I want to go back to the various statements about coaching that I posted in a previous article. There I asked the question: Which ones are myths, and which are true? How do they stand up considering the things we have learned about coaching?
We need coaching only when we have problems.
Coaching is a marvelous tool for problem-solving and, although in most cases people will seek coaching because they have a problem to solve, it would be a mistake to limit it to this purpose alone.
Some managers, scrum masters, or coaches… suffer a sort of “prodigal son” mentality and spend all their time and energy addressing the poorest performers. Do not assume that people who are performing well do not have vast reserves of potential that might be released through coaching. Even the best performers benefit from coaching. We need only to look at the sport to know that this is true.
Coaching is for managers and team leaders only.
Typically coaching is delivered by team leaders to team members, and this is usually because companies and other businesses are organized in a hierarchy. But it does not have to be this way.
Anyone can coach. The skills of coaching are not in any way connected to age, status, experience, or job role. Similarly, coaching can be delivered in any direction and should not be limited to a top-down approach from a team leader to a team member. Armed with a desire to help and the appropriate tools, anyone can engage in the activities of assisting others to realize their potential and goals, and experience the tremendous satisfaction that comes from doing so.
Coaching is time-consuming.
We might respond to this by suggesting that there is not time NOT to coach! We must, however, recognize that coaching is in many ways an investment that pays back in the medium to long term. It might be very difficult to decide whether to take the time to coach an individual through a problem or whether to let them deal with the situation themselves, especially if the dynamic and production of the team can be affected. This is a matter of choice and taking responsibility.
Effective leaders base their decision on an evaluation of the needs of the situation and the people involved to make an informed choice. Less effective seniors will tend to think that solving all the team’s problems themselves is part of their role, perhaps in the mistaken belief that this is the essence of strong leadership.
Managers who coach, however, can take on a more authoritative style when the need arises, without alienating the team or damaging trust.
Coaching needs expertise in the underlying subject.
We need expertise in a subject to teach it, but not to coach. In coaching, expertise can be quite dangerous. It provides temptation to slip back into telling people what to do, giving advice and rescuing people, rather than letting them learn. I understand that as agile coaches, we need to do some teaching in the case of organization transformation or a new team. But we need to be aware when to stop. Also be aware that even agile is a focus on people and interactions and not the process and ceremonies, so as teams mature you need to spend less time on teaching and should focus more on empowering individuals and build a healthy group dynamic.
Where we find, ourselves coaching people in matters that we do have expertise in, we must work hard to resist this temptation and remember that coaching is about helping people to learn and to become independent and resourceful. This is to everyone’s benefit over time.
Coaching is a fancy name for feedback and training.
Well-constructed feedback can be extremely valuable to people as they try to improve performance in any area. However, it is limited to what we can observe and notice and this can be of no consequence if the performance issue has to do with how people feel.
Poorly constructed feedback can do lasting damage and reinforce limiting beliefs. Coaching avoids these pitfalls by concentrating on the needs and experiences of the person being coached.
Training has its place, of course, and when done well it is an excellent way of arming people with the basic skills and knowledge that they need to perform their roles. Coaching comes into its own when we want to develop performance and allow people to utilize the full extent of the knowledge and skills that they have gained through training.
Unlike training, coaching derives its agenda from the needs of the individual, it takes place at work (which is where learning really happens) and it can be delivered at anytime and anywhere.
So much for these coaching myths. Let’s not shove coaching into a small box. It’s too important to broad agile success and becoming a good servant leader. Learn to do it well.