November 7, 2017

Coaching questions filled with curiosity – Part II

Let the coaching experiment continue!

 

Welcome back to part two of our curiosity filled coaching questions!

As mentioned last time in part one, coaching as a management practice has become a major part of my working life. I am lucky to be surrounded by a great bunch of agile minded folks here at NovaTec, and here is where their questions take us in part two:

 

Coaching questions filled with curiosity

 

Lutz asks:  “What can you do for me as an Agile coach – why should I hire you?” “What does a coach do anyway?”

Glenn’s thinking: An Agile coach’s role is a broad one and is not constrained to coaching alone. Whatever the chosen method, the coach is there to bring out the potential in others. A coach is there to help an individual work through challenges, or a team to work towards a common goal.

To enable this an Agile coach can take differing positions depending on the need. These stances range from coach and mentor to teacher and facilitator. Each of these are skills in their own right. You are certainly aware of the role of teacher – someone sharing specific knowledge to enable others.  In the facilitator role, the facilitator engages with a group of people, enabling them to move towards making a decision in a given time frame. Here the facilitator is not involved as an expert, but rather leads a group of experts to find their own solution by helping them make decisions on the way. That covers the two more obvious facets a good Agile coach should have in his repertoire.

As an Agile coach I engage with individuals or teams with the aim of helping them identify and overcome issues, in order to work to their full potential. Often this potential has become hidden, as the team has not been allowed to discover and create their own solutions. A coach approaches a team in a way that traditional management has minimised. This approach is one that allows the team to self organise, while working towards a common goal inside certain boundaries, rather than executing delegated activities.

Finally, if there is an overlap between the functional knowledge area of the individual or group being coached and that of the coach himself, then the coach can also act as mentor. Here the coach can enhance a coaching conversation by providing specific examples which have worked for him in the past in his own context. Important to note here is that after this sharing, the mentor needs to bring the client back fully into their own context. What worked for the mentor does not transfer one to one for the client. The client needs to view this additional information as a potential impulse for their own context, adapting it to meet their own needs, and not just making a carbon copy of the coach’s solution.

 

Dominik takes it further: “Dear Agile Coach, I am totally stuck in where I am right now! No clue what to do, lost. How will you rescue me?”

Glenn’s response: This is a common situation and often the impulse to call in a coach. A state of not knowing how to move forward and make progress – a feeling of stagnation. This comes about all too often in our efficiency driven world. A world which conflicts entirely with an Agile approach focused first on effectivity. A world in which many people quite simply have too many products, projects or other responsibilities on their plate. A coach can maintain a certain distance, and is not emotionally attached to the business situation in which the client finds themselves. Therefore he can help the client rediscover their own overarching big picture, as well as clarify what is most important. This help leads the client to establish a new focus for their future activity. The aim is to re-establish effectivity as a leading driver over efficiency. Working very efficiently on off target activities does not help anyone.

How I go about this as coach differs depending on just how stuck the client currently is. The overload and lack of traction that Dominik describes in his question suggests the need for probably two lines of investigation. The first would be to allow the client to free up their mind, by externalising all the current activities and laying them out visually in front of them. One simple approach here is for the coach to invite the coachee to share what is going on at the moment, and for the coachee simply to reveal everything that is on his mind. The client does not need to be structured in how they share this information, in fact they probably can not do so right now. Important is that the client can speak freely and has the feeling of being actively listened to by the coach. A calm open posture, as well as clear signals of active listening on the part of the coach are key here.

In this part of the monologue, I find it best to take short bullet point notes, trying to capture the client’s words as closely as possible. It is not important that I get this structured right now – that will come in a later step. As the client talks it is important that the coach acknowledges any difficulty the client may have to articulate their thoughts and to help and encourage them to move on further. The coach should also be ready for other indications that could provide clues for the cause of the current situation, and to follow these up with appropriate empathetic questioning. Also be prepared for emotional reactions as the client "unloads", and do not let this de-focus your listening.

Assuming the client is able to share their full context in this first session, the coach should then gain an understanding of how the client envisages a desired state for themselves, which would address their current difficulties. With this information the coach can help the client review their current context by laying out the activities shared in a simple visual fashion. At this point I like to use paper cards, asking the client to capture in their own words what I play back to them from the bullet points I have just captured. This playback step is important, as you are then giving back the ownership to the client to help them organise their own big picture in a follow on step.

Once this is layed out in front of the client, then the coach can help the client find a new focus by viewing the overall picture and identifying which aspects provide the key first steps that help move the coachee forward. Moving forward should mean the client has a greater feeling of empowerment in their own situation. It is certain that, in this overall picture, the coach will help the client identify development needs, areas where the coachee believes their skills need developing further to realise their goals. This also provides an excellent input for gaining focus and direction when these learning opportunities are mapped out in a logical fashion.

It could also be that the coach helps the client identify impediments to moving towards their goal, or where they are not able to advance further without the help of others. The issue could also be that the client needs help in saying “no”. Here it helps to remind the coachee that we can say “no” to an activity or to a timeframe, as this means we are being open and honest to the person raising the request. Simply by having all this clarified can provide that sense of rescue the client is looking for, by opening up new avenues for the coachee to make progress with again.

 

Sven now asks: “So how can a coach help a coachee to be happier and more successful?”

Glenn’s reply: I am convinced that when a client gains a feeling of empowerment, or better still of autonomy in their own doing, for example through a clearer focus and overview, then they become happier and have a greater sense of success. This motivation comes from gaining back autonomy in their own situation, and if coupled with a realistic personal development plan, then a positive feeling towards gaining mastery is also achieved. The desired state, or vision for which the individual is now striving provides the final element, namely purpose. Clearly, in order to achieve this, the coach may well need to engage jointly with the coachee and their manager. This will be less of a challenge if the coach can build up an environment of openness and trust in his interactions with both the coachee and his management.

This now addresses all elements for a holistic intrinsic motivation. With this holistic intrinsic motivation in place, happiness and success can follow.

 

Lutz asks: “What is it you can’t do as a coach?” “What are your limits?”

Glenn’s thinking: It is very important that a coach knows exactly how to conduct themselves, what he is capable of and how far his accountability extends. He needs to practice his role within these limits and be able to clearly identify when a client engagement is close to these boundaries.

At a first level the coach needs to make sure that solutions come solely from the client themselves, and that a “command and control” delegatory approach, with a desire to quickly and “efficiently” solve the client’s issues is an absolute no-go.

At a more critical level, the coach needs to know his own professional limits, and to be aware of warning signs requiring support from other professionals with expert knowledge in areas such as burn out, social integration or even psychological help.

Before starting all this, the coach needs to understand himself well too. Assume a client comes with an issue which is close to, or equivalent to the coach’s own personal challenges. If the coach is not able to manage himself in that moment, then a so-called trigger could leave the coach in an irrational state of mind, unable to effectively continue his work. This does not mean that the coach can not operate in such situations, important is that the coach can keep his own personal reaction in a given trigger situation out of his thoughts and out of the conversation, and to remain solely focused on the client’s needs. This requires a great self awareness and honesty from the coach. If he realises that he is not able to keep his personal situation out of the equation he needs to call off such an engagement, or at least look for a competent replacement.

Another aspect of triggering to watch out for is when client views and opinions do not align with your own personal values and beliefs. Here, it is important not to let your own principles become a barrier to better understanding the coachee, their way of thinking and what is currently driving their actions.

Last, but not least here, is to remain yourself – authenticity is key, so find your own style, learn to develop it, and learn to apply it throughout all your coaching engagements.

 

Wrapping up our coaching experiment

 

So with this final set of questions, let’s wrap up our experiment with a quick recap and my view of the essence of practicing a coaching role. The points below are intended to provide a more holistic view of a solution oriented coaching method and broadens beyond the aspects covered here in this two part blogpost. My intention is to provide further insight into this holistic or systemic approach in future blogposts.

  1. It’s all about helping the client!
  2. Help the client to bring clarity into their current situation
  3. Help the client to identify a personal goal or desired state
  4. Help the client to see situations when their concern or issue is not so dominant or present at all
  5. Help the client by investigating hypotheses to better understand what could be holding them back
  6. Help the client re-discover their own personal strengths and personal resources
  7. Help the client turn their perception of the situation from a problem into a solution oriented view
  8. Help the client discover development opportunities that need taking on the way
  9. Help facilitate the client towards identifying first steps towards their personal goals or desired state
  10. Help the client determine how to gain the necessary empowerment, to get themself there in a sustainable manner

Let me now leave you with the same two questions from the first part of this blogpost:

  1. What further potential do you see from practicing coaching in your own working life?
  2. How would a coaching approach further benefit you, your organisation and your customers?

If you see opportunities for applying a coaching approach in your own context, then please keep an eye on this blog space. As I just mentioned I plan to share more thoughts in the future.

In the meantime, may your coaching be full of enlightening, meaningful and solution focused conversations!