Agile coaching: I thought I was, but I wasn’t

By Nathan Donaldson in Agile on November 21, 2011

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I’ve been coaching members of the Boost team in Agile off and on over the last few years, and by and large it has been useful and well received. But attending The Coaching Stance class run by the Agile Coaching Institute last week has really opened my eyes and made me reconsider what coaching means in the Agile context.

My own personal experience of coaching is firmly grounded in the sports world. The coach evaluates an area of performance, makes a teaching point or two, sets up a drill, evaluates whether the drill is correcting the weakness or fault, and then sets homework for the coming week.

So when I am with my golf coach it usually goes something like this:

This is fairly typical and extremely useful. My golf has gone from “baboon attacks ball with stick” to “chimp attacks ball with more expensive stick” in only a year and 5 trips to the pro shop!

My approach to Agile coaching had, in many ways, mirrored this. I would talk with my client, identify an opportunity for improvement, and suggest something for them to try. Rinse and repeat. This has been effective on many occasions, but I’ve always wondered how I could do better.

The Agile Coaching Institute promotes co-active coaching, and this is what we were exposed to in our two day class. The class focussed on coaching, with the understanding that participants already had a deep understanding of Agile/Lean practices.

The class was the most effective training I have ever had. After two days I’d coached and been coached by over a dozen different people, and had moved my  practice to a whole new level. I am excited by the possibilities it opens for myself, the Boost team and our clients. I’m not waiting until I get back to Wellington to put the training into practice:  I’ve already been doing some coaching with the team back at work over the phone.

While it’s not easy or fair to try to distill the whole course into a paragraph or two, I’d like to reflect on the changes I’m already seeing in my practice. The biggest change is that I’m seeing coaching in a new light. I’m not there to problem-solve: my coaching client is whole, resourceful and creative, not someone who needs to be ‘fixed’ or ‘improved’. Instead, my role is to support the person I’m coaching to find their own solutions. This takes the pressure off me. I don’t need to know all the answers or figure out how to fix things: I can relax, and focus on what I’m hearing.

Cynthia, Lyssa and Michael provided a safe, supportive and honest space for us to learn and challenged us in many different ways. I was suprised by how quickly the class bonded. The coaching was at times intense ,and often suprisingly carthartic.

Thanks to everyone on the course. With so many talented Agile coaches,  I know the Agile world is in good hands.