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  • Kasia Łanucha

The difference between training and coaching (and what they have in common)

Understanding the boundaries between coaching and other disciplines such as mentoring, consulting, counselling and training has never been more relevant.

In recent years, the discussion about the discrepancies between coaching and training has been particularly prominent since coaching seems to have been used as the synonym for training worldwide. Some suggest that the reason for this fashion is linked to a shift in perception. Training is often seen as a hierarchical delivery of information and therefore evokes negative connotations of not being congruent with the desire of organisations to be seen as forward-looking by embracing coaching (as opposed to training) as a change driver. As a result, many corporate trainers have re-branded themselves as ‘facilitators’ or ‘coaches’ in order to meet the demand of the market. In addition, some HR professionals may themselves be confused about coaching as a 1-to-1 training that can serve as a training replacement. Clarity about the main differences and similarities between coaching and training is therefore much needed.

Both training and coaching, when used at managerial levels of organisation, address the need for enhanced overall performance since replacing managers with new ones with the necessary skill set is not cost-effective. When it comes to definitions, training has been seen

‘as the process by which people acquire various skills and knowledge that increases their effectiveness in a number of ways, which include leading and leadership, guiding, organizing, and influencing others to name a few’ (Klein and Ziegert, 2004).

Coaching, on the other hand, is ‘a human development process that involves structured, focused interaction and the use of appropriate strategies, tools and techniques to promote desirable and sustainable change for the benefit of the coachee and potentially other stakeholders’ (Bachirova, Cox and Clutterbuck, 2009).

Both interventions are therefore aimed at a change in the behaviour of an individual in the interest of the purchaser.

The distinction between coaching and training is not difficult to draw, but there is much overlap in the characteristics of the two interventions. Apart from the more obvious aspects such as numbers (group vs. 1-to-1) and timing (one-off or a series of sessions vs. repeated coaching session), some other differences are more significant: the objectives, delivery, or the background of the facilitator.

When considering the objectives for example, training usually has a directive approachwith a clearly stated measurable session outline and objectives. The trainer (or the buyer) owns the goal. One could argue that many training companies use pre-seminar questionnaires in order to establish the needs of the group and tailor the content accordingly hence the learning goal is student-oriented, but in reality, the buyer will have defined the purpose of the training when commissioning a trainer and the pre-work will only allow customising of the overarching pre-agreed goal.

Coaching, on the other side, is defined as either directive or non-directive, some authors even claiming that it should be neither but rather should be the answer to the client’s needs. In any case, the client owns the goal of the session (although controversy in this aspect can also be found).

Even in terms of the delivery methods, there are both differences and overlap. Training is not always trainer-centred delivery, far from it. Modern training can include learner-centred, group coaching activities and approaches to coaching can vary from complete lack of structure to structured e.g. by using the GROW model.


When it comes to the facilitator’s expertise, trainers are expected to have mastered the content they deliver, but one can find contradicting views in terms of coaching. Whereas some authors believe that coaches don’t have to be subject matter experts, others write that coaches without the sector knowledge have a disadvantage since 65% of coaching buyers will look for coaches with experience in a similar setting (Harvard Business Review, 2009). To conclude, coaching and training should be seen as two intertwined interventions that, when combined, can reinforce the learning and hence the overall benefits for individuals and organisations.


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