The world of agile coaching is incredibly diverse in its toolkits and approaches. An artful approach to agile coaching is knowing when to apply a specific stance in a specific circumstance. Great agile coaches will probe by asking questions and listening to the specific concerns of their client and apply the appropriate stance in that moment. When the coach steps out of the coaching stance, the provide the assistance that is the best exemplar of that stance, then shift back into the coaching stance as soon as possible.
This is the default stance for an agile coach. The spend a large amount of time listening (Think – 2 ears, 1 mouth, do twice as much listening as talking).
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership.” (ICF Coaching Definition)
In the coaching stance, the coach will use artful questions layered in specific models to help the client arrive at a set of possible actions. The client then owns the plans to go forward with the coach supporting when it does not detract from the learning and growth of the client.
- Actively listens to the client. When the coach speaks it is to ask a question, or provide an experience, followed by a question on how that experience lands with the client. When the coach speaks, they try to be as clear and concise as possible.
- The “ball” is passed back to the client. This means the coach holds the client accountable for advancing the agenda of the session.
- The coach talks a lot and with the risk of dragging on and losing the client. No check in questions are used to see if the client shares the understanding.
- The coach takes on a lot of the work to move the client to the next stage in the journey. This can lead to a breakdown in the relationship should the coaches’ ‘advice’ fail to provide benefits for the client.
Advising is a style of consultancy. In this stance the coach provides a set of prescriptive steps for the client to follow. This can work early in an engagement with the client while the client is in their early development stages. When a coach is working with a developing organization, a strict coaching stance may come across as aggravating. The client may harbour thoughts like, “This coach does not know anything!” as the client is not receiving concrete knowledge they can, at least, contemplate.
- Engage the client in dialogue, listen for specific problem points. Inject small bits of advise into the conversation. Ask the client what they think of the thought. If there is a positive response, note it, and come back to detail it later after more context has been established.
- Breadth first, details later. Provide the higher level framework through process steps or light weight models to ease the client into the understanding.
- Provide context and evidence on what made the advise successful with another client. Not all clients are the same, however some problem areas are quite normal. Provide evidence of the normalization.
- Solutioning without dialogue with the client leads to misalignment of purposes.
- Avoid deep dives into excessive details without connecting with specific problem areas that the client has. The client may become lost and not ask questions out of fear of looking foolish.
- “Wow, that’s a whopper of a problem, we have not seen that one before!” Avoid affirming the clients pain points. Look for the 15% minimum spec solution that is common with the client and common with the coach’s previous engagements. There will be common patterns to start with that can help shift back into a coaching stance, “We identified this concerns, and put some of these thoughts together, what looks possible for you now?”
Mentoring is the practice of imparting knowledge to a client. The mentor is an expert in their field with the ability to provide direct solutions to a clients problem based on past experiences. Mentoring differs from advising as there is a faster feedback loop from when the advise is provided and the client acts on the advice.
- The mentor is well versed in the subject matter. Their knowledge is vast enough that the show flexibility in approaches to the subject matter that the client is putting forward.
- Feedback is, clear and pointed towards the specific work needing to be improved. The mentor-client relationship ways of working have been set so the mentor can be as candid as possible with their feedback.
- Feedback is judgmental towards the work in a way that it can be evidenced through the professional standards that are accepted for that type of work.
- The mentor has a deep network of support which they can tap to find assistance for the client when the mentor finds themselves at the limit to which they can support the client.
- The mentor is deficient in the subject matter and may use simplified approaches that do not get into the nuances that the client requires to bypass their struggles.
- Feedback is reigned in as to not seemingly offend the client.
- Feedback is directed towards the client and not the work.
- The mentor find themselves consistently at dead ends in the mentoring engagements. They have not taken the time to engage with other thought leaders in the industry, or deepen their practiced into current methods, limiting their options.
Training the process of providing knowledge of a specific skill or behavior to a learner. The dissemination of the material typically follows a specific outline or curriculum which may or may not be tailored to the learner’s specific problems.
- The training has been designed to the client’s context so the instruction is meaningful and can be applied immediate to the client’s situation.
- The training is developed for the learning capabilities of the learners, such that the learners expertise and knowledge are integrated into the training, leading to immediate generation of experience.
- The training is vague and disconnected from the client’s context leading to confusion, or a mis-application of the training leading to errors in execution and detrimental financial impact.
- Training does not recognize the wholeness of the learners and their experiences they bring to the session. The training may come across as pedantic or disconnected from the learners needs.
Role Modeling Stance
Role modeling is the process of teaching new skills or behaviours to learners in a “practice by doing” approach in a low risk to failure environment. Learners can mimic the behaviour of the person they are role modeling from in their environment. Observations can be captured so that the learner can make adjustments to their approaches before attempting the approaches in an environment where improper application of the skill carries risk for the organization or people impacted from the behaviour.
Beneficial Role Modeling
- The person the client is role modeling from has extensive experience with the subject matter. Enough that they can help craft the role modeling scenarios complete with some of the what-if intricacies that can emerge in the simulation.
Detrimental Role Modeling
- The role modeler has limited experience in the subject matter and may not be able to adapt to the situations emerging with the client or they may incorrectly intuit the context of the situation and lead the client down a risky path.