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Using Troika Consulting to Illustrate the Difference between Coaching and Mentoring

August 28, 2019


Coaching Compass


Being a Scrum Master requires to take many different stances and approaches when working together with teams and individuals. Two of them that are probably used most are “Coaching” and “Mentoring”. Choosing consciously between those stances is something that we cover in our PSM courses. But what are the differences between them and how can you illustrate those to people that aren’t yet familiar with them? 

In my training as well as in individual customer engagements I’ve used a Liberating Structure called “Troika Consulting” to do so. In case you have never heard of LS: They are a growing and evolving set of techniques to facilitate interactions between people. It is always the goal to move control of content towards a group and involve everybody within this process. A great introduction can be found here

Troika Consulting roughly works as follows:

  • You’ll need groups of three people

  • Every group sits together in a triangular fashion, facing each other

  • As a facilitator invite everyone to come up with a challenge they are currently facing. Everyone can think of this in silence.

  • The conversation is organised in 4 rounds

    • Client shares her challenge

    • Consultants ask clarifying questions

    • Clients turn their back to the consultants and are encouraged to take notes. They should not do anything else and “give her best impression of a statue” (quoting a respected colleague here). Consultants have a conversation and generate ideas, suggestions and whatever else they might come up with. 

    • Clients shares to the consultants what (s)he could take out of the experience.


The coaching part

The first round is the perfect place to practice active listening! As a consultant, you have to focus on your client fully and don’t get distracted by your own thoughts or the environment. 

During the second round, another aspect of coaching comes into play. Asking clarifying questions to gain further knowledge about the client’s situation. For example: “Who else is involved?”, “What is the part that is not yet clear?”, “What else?”. The questions used here work best when they are powerful ones not directing the client in any direction but only revealing information. In an explicit coaching session, there are also questions that not only clarify but also reveal and activate the client's own resources (e.g. “What concerns you the most?”, “If you had free choice, what would you do?”). However, this is not part of Troika Consulting.


The mentoring part

As soon as the clients turn its back on them, the stance of the consultants changes from coaching to mentoring. As mentors, they elaborate on the situation of the client. They exchange thoughts and ideas on how to handle it. They share the experiences they have made in similar situations. Sticking to mentoring means that telling what to do is usually not an option. A mentor lets a mentee benefit from his experience but is very well aware of the fact that in complex environments silver bullets or one size fits all approaches won’t work. Therefore a mentor makes offers and probes whether something felt useful or applicable for his mentee at the very same time. This is what happens in Troika Consulting when the clients share back his takeaways in the fourth round.


How 2 apply it

I usually explain the process of Troika consulting and what to do in its respective steps but don’t yet tell about coaching or mentoring. I merely describe what to do from a very practical point of view (“Face each other and ask your client clarifying questions”) as well as from a mindset one (“Don’t ask with any other intention than curiosity or getting to get better context”). After everyone has had a chance of experiencing the exercise for themselves in the different roles I reveal what the different stances are, give away a bit of my experience on how to act within them. Afterwards, I’ll let the participants share whatever comes up and deal with questions that might arise.

You’ll find some other applications for Troika Consulting in Scrum in this blogpost from fellow PST Christian.

Have you made personal experiences in Troika Consulting as well as coaching and mentoring? Feel free to share them in the comments! Any thoughts and ideas are appreciated! 

Scrum on!



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