Monday, August 25, 2014

Coaching Skills for the Performance Consultant

Last week I attended two enlightening classes with 30+ CA Technologies colleagues: Coaching Agile Teams, with Michael Spayd and Michael Hamman, and The Coaching Stance, with Lyssa Adkins and Cynthia Loy Darst. All of the facilitators were from the Agile Coaching Institute. The audience included internal Agile practitioners, mostly coaches and scrum masters, along with internal education consultants. The week ended with all of us armed with new Professional Coaching skills and a renewed sense of optimism that our alliance will bring our agile transformation to a new place.

Everyone took away something different from this experience. I learned three lessons about how to apply coaching skills to my practice of performance consulting.

Takeaway #1: Coaching and consulting are different skills.
A moment of clarity came when I realized the difference. Coaching is designed to help the client explore within herself. As a result of this facilitated introspection, the client draws her own conclusions about what is important and is able to articulate what they really want.

Consulting is designed for the benefit of the consultant, so that he can provide the service or product that will best align with business outcomes of the client.

Takeaway #2: Coaching can inform consulting to make it more powerful.
Consulting calls on you to rigorously analyze a business problem with the client, agreeing on the desired outcome and identifying the root cause. Often clients typically approach the education department with a solution in mind, but most often the solution is not aligned with the problem. Consultants help to remedy that by driving the conversation with consulting questions.

At certain points in the consulting conversation, it is beneficial to move into coach mode, applying higher levels listening and applying questions that prompt the client to better articulate their vision or true desires. This takes more time, and takes the consulting in a less linear direction. The coaching intervention can be more personally powerful, whereas the consulting conversation helps focus on a specific need for the client’s constituency.

Takeaway #3: Sometimes you coach.
While not central to the job, the performance consultant finds himself in situations, formal and informal, where the the consulting hammer is not appropriate for the screw that is presented. People simply need help finding ways to be more effective.

Since there is such an overlap in the coaching and consulting skill sets, the lessons for my practice were powerful but nuanced. The greatest source of hope was the profound transformation that many of my engineering colleagues experienced. Our coaches have tremendous technical and agile expertise, and the coaching skills really helped to complete their skill sets. The lessons they learned, about the human side of agile and the power of true coaching, have the potential to propel their influence to new heights.

Let the games begin.

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