Sunday, September 22, 2013

Coaching, Training and Change

I train, I coach and I facilitate.  At any time all three skillsets are at play, but the blend and balance varies.  Over the past year, I have become increasingly focused on mindful selection of that balance to suit the context.

In 2011, I delivered roughly 70 agile courses for an organisation embarking on an agile transformation.  Whilst it was rewarding to help so many embark on their agile journey, I became increasingly frustrated with being unable to accompany them.

Eventually, one of the groups I had trained engaged me as a coach.  It was amazingly fulfilling to journey with people, but I started to gain a new appreciation for the training room.  Whilst coaching enriches insight through context, breakthrough thinking occurs at a very different pace and magnitude.

In recent months, I've been balancing both training and coaching.  I've realised that I enjoy both and want to pursue an ongoing balance, but it's also provoked much thought about their respective roles in learning and change.  The recurrent themes are questions, answers and context.

For me, coaching is all about questions.  My coaching motto is drawn from Jerry Weinberg's "Secrets of Consulting":
"Your ideal form of influence is first to help people see their world more clearly, then let them decide what to do next"

This leads to a life of questions.  Questions for myself regarding the best models and visualisations to reveal new insights for my customers.  Questions for my customers provoking new perspectives as they seek answers.  Questions from my customers about when I'm going to start providing answers instead of questions :)

Training, on the other hand, is generally about answers.  My focus is providing answers and helping my customers internalise them.  The goal is to provoke questions about how they will take these new insights back to their own context.

As a coach, I constantly have to remind myself that no matter how clearly I believe I can see "the answer", the only answer that matters is the one my customer can see and believe in.  My hunt must inexorably be for the right question to which they can provide their own answer.  Being able to just pour new thoughts out in the training room is almost cathartic, but it can feel like a guilty pleasure as you know that most students are just not ready for all those answers.

This duality felt quite incongruent for a time, but Jerry Weinberg's experiential learning series helped me come to grips with it.  Repeatedly, he expounds on the fact that your goal is not to teach "the twenty things you believe your students must learn".  Instead, by providing a rich learning environment you give each with the opportunity to deeply comprehend the three or four ideas that are most relevant to them.  

Whether coaching or training, the innate goal is to provoke meaningful change.  All change, however, involves loss.  To take hold of something new, I must let go of something old - in many cases something I created and felt pride in.  Part of the magic of the training room is the change of context.  Solving a problem through the application of new techniques requires only the loss of the belief that I can copy my existing practices into the new setting.  I thus learn something more easily, and can then choose to bring that new insight (or some portion thereof) back into my own context.

A secret to learning, then, seems to be a simple cycle.  Step out of context, gather new insights, then select which to bring back into context. The change of context often also provides greater safety for shared learning.  A team will generally find it much easier to discuss how they might have worked together to solve a jigsaw puzzle than how they might have collaborated better in a stressful work situation.

This cycle can be utilised either training or coaching.  The difference lies in the depth of the step out of context.  As a coach, you tend to purchase an hour at a time as opposed to the two days you typically have in the training room.  My observation has been that the longer you are out of context the deeper you can journey into new territory.

In the excellent "Switch: How to change when change is hard", Chip & Dan Heath suggest that it is "essential .. to marry your long-term goal with your short term critical moves".  They go on to say "When you're at the beginning, don't worry about the middle, because the middle is going to look different when you get there.  Just look for a strong beginning and a strong ending and get moving".

Through providing many new answers in a new context (the community of the room), I believe training provokes the questions that establish the vision of the future that might be - the strong ending.  Coaching then begins where training leaves off, providing the "in-context" questions that help to find each strong beginning.

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