One of the most challenging experiences of any transformation is working with a coach. Whether the goal is weight loss or improving business agility, the coaching experience can be a mixed bag of success. Some experiences are fantastic and productive; others have missed expectations and personal chemistry clashes that leave people hating the idea of ever getting coached again.
Whatever the case may be for you, there are a few ways to get the value you deserve from your coaching relationship. Often, they are overlooked by both the coach and those being coached. Setting up a strong foundation of expectations for both parties at the start gives your efforts a much better chance for success.
Coaching is a broad topic; this article is focused on coaching teams and leaders in business agility, Agile, and technical practices. Although team coaching and individual coaching experiences can be different, there are some basic constructs for success that apply to both types.
1. Establish Clear Outcomes
“I didn’t realize I was going to have to do the work. I thought the coach would make a few slides for me to take and run with.”
Work with your coach to define what it is you or your team want from coaching. Instead of looking at a contract, statement of work, or a nifty spreadsheet you created, have a discussion with your coach. Answer upfront questions like the following for everyone involved, including the coach:
- What are my expectations?
- What outcomes do I want to achieve?
- How do I expect people to work with me?
- What defines success for me?
Begin with intention and goals to get the most value out of your coaching experience. You can always adjust as you learn what can be accomplished.
2. Be Prepared
“I don’t have time to learn to swim. I am too busy drowning!”
Accept that quality individual and team coaching experiences take time. When you give your time and focus to coaching, you are far more likely to have a successful experience. Slowing down to talk about the current and future states, as well as what you’ve tried so far, is incredibly valuable to shaping coaching discussions and outcomes. If there are many things to talk about, you will likely need to prioritize them with your coach, so you can limit your focus. Some individuals and teams make a visual reference, such as a Kanban board, of the things they want to work on together, so they don’t lose sight of anything, and can determine what are the most important things to work on.
In my coaching experiences, I have observed many people and teams being very vocal about wanting to get coaching help, but then are unable to make any time to actually meet. The usual impediment is that something else more important needed their attention. “This will never work. We can’t tell our leader that we aren’t working on Project X because we are getting coaching!”
How true. Most leaders are completely supportive of coaching, until it affects their favorite program. Getting buy-in from leaders is important to introducing a successful coaching program. The next equally important activity is for individuals and teams to plan for learning in their work. Communicate to those who care that you are committed to creating sustainable change and this work demands consistent coaching. This prepares them – and yourself – for the likelihood that your coaching journey and work priorities collide. By establishing this up front, neither you nor the person whose program is being deprioritized have the out for you to put off coaching. In the end, everyone benefits – you from the coaching, and them from the fruits of your experience.
3. Be Honest
“We didn’t tell our coach about the feud we’re having with that other team. It’s not worth explaining all the legacy systems stuff, because he won’t get it.”
Your coach can only help achieve outcomes as much as you and your team are honest. Establish the kind of confidentiality you need and the scope of coaching focus you want in order to have productive discussions. Share the things you’ve tried before and why they did or did not work. Share your hopes, frustrations and reality so that your coach has a clear view.
Honesty often opens up problems and opportunities that have been avoided in the past. It’s difficult work, and a good coach will help move past or through these things. The result is often new space to innovate and add value to the organization.
4. Own it!
“We listened to what our coach said, and even asked another coach for their thoughts. Then, we took into account what we’ve already tried, and we have a new path to try.”
Coaching is founded on ownership of the individual or team. Coaches don’t prescribe how to do work or give solutions to problems; they challenge with questions, share their insight, and offer advice. It’s up to the person or individual to take what they hear and combine it with their experiences and knowledge.
At first, it might feel like the coach isn’t doing anything to help. You may think to yourself, “All she did was ask me questions!” Ownership of learning is a mindset that can be difficult to practice at first. Over time, with a coach’s encouragement, change can happen. Individuals and teams learn to listen to the coach’s offerings, think about their own perspectives and realities, and then balance it to create a next right move. It might be a small-scale experiment they need to validate, or a philosophy that needs time to steep.
When individuals and teams begin to own their learning – to learn out of their own self-identified desire to understand – the environment of your organization begins to change in an exponential way, ultimately making a strong contribution to transformation. The reason is that learning – once considered something that people did until they graduated from high school or college – is now seen as a necessary skill throughout life. That in itself can be transformative for an individual, but when you encourage people with a continuous learning mindset to interact and grow together, the learning grows exponentially.
“I liked the advice I got from my coach, but I wasn’t sure how to translate it into my work. Together, we found a way to try one part of the advice, and then evaluate what happens.”
Transformation work is undulating; rarely does a person lose weight exactly the way they planned to do it. With uncertainty as the norm, having an enterprising, experimental mindset with coaching offers a chance to create a cycle of taking small steps, inspecting results, and adapting from there. This approach helps create a coaching experience that is meaningful and sustained. Your coach can help you find ways to experiment with what you want to accomplish using this inspect-and-adapt cycle.
If an organization is new to experimentation and innovation, this activity can be difficult to embrace. Preparing for coaching ahead of the engagement with leader and team buy-in can help make space for this kind of work. Your coach’s insight can help ease into this mindset with small steps that won’t likely cause any major calamity.
6. Have Some Perspective
“Coach A told us this is a good way to do it, but Coach B said we should try it another way. Which one should we do? We don’t have time to keep trying things!”
Coaches will have different perspectives, insight, and advice, and this is a good thing. Most coaches seek a healthy, sustained transformation for the people they coach. Consider the adage “Ask a different doctor, get a different opinion.” Most doctors have the intent to help you be as healthy as possible, and the same goes for coaches. If the intent of the coaching is consistent, there is great value in experiencing different coaches and their insight.
The necessary ingredient for a positive experience with multiple coaches is ownership on the coachee’s part. When you or your team owns the path you must take and your own learning, it’s easier to welcome and accept different insights. Ownership makes it safe to look at these different insights and then combine them with your own perspective to create a meaningful next step or experiment.
7. Stay Connected
“I met with the coach a few times. Then I had to cancel, because I had other priorities.”
Successful coaching experiences are founded in connection and trust. Both you and your coach must give time to the relationship to be connected and build trust. Similar to a line from the Agile Manifesto, the value of coaching is in the people and interactions. Your coach will actively seek connection; it’s up to you to respond in a way that makes sense and gives opportunity to build trust.
Whether it’s an individual or a team, leaders or entire organization that is receiving coaching, time is crucial and cannot be delegated to others who are not being coached. It takes more than a few meetings to learn new capabilities or unlearn skills that are no longer serving you. Work out with your coach what you can reasonably commit to that will still give you a chance to derive value from the process, and then commit!
Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Give coaching the energy and time it deserves, and watch the exponential changes happen.