could be the following clause which we use in our own coaching contracts:

Throughout the working relationship, the coach will engage with the client in direct conversation. The client can count on the coach to be honest and straightforward in asking questions, making interventions and facilitating the setting of goals. The client understands that the power of coaching is in the relationship between client and coach. If the client or the coach believes the coaching is not working as desired, either client or coach will communicate this.

Contracting and setting boundaries

Boundary (2)Essentially, to contract the overall journey, coach and client discuss what each brings to the relationship, and the overall aim of coaching for the client (input). Coach and client then discuss how the coaching will take place: timing, boundaries, fees and the tools and techniques to be used by the coach, and the way the client would prefer to work (throughput). They also discuss the overall results and outcomes the client hopes to achieve from the coaching intervention, results that need to be visible to the organization, and thinking, feeling and behaviour that the client would like to change (output).

As a rule, I start the coaching conversation with input: “Where are you now?” “Where do you want to get to by the end of this conversation?” “What do you want to talk about?” “What’s on the menu for today?” Once we have identified what needs to be worked on, I move into throughput: using whichever question frameworks, tools or techniques are relevant to the process. For output, we summarize actions, learning and outcomes from the conversation.


Stout Rostron, S. (2009). Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice, Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching. Johannesburg: Knowledge Resources.

By Sunny Stout-Rostron Associates

Sunny coaches at senior executive and board level in corporate organizations and educational institutions. She has a wide range of experience in leadership and management development,  business strategy and executive coaching. With over 20 years’ international  experience as an executive coach, Sunny believes that there is a strong link between emotional intelligence and business results – she works with leaders and their  teams to help them achieve individual, team and organizational goals, gaining  wisdom and knowledge through their own experience.

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