Sometimes the answer isn't within you

Some prominent Agile Coaches say that coaches should not be involved in teaching. Bullshit.

A lot of modern coaching, and particularly in my area of expertise, “Agile Coaching”, is built on the concept of helping people or teams uncover the answers they already have “within”.

Now I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that… in the right context. But this approach has its limits.

What if the answer simply is not within the person being coached?

Imagine trying coaching a bronze-age metal worker into producing iron swords. It won’t happen. It can’t happen! No amount of coaching will teach a bronze-age metal worker the art of iron working.

Now you might argue that you could coach a bronze-age metal worker to experiment, and discover iron. Maybe. If you have enough time.

But if you, the coach, already know how to smelt iron, and you’re coaching with a bronze smith, is it really in anyone’s best interest to withhold that information?

Maybe in some metaphysical sense it would be “better” for the smith to re-discover iron on his own. But if you’re trying to outfit an army with swords, surely it’s in the best interest of your city-state’s defence to just abandon your purist coaching ideology, so that your city-state isn’t overrun by the barbarian hordes whilst your smith is busy experimenting with iron ore.

I’ve heard a number of well-respected and prominent Agile Coaches say that coaches should not be involved in teaching.

Bullshit.

Too often I see otherwise good coaches refusing (or perhaps unable?) to teach the techniques a team needs for success, on the grounds that they should only guide the team to find their own answers.

Requiring your software development team to re-discover that they should talk to their users, or how to benefit from Continuous Integration and Trunk-Based Development, is not doing the team or the company any favors. The only people who benefit from this style of coaching are your competitors, who are learning these techniques faster than you.

There are times a coach should be encouraging. There are times a coach should ask thought-proviking questions. There are times a coach should help you identify and uncover buried assumptions and even answers.

There are also times a coach should teach you new things. There are times a coach should do the thing for you, while you watch. There are even times a coach should tell you exactly what to do.

If your team could use some direct, no bullshit coaching, because you don’t have the answers “within”, give me a shout.