Like anything new (baseball seasons, for example), coaching relationships usually begin optimistically. I’m assuming here that both parties are engaged in coaching voluntarily (ie they aren’t hostages!) and that both people have at least a basic level of respect for the other.

If you think that’s enough, hold onto your seats. Or just take a look at where 50% of marriages end up despite the smiling wedding pictures.

As almost any consultant or professional can tell you, the devil is in the details of the scope. And scope is all about expectations. But in seemingly informal situations like coaching, people often fail to get crystal clear on expectations. This, as in all of professional life, can make for some pretty unpleasant surprises. You think you’re really doing the business as a coach, only to find out (through a formal feedback process, or Heaven forbid, through the grapevine) that you’re not measuring up to your colleague’s expectations. That can really take the wind out of your sails as a coach, especially when you are going above the call of duty (in your mind) to do this sort of thing in the first place. As Mr. Nezzer, a loveable zucchini of VeggieTales fame, would say, “I’m not feeling very appreciated around here.”

And it’s totally avoidable.

All you have to do is have a conversation early on in your work with your colleague. Talk together about when you’ve had positive relationships in the past. Talk about the nightmare situations (no need to name names, just get the facts out). Then agree to a few simple ground rules that will make life liveable for both of you. If you’re going to invest good hours of your professional life in trying to help this person excel, you may as well make sure it’s not driving either of you nuts!

Need a starting point? Think about how you will handle scheduling of meetings. Who will take initiative for getting things on the calendar? What’s your “cancellation policy” for each other? Think about homework and pre-work. When you agree to actions, what expectations do you have for completion by the appointed date?

You might ask, “Do we need to write this down like with a real client?” Well, it’s up to you of course. But if this work is any less “real” than other things you do in the firm, I’d suggest the two of you need to have a serious talk about how to re-focus your work on something important. This is your life you’re talking about. My personal opinion is that a short email following your meeting with a summary of your understanding will do just fine and will act as a reminder for both parties if (or when) you slip up.

Or you can trust your memory. Hope springs eternal!