Have we forgotten about trying to be the ‘best’? Are we satisfied with ‘good enough’
solutions? Do you believe that you can be the best in the world in your profession?
Are you continually improving?
In the next couple of slides, I want to characterize what I mean by coaching. Some of
you might have different definitions; but I define coaching to be anything drawn into
yourself from others or borne out of your personal experience and shared with
others. Structured coaching, formal coaching, informal coaching, blogs, micro-blogs,
shared code, shared conversation. By my definition, it’s all coaching.
Adaptive, high-performance teams
- Ever sit near the ice surface at a professional hockey game? Notice how the players bark at one another,
- Every once in a while the TV camera focuses on some grizzled veteran taking aside one of the younger players
- Notable story earlier this year when a veteran player was sent down to the minors. Instead of being insulted
and sulking, he took it on himself to take one of the younger players aside and tell him that he was partying
too much off-ice and hurting his career. Coaching.
Kids at the Olympic Oval
- Heard two of the kids chatting about cornering – in a highly technical sport, that’s a highly technical topic.
They were 12 years old. Coaching.
Downhill Skiing is a team sport?
- Cary Mullen, Olympian and World Cup Champion currently holds the World Downhill Speed Record for skiing
97 MPH (151 KMH) down the world’s most famous ski course in Kitzbuhel.
- Mentioned on the Jungle Jim Hunter show that he didn’t realize until later in his career that skiing
was a team sport – was that when they were chatting about this race or this practice, or this
equipment, or whatever that it was coaching one another, pushing one another to improve.
- Jam sessions / workshops in music festivals have to be one of the best examples of intensive collaboration,
working off one another, subtle communication, subtle or not-so-subtle encouragement, making each other
look good, etc. Coaching.
- I’m not even a practitioner, but I know one thing about improv, and that’s that you work to build off one
another, and avoid asking questions that or doing something that would “block” the other performer. Intensive
listening. Acting on what you observe to make it funnier, more absurd, … or better, in other words. Coaching.
You can’t have tunnel vision and have the scene work. You have to take everyone with you if you take it
What I wanted to know is – what can we learn from these other disciplines, given that we’re also discovering that
we benefit from coaching one another?
Intent is to have the audience think of these core practices from a perspective of
collaboration and teamwork – those sorts of activities where coaching is going to
happen. Are there any of these where coaching is not applicable, both from a ‘how
do you do this activity’ perspective, to a fundamental part of how it works.
Intent here is to demonstrate that the list of non-technical skills isn’t a) always
acknowledged and b) typically under-estimated. I’m positioning “coaching” as a
foundational skill that makes all those other non-technical skills possible.
The Agile Coaching book felt a little off because it didn’t seem to draw from the coaching traditions of sports or
the arts. Couldn’t even really tie it to what I have seen for business coaching. Different target market, I think. I’m
trying to address all team members since my assertion is that coaching and leading is everyone’s job. Here are
some observations from sporting fields that illustrate the disconnection that I felt reading the book.
Never Asking Why
- This is an example of a blocking question in improv theatre terms. Automatically puts the individual being
coached on the defensive. Instead, focus on goals, objectives first in a different kind of question. Sports
example: recovery in speed-skating. You wouldn’t ask ‘why are you doing it like that’? You would ask, ‘where
is your centre of gravity?’ What are you doing to ensure that you’re balanced? Is your leg actually
‘recovering’? Are you noticing your leg relaxing? Etc. In our field, asking why would have a similar effect.
Practice, Practice, Practice
- Teams have set plays (off the faceoff in hockey, for example). These are practiced, rehearsed, practiced again.
Over and over. So when it comes game time, the play is automatic. It just happens, and it happens so quickly
that it seems inhuman. You can argue that we can make coding “plays” automatically in an analogous way
using refactoring tools, code snippet libraries, patterns, etc. and I would agree with you. But what about the
rest of the agile core skills? Wanna practice a user story workshop?
A Student of the Game
- Every once in a while this phrase comes up when the sports broadcasters want to compliment a player that
works hard off the field of play to study what the competition is doing or to analyze what they themselves have
done in a game. The phrase they use is “they are a true student of the game”. They also use this to compliment
coaches, too. So, most probably likely since you’re here at events like this, are you a student of the game you’re
- From Apprenticeship Patterns by Dave Hoover and Adewale Oshineye
Your notebook, blog or wiki should be a nursery not a graveyard.
- They further talk about “creative review” of your notes/experiences where you get a chance to strengthen
your initial thoughts based on new experiences, or possibly interpret your experience in a different way based
on what you know now.
- At any rate, what is stopping us, as professionals, from using our notebooks, blogs, or wikis that way? Why do
we do only end-of-project retrospectives in some organizations. Why is it to so easy to de-personalize a
project retrospective? What if every single “play” that we execute as part of our
work was worthy of analysis?
Aside: those with media training seemed more unwilling to answer the second
question, choosing their words carefully.
Includes national senior team members from Canada, US and national junior team
members from Argentina, Canada, several junior hockey players, a couple of retired
players from the NHL.
My first attempt at categorizing the responses. I used a Shewhart cycle since in
conversation with the athletes, they seemed to mentioned “improving” a lot.
Understandable. Wasn’t really satisfied with this classification; never really told me
too much other than the coaches spend a lot of time talking about ‘doing’ and not as
much ‘testing’. So the coach is more likely to provide guidance on what to do, as
opposed to pick apart or criticize. Not much of a surprise.
This is an attempt to do an affinity analysis with a different continuous improvement
framework, and not restricting myself to those categories. This better captures the
coaches role. Look at the larger numbers – the coach teaches how to respond to
issues/problems that were detected, supports and sustains the athlete, and is an
authority figure (point of reference) as needed. This seems like more useful
information when you associate this back to agile development: coaches should focus
on giving teams the ability to respond to issues/pitfalls/experiences, they should
support and sustain teams by offering them explicit support and encouragement and
by teaching team members to support/encourage/build off one another. At the same
time, coaches should be technical enough in the topics at hand so that the team
members view them as an authority.
Just to make sure I wasn’t crazy using this categorization, I put the coaching tips from
the Agile Coaching book and put them into the same categories. The result
encouraged me that this wasn’t a bad direction to take … but still wanted to add to
this list from the results of the survey.
When discussing ‘Protect’:
David Hutton in The Change Agents’ Handbook
You do not have to spend a lot of time and effort on those who strongly resist
change. You only have to help and protect those who want to change, so that
they are able to succeed.
(via Fearless Change by Mary Lynn Manns and Linda Rising)
You don’t have to use these axes; the point is, don’t coach from the same viewpoint
every time you coach. Listen and understand where the team is coming from, assess
your own skills in the areas that they want guidance on, and then come up with your
coaching plan after that. Putting it on a chart like this will help you to monitor
changes over time, or assist you in determining the methods that might best be
suited for a given situation.
Autocratic – command and control
Democratic – we’re in this together
Bureaucratic – by the book
Laissez-Faire – hands-off
Protective – help the team to avoid pitfalls, know what might hurt them
Detective – help the team to identify risks, pitfalls, what’s wrong
Responsive – offer timely assistance, be specific with solutions, be there
Supportive – listen, observe, motivate, know when to push, know limits
Happy to Help – enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm
Authoritative – be a point of reference
Recommending that coaches take the continuous improvement approach to
coaching, always look for periodic improvements.
Recommending that team members provide the raw materials for making coaching
What struck me when listening to the athletes talk and by observing the children at
the Oval coach one another on relatively technical topics, is that they were
demonstrating leadership skills. No one told them to discuss the cornering, no one
was there to broker the conversation between the two skaters. They just did it on
Final note: speed-skating training, at all levels, is done in ‘trains’ of skaters, where the
train takes on say doing 12 laps. Of those laps, everyone in the train takes a turn at
the front, where the drag is greatest, and at the back, where the drag is the smallest.
At least at my level, that train can do 12 laps faster than any one individual in that
train can do. Working together like that, you accomplish speeds that you cannot
imagine doing when you’re skating on your own.