Tuesday, 28 May 2013

A systemic approach to coaching agile teams

Last week I was privileged enough to be part of Johanna Rothman's Coaching for Leaders Masterclass.

Four of us from NewVoiceMedia attended and we had a fantastic time. There was much to learn, take away and apply. For me particularly, I saw significant overlap between coaching principles and systemic practice, which my wife is currently studying.

Our first exercise used origami to explore coaching stances, through a very simple, but effective means.
The origami from our coaching session
We then progressed onto "speed-coaching", in triplets of coach, coachee and observer:
  1. The coach coaches the coachee for seven minutes, whilst the observer, well, observes. 
  2. The observer provides feedback to the coach, for three minutes. 
  3. The three rotate roles and repeat.
The triplet I was part of found this massively useful, with each reaching a SMART action within the time set. The systemic links that then came out for me were circularity, curiosity, reflection and neutrality.

Circularity and curiosity

Part of the coach's role is to frame the problem or goal, provide context and explore options. In each case, we saw this being done through ever tightening circles of questions, answers and reflecting back, until the root of the problem or actual goal was established. The tightening of the circle was often achieved by the coach asking curious questions. This process to me fitted well with the principles of circularity and curiosity used by a systemic practitioner to explore a client's situation.


It was my first experience of being observed as a coach, and not only did the observer provide great insights into improving my coaching technique, they also provided additional input to the coaching session itself. In fact, many observers in the room found it hard not to be drawn into helping with the coaching. This combination reminded me of the systemic concept of a reflecting team, who observe a therapist and client, then provide additional insights to both.


As the group shared their experiences of speed-coaching, the question came up of whether a coach must be an expert in the coachee's problem domain. Furthermore, what would the impact be if they were a negative expert (i.e. bad at the problem domain)? We concluded that there was a middle sweet spot, but the most important strength was in coaching itself. If the coach did have an opinion on the problem domain, then the concept of neutrality becomes very relevant. In systemic practice, the therapist endeavours to be concious of how their own background might be influencing the session. It's important that they don't inflict their own views or solutions on the client, but rather guide the client in discovering next steps or possible outcomes. This is achieved by practising neutrality.

What's next?

Johanna's fantastic workshop was a great encouragement to me and reinforced many of the good things we're doing at NVM. It's also made me keen to explore further how systemic practice could be applied to agile teams, so watch this space, I'll be posting more on this topic!