The ‘TOSS’ Model for Establishing and Maintaining Coaching Session Agreements

Tell me what you want, what you REALLY, REALLY want!” Who knew that the lyrics of a “Spice Girls” song could help new coaches establish and maintain coaching session agreements?

Music is a powerful anchor. In my experience, bringing a spin to that song’s wording (along with an easy to remember acronym) can help new coaches connect to the importance of staying in full partnership with their client and investing collaboratively in establishing a clear coaching session agreement.

As a mentor coach, I’ve noticed that it’s quite common for new coaches to jump in and coach the client around the first surface-level issue that is shared. However, partnering collaboratively to help your client determine and attain what they really, really want is crucial in any coaching session.

Last year, a colleague and mentor coach shared a tip with me – a method which helped her clients establish coaching session agreements:  the TOMS acronym (author unknown), which stands for Topic, Outcome, Meaning/Motivation and Success Measure.

I was inspired to play with the acronym and ultimately shifted it to become TOSS, which stands for Topic, Outcome, Success Measure and Significance.

In both instances, the T, O and S aspects remain the same and correlate with the third ICF Core Competency, specifically points six, seven and eight. My sense was that placing “Success Measure” after “Outcome” added more logical flow; and my clients agree. The last “S” in TOSS (and “M” in TOMS) relates to PCC Marker 3.3 which states that a “coach inquires about or explores what is important or meaningful to the client about what they want to accomplish in this session.”

Here’s what the application of the TOSS (or TOMS) acronym might sound like in a coaching session – adding in some of those memorable Spice Girls lyrics for fun:

Topic – “What brings you to coaching today?” <tell me what you want> To this, the client may share that they want a plan to help in completing an overdue project. In my experience, many new coaches immediately start coaching on whatever the client shares in response to this type of question.  To help determine what the client really wants to accomplish as a desired outcome, it’s important to bring presence and curiosity as we help them identify a specific focus for the coaching session.

Outcome – “From what you’ve shared, what will be most helpful to address (or resolve) in our time together?” <what do you really, really want?> Drawing on the above example, by investing time and space in inviting and allowing the client to share more around the topic, they may reveal that procrastination has been at play in delaying project completion.  With continued partnership, the coach can help the client identify the essence of the issue and define what is key to helping them move forward – what they REALLY, REALLY want to address/resolve in the coaching session. In the above example, perhaps the uncovered specific focus for the agreement would be that the client wants to start owning personal commitment. This desired outcome for the coaching session is on a much deeper level than the initial surface issue (topic) of creating a project completion plan.

Success Measure – “If you fast forward to the end of this session, what will be different when you’re owning commitment at the core of who you are?”  In my experience, clients typically share a response that’s at the feeling level: “I’ll feel confident,” or “I’ll feel relief,” which adds a layer of depth in itself. These feelings could be taken further by partnering with the client to understand where they have/sense that feeling physically. For example, you could ask, “When you think about being confident, where do you feel it in your body?” This can help facilitate embodiment of the success measure.

Significance (Meaning/Motivation in TOMS) – “Of all the things you’d like to address, you’ve chosen this, what makes it important?”  This question allows the coach to understand—and the client to connect with— core elements at play that are driving what the person really, really wants.  Indeed, throughout the coaching conversation, exploration of what’s behind/beneath surface-level sharing (i.e. – the significance/meaning/motivation) can contribute to facilitating new awareness and/or connection to core aspects that are key in helping the client move forward.

It’s important to be clear on and maintain the established agreement while also allowing the flexibility to follow the client wherever they’re leading in the moment. With this in mind, once the focus of the coaching session has been agreed upon, “toss” the agreement on your radar while maintaining presence in the moment.

Listening actively and deeply with maintained presence helps create a natural maintenance of the coaching agreement to ensure the session is staying on track, and/or to discern/confirm if the client seems to be shifting the direction of the session (points six and eight in the third ICF Core Competency).

The TOSS model can apply to the client’s overarching, long-term goal as well as to the relevant stakeholders’ organizational goal, both of which are on the radar during a session, even though the main focus is on the client and their desired outcome for that session.  The same applies to managing the time and focus of the session (point 9).

Lastly, the 10th point of the third ICF Core Competency speaks to partnering with the client to wrap up the session in a way that honors the experience.  This can be a great opportunity to supportively “toss” some authentic acknowledgement to the client for who they are and how they showed up in the coaching dialogue, speaking to how they showed vulnerability, commitment, and more.

© Carolyn Hamilton-Kuby 2021

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