Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Learning to coach while training

Winter has put in an early appearance on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains this year. After almost two decades of very late arriving winters, this year is shaping up to be much more like those I remember growing up, with winter firmly ensconced by Halloween. The weather pattern could certainly change, but this has been a nice reminder that Colorado's weather is, if nothing else, highly variable.

The low overcast today seems to have put me in a contemplative mood. A thought that has been rolling around in my head for some time now concerns the nature of communication in the Agile training sessions I conduct. We tend to think of training as a one-way street, with the instructor delivering the curriculum and answering questions along the way and the participants in the class absorbing the information presented. I have noticed, however, that by the end of a two- or three-day training course, I know far more about the working lives of the people taking the course than I would ever have expected. For example, I know if they constitute a working team, regardless of whether they claim to be such. I also know a great deal about their frustrations, impediments, and constraints. I have a solid grasp of the role each participant plays on the team or pseudo-team* and even some sense of how they work together -- if indeed they do.

Given that in any training session, during the presentation portion (as opposed to labs and workshops), I am the one doing the talking at least 80% of the time, I am always surprised to realize just how much I have learned about the participants in the room. I try to answer all questions in-line and make full use of the Parking Lot to capture topics that are either tangential, more advanced than we can discuss as a class at a given moment, or simply beyond the scope of the current course. The Parking Lot then becomes the basis for a moderated discussion at the end of the formal presentation. But even before that point, I have learned much of what I need to know about a particular group of people to begin coaching them in their use of Agile or Scrum.

My employer typically uses various workshops or other discovery sessions to prepare for hands-on team coaching. While I find these types of activities useful for filling in the blanks, I also find, to my great surprise, that most of the information I gather using such tools simply reinforces the picture I was able to construct essentially unconsciously during the initial training. Given the often challenging and difficult nature of coaching agile teams, having learned so much during the initial training is a welcome head start.

All for now.


* A pseudo-team is a group of individuals who just happen to be working on the same project at the same time, but without engaging in any actual teamwork.

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