Unlocking Your Coaching Habit - Agile Tour '16 Recap

This blog post is inspired by Michael Bungay Stanier’s simple and powerful book “The Coaching Habit”, which gave me multiple light bulb moments and radically improved my awareness for coaching.

At a recent Agile conference I experimented with bringing to life the concepts within The Coaching Habit, stress testing the coaching framework with 45 agile practitioners in a 90min workshop.


Why the Coaching Habit?

The book highlights the value of coaching behaviours as a manager; the importance of supporting through coaching. The book introduces a coaching framework to provide structure, and ultimately better outcomes, for managers and team members. Coaching is powerful, even despite a manager's often limited availability.

Not only managers encounter opportunities for coaching and supporting each other every day of course. We all do. We just rarely encounter them consciously. The moments when someone taps on your shoulder and asks for advice, just wants to pour their heart out or wants to discuss a problem with you. Or indeed more formal 1:2:1 sessions with your team members.

By asking questions, rather than turning into an advice-monster, we can dramatically improve the impact we have and the value our peers get out of the conversation.

The Coaching Framework

The coaching framework Michael puts forward a series of seven questions. These are simple, but there is depth and research to each of these in the book.

  1. What’s on your mind?
  2. … And what else?
  3. What’s the real challenge here for you?
  4. What do you want?
  5. How can I help?
  6. If you are saying ‘Yes’ to this, what are you saying ‘No’ to?
  7. What was most useful for you?

He adds Question Masterclasses to support the 'How' of coaching, but these seven questions form the backbone of the book.


Putting The Coaching Habit to the Test

With these questions readily available in the back of my mind, I have been able to personally improve my awareness for coaching in these unexpected and spontaneous moments.

But, being passionate about the subject, I wanted to share the framework with an audience of Agile Coaching peers within the community. I was intrigued to discover whether others would benefit - and how they would improve the framework.

Pragmateam lodged a submission to lead a workshop at Agile Tour Sydney 2016, a gathering of the Agile community.

The objective of the 90min workshop with 45 agile practitioners was to:

  • Provide an overview of the coaching framework provided in the book
  • Simulate scenarios allowing participants coach each other and observe the process
  • Share feedback collectively with the aim to improve upon the framework for the wider Agile community

The Result

Pragmateam - Coaching habit - Questions v2.jpg

Having completed the simulated scenarios, the participants discussed opportunities to improve the framework. During the shareback we iterated on the original questions, capturing suggestions on the framing and wording of questions, as well as omissions and additions.

  1. What’s on your mind?
  2. And what else?
  3. What’s the real challenge here for you? Why?
  4. What does success look like for you?
  5. What could you do to get there?
  6. How can I help?
  7. What are you committing to?
  8. If you are doing this, what will slip?
  9. How do you want to follow up on this?


Main Insights from the Discussion

1. Yes, the coaching framework is valuable

The community unanimously agreed that the framework was indeed valuable and applicable for a wide range of roles and people. There were opinions about the context and wording of some of the questions, but the framework itself remained unchallenged.

2. The flow of questions changes to allow more solution options

We noticed how the flow of the questions changed during the workshop. Originally, the sequencing of questions organised the conversation:

  • Going broad on challenges (What’s on your mind? What else?)
  • Then narrowing down on the problem to focus on (What’s the real challenge here for you?).
  • From there, we follow straight through to solution mode (What do you want? How can I help etc.).
A sketch illustrating the different flows of conversation before and after the workshop

A sketch illustrating the different flows of conversation before and after the workshop

After the workshop the sequence felt different:

  • Going broad on challenges
  • Narrowing down on the "real" challenges
  • But rather than prioritising a solution, going broad on defining potential solution options (What could you do?)
  • Only then committing to one solution to experiment with before
  • prioritising and acting on it.

3. Coaches opted for softer language

Some of the changes relate to making the questions less confronting (eg. What do you want? → What does success look like for you?). The softening of the words may be a reflection of the largely culturally Australian participants, who are known for their less confrontation language and behaviours. Possibly this softening is also a reflection of the nature of the participants (Agile Coaches rather than time-poor managers).

4. Ask more "What's on your mind"

After the workshop, we asked participant to name the one thing they will do differently tomorrow based on the last 90 minutes. The most common theme was to ask "What's on your mind" more often.

The Ask of You

Next time you find yourself in a conversation with someone looking for support, try walking through the coaching framework and questions. Did you ask valuable leading questions, did the participant get improved tangible outcomes from the conversation?

“Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever”
— Michael Bungay Stanier