Coaching Approaches

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Unstructured Agile Coaching

Unstructured agile coaching provides a tailored approach to resolve current challenges and address issues in the moment and as they are happening. This may relate to some tension experienced with how a team is working, or needing deeper insights into the current ways of working. Several formats for coaching conversations include:

  • Executive Coaching - To enable leaders in an organisation to understand how they can support an eco-system within which teams can thrive
  • One to One Coaching - To enable individuals to understand the principles and practices of agile, challenge their perspectives and encourage them to grow and evolve
  • One to Many Coaching - To enable groups or teams to understand the principles and practices of agile, challenge their perspectives and encourage team ownership of their agile transition

Structured Agile Coaching

Structured agile coaching relates to following a syllabus or set of learning objectives that may not have otherwise been encountered with unstructured coaching approaches. Using a structured approach with identified learning objectives allows coachees and coaches to explore new avenues and areas of growth that they may not have otherwise had the opportunity to discover.

Examples of structured coaching learning objectives:

Disruptive Coaching

This approach is intended to enable an individual or a team to "bump" out of their current mode of thinking or mental models. This can be useful when teams or individuals are beginning to form habitual approaches and sub-optimal mental models e.g. writing long User Stories for example, which is in contravention of the second Agile Manifesto values "Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation". This can also be relevant to assist a team to transition from a "Shu" state of understanding to a "Ha" state, where the team should develop their own opinion of Agile and become independent of the coach, detaching from the need to rely on the coach to give them knowledge.

The coach's dillema is that if nothing is done the team can be unaware of their sub-optimal behaviour, and yet if a coach intervenes to raise the awareness, then does this become disempowering for the team. Hence, this approach needs very careful attention so as not to violate the trust between the coachees and the coach, and still supports the team's autonomy and self determination.

The form of disruption can be a stressful encounter for both the coachee and the coach where current perspectives and mental models are challenged, and care must be made to avoid provoking a threat response and defensive reaction, which may damage the future relationship between the coachee and coach.

Non threatening approaches may include:

  • presenting data and looking objectively and encouraging the coachee to draw their own conclusions
  • introducing some external stimulus such as seeing how other teams work and perform
  • addressing how some behaviours and beliefs may be counter productive in a careful conversation

Philosophy of Agile Coaching

The current philosophy of agile coaching that is used is based upon the "ShuHaRi" concepts of Japanese learning models which have been used in martial arts for example. (N.B. These ideas can also be roughly translated in PinYin Chinese as Di Ren Tian.)

Shu – “Obey” or Di – “Earth”

At this level, the student is expected to imitate the sensei and follow tradition. This may involve practicing the same basic steps until an intuitive understanding is achieved when the steps are no longer mechanical in nature and are used with a fluid and intuitive understanding of the steps.

Coaching this level may include training such as working through a number of iterations using the Scrum or Kanban frameworks in a simulated project environment such as with the Lego City / Island simulations for example, mentoring and one to one and one to many coaching in addition to practical use of agile techniques.

The content at this level may include agile practices predominantly with some reference to the underlying agile values and principles.

Ha – “Detach” or Ren – “Human”

At this level, the student is expected to have an intuitive understanding of the basics and may begin to develop their own “style” and begin to detach from traditional approaches with creative application of standard techniques.

Coaching this level may include one to one coaching with deep socratic questioning and active listening techniques, whiteboard work with a many to many coaching approach with a group of similar students at the same level.

The content at this level is less about the agile practices, but more about applying the agile principles and values to real life situations often with open ended discussion. Systems thinking and servant leadership may well begin to form at this level.

Ri – “Separate” or Tian – “Heaven”

At this level there are no analogies or stories. The student may well be alone in their own understanding, and they may not have a defined technique anymore. The student is unbounded and has separated with tradition to pursue new and novel approaches.

Coaching at this level may take the form of active discussion or research with feedback and further study sought.

The content may well be beyond the existing agile content available and beyond the perceived boundaries with new and novel approaches described.

See Also