Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Advanced Agile Coaching

This post assumes that you are already familiar with Agile Coaching as described in Lyssa Adkin's Coaching Agile Teams, taking an ICAgile ICP-ACC class, or having read the Agile Coach Basics mini-book on this blog.

The Coaching Mode
When you are in the coaching mode of Agile Coaching, you are not working together to solve a problem; you are enabling the coachee to do all of the problem solving on their own. All of your mental energy should be focused on looking for which coaching techniques to apply and applying them.

Coaching Triggers
When you are in the coaching mode, your main job is to look for coaching triggers. A coaching trigger is a specific set of circumstances that indicate the use of one or more coaching techniques. For instance, if the coachee is wandering aimlessly, that’s a trigger that indicates using a technique like focusing, interrupting, or orienting. On the other hand, if they seem distracted, you should consider using the technique of releasing. Here is a brief introduction to eleven coaching techniques and their coaching triggers that you may find useful.

When you are given a direct request, such as “can you go give that team a refresher on Scrum”, always try to move the conversation to a coaching conversation. For instance: “Sure. What’s the background on this?”

You may notice that the coachee has something on their mind getting in the way of working on their main concern. Consider bringing it out into the open with a question such as, “you seem a bit distracted by something. What’s up?”

When you are overloaded, you may feel the need to ask the coachee to pause, slow down, or repeat information. Instead, try following along with them and allow them to pursue their problem solving thought process wherever it may lead. When things settle down, you can always ask for a summary.

If something the coachee is saying doesn’t make sense to you, it may be there’s something they haven’t completely thought through but they don’t realize it. Having the coachee back up and take a look at what they are saying may help them uncover a hidden assumption or a blindspot. Example: “I’m not sure I’m following you. What’s another way to explain that?”

By thinking of a goal as a user story, with a who, what, and why, most of the ideas from user story splitting can be applied to the goals that coachees come up with during coaching. For example: “If you were to break this down into smaller pieces, what would those pieces be?”

As we go about life, we create mental models for everything: mental maps, labels, and analogies to name a few. We say things like “kind of like Scrum, but without the sprint boundaries,” “helpful,” “stubborn,” and “I feel surrounded.” If the coachee seems to be stuck in a particular mental model, having them brainstorm alternative mental models may help them find a new direction to take.

Very often, the coachee will express a potential solution unintentionally disguised as something else. Here are some key indicators that the coachee is skipping over a potential solution or piece of the puzzle. The coachee says…
  • Do you think I should do X, Y, or Z?
  • I wish they would…
  • I don’t get why they do X (instead of Y).
If the coachee is presenting potential options and then asking your opinion, turn the tables on them. For instance, if they ask “do you think I should do A or B” you can turn that into “Well, I may have some thoughts on that, but tell me your thoughts first.” When the coachee is deciding on an option, make sure they consider the ones that came up while highlighting potential solutions.

Part of being a coach is taking on the work of keeping the coachee focused. That allows the coachee to follow their thought process wherever it leads without worrying about the time. If you feel they are getting off track, you will be there to check in with them to see if they feel they should continue down the current track or need to refocus. Focusing has three related techniques: interrupting, orienting, and summarizing.

Any time you feel that the coachee has gotten off track, or you have come across a coaching trigger, it may be time to interrupt the coachee. Here are a couple of methods of interrupting that may work for you or perhaps they will remind you of a method that you like to use:
  • Open your mouth and take a breath as if preparing to speak, but then don’t say anything and close your mouth again.
  • In as friendly a way as possible, raise a finger and say “if I may?” and give an expectant look.
No matter what, continue listening and make it clear from your body language that you are definitely still paying attention. Note that some people have an aversion to being interrupted for any reason, so use your discretion when interrupting and err on the side of being patient.

Most situations that arise in coaching are part of a bigger picture. The bigger picture influences the coachee and their problem solving approach. If you have a sense that the coachee is missing the forest for the trees, consider asking them to orient themselves to the bigger picture. For instance, asking “How does what we are discussing relate to your goals and vision?”

When something is clear, it can be easily described. If you find the coachee is using a lot of detail to describe something and it is still not clear what they are saying, ask them to summarize. This can help both of you to determine if there is a need to explore the topic further or pivot to another technique. Example: “That was a lot of detail, can you summarize it for me?”

Next Steps
Check out the book Co-Active Coaching, which is one of the best and most practical Coaching books out there, or pursue an International Coaching Federation certification. You may also be interested in my new online Advanced Agile Coaching workshop which this blog post is based on.


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