Keep Coaching SIMPLE – Focus on the Solution not the Problem

I had the great pleasure of working with Mark McKergow at a workshop. He taught me so much about the coaching and consulting techniques he uses. They’re written up well in his and Paul Jackson’s book, The Solutions Focus (see below for details). But here’s a synopsis:

In essence, they advocate coaches not focussing on the problem. They argue that there’s often no obvious correlation between problem and solution. Also, a protracted length of time analysing the problem recreates the problem state. Coaches need to focus on creating a solution state with access to more resources to help them.

There are a number of similarities to Appreciative Inquiry (AI), particularly around the use of affirmations in the coaching dialogue. For those not familiar with AI it uses the process:

  • Discovery – appreciate what is
  • Dream – imagine what might be
  • Design – determine what should be
  • Destiny – create what will be

The approach of solutions-based coaching uses the following principles, based on the acronym SIMPLE:

S- Focus on Solutions not problems

I – A systems thinking approach is encouraged and focus is inbetween the people concerned, not having a mindset of us vs them!

M – Making use of available resources

P -Mine the past, present and future for possibilities and resources

L- Using language as simple as possible, to avoid over-complicating the issue

E – Every case is different – make sure coaches don’t impose any preconditions

So here’s the coaching process:

1. Begin with the PLATFORM. This is where we are now. You might use the metaphor of imagining that a train is coming to help them on their way towards a solution. Problem states can be characterised as being ‘in’ something or static (as in ‘in a mess’, ‘I feel stuck’). The notion of a journey can be helpful to redefine the system.

2. Move to the FUTURE PERFECT, a description of where the other person wants to get to. You might ask:

‘What if the problem went away overnight?’

‘How would others know?’

‘What will be different when the problems have disappeared?’

‘What will be the first signs?’

3. The next step is to accumulate COUNTERS. These are the resources, skills, knowhow and expertise that will count in getting us toward the solution. You might ask:

‘When does the solution happen already? Even a little bit?’

‘How have you managed to get as far as you have?’

4. Provide some AFFIRMATIONS. Try questions such as:

‘What are you impressed with?’

‘What skills and resources can you observe?’

‘What are the grounds for optimism?’

The coach’s role is to help those involved see the value of these resources.

5. Encourage SMALL STEPS, actions that can be taken tomorrow. Encourage the perception of starting something, rather than stopping. Reviewing the success of these steps provides more resources.

6. Use a SCALE where 1 is where the problem is at its worst and 10 is a realisation of the Future Perfect. This helps you monitor progress. Useful coaching questions relating to scaling are as follows:

‘What stops you from slipping back to 1?’

‘You’re at n now. What would it take to get to n+1?’

I find this to be a powerful model because I find the step of taking action particularly important to get right and somewhat fragile. This technique ensures that more attention is given to making the right choice and taking the action with conviction.

For more information about this coaching methodology see

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