On coaching and being coached #acguk

As last year, the UK Agile Coaches Gathering was both a great community-builder, and a total ideas-fest. In particular, Tobias Mayer (Presentation is not Facilitation) helped reinforce the poverty of presentation as a training technique, and Petra Skapa’s question about what we can learn from other coaching disciplines elicited some great stories about experiences of coaching and being coached.

These stories stick in my mind as the strongest memories of the weekend. The non-swimmer, tired of being terrified of water, who through coaching not only learned to swim but came to appreciate swimming as an end in itself, achieving a deep awareness of moving efficiently and beautifully through the water. The motor-cycle coach whose pupil — a qualified driving instructor — repeatedly resisted an observation, rode through a hedge, and continued to resist, even after agreeing that the coach was right. The snow-boarding coach with deep insight into teaching and learning physical skills: three key principles of safety, enjoyment, then learning may seem odd (learning is #3?) but think about it: being terrified, bored or dead seriously inhibits learning. Note too that the principle is learning, not teaching.

And yet … it seems to me that there are many agile coaches whose experience of coaching is limited to working with software development teams. This seems to me a pity: though domains differ, there are many universals around teaching and learning (increasingly, people are starting to understand this at a neurological level, in addition to the social and cultural). Without exception I’ve found the most effective and inspirational coaches working with agile teams have at least one other domain in which they’re either passionate as coaches, or striving as coachees (and of course, it’s not uncommon to be both).

The other lesson to learn is that it’s not enough to be able to coach. Diana Larsen tweeted recently that a good team is one in which everyone can coach. There’s a corollary to this — everyone must also be able to receive coaching. If we don’t practice being on the other end of the coaching relationship, we run the risks of losing touch with what it feels like to be coached, of not being able to place ourselves in our teams’ shoes, and of not being able to connect with their fears, misunderstandings, resistances, nor with their achievements, insights and triumphs.

With thanks to Matt Wynne (snowboard coach), Karl McCambridge (motorcycle coach) and anonymous swimming coachee (if you’re reading this please ping me, credit to follow).

2 Responses to “On coaching and being coached #acguk”

  • YvesHanoulle responded:

    The main reason for me to follow Gestalt therapy training the last 2 years, was to have “coaching” experience outside of the software field.
    One of the advises of the trainers was to follow therapy yourself. One reason was to have the experienced of the other side. I think every coach should be coached. It is one of the reasons why I created the term PairCoaching. (Although I think a good coach should have a coach outside his work)

  • David responded:

    Hi Yves - in many therapy traditions, it is - of course - more than advised, it’s required to undergo therapy as a practitioner. Informally, and within the agile community, maybe it’s still not as common as it should be for people to have mentors/pairs to reflect with: but as I said, and as you’ve found, we can learn a lot more outside our field. Maybe this has to do with “beginner’s mind” - I’ve certainly enjoyed the experience of learning to ski (at my tender age :-)) from scratch, with great coaching.

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