What’s Coaching All About?
The concept of coaching is one hot topic.
The natural evolution of improvement programs will eventually lead to the need for coaching, as organizations finish picking the low hanging fruit, and move to the more difficult challenges.
Those programs with well-defined educational standards, for levels of knowledge and associated responsibilities, find coaching to be great fit with the more advanced roles. For example:
- Six Sigma Black Belts and Lean Experts will typically begin developing their skills in coaching others
- Six Sigma Master Black Belts and Lean Masters will be skilled at coaching and begin developing the coaching skills in others
- Project Champions for both Six Sigma and Lean will be accomplished experts at coaching
On the other hand, chaotic improvement programs or poorly orchestrated organizations will launch into coaching as the latest gimmick which they dream will deliver “fast and painless” results.
As with so many things, coaching offers great promise for those willing to invest in gaining the knowledge and developing the expertise. So let’s take a closer look at what this coaching thing is all about. I will emphasize coaching a problem solver as part of an over improvement program, such as lean or six sigma.
There are no known examples of someone just waking up one morning and deciding they will be an immediate success at coaching others to be effective problem solvers. And, contrary to the reports from some charlatans, there are no known examples of someone sitting in a 30-minute presentation and picking up all the knowledge and skills required to be a great coach.
So, let’s put the nonsense in our wake and look at the key aspects of being an effective coach.
There are three pillars of successful coaches:
- Maintaining an arsenal of great questions and having the wisdom of when to use them
- Developing the skills of the problem solver, without any thought of personal glory
- Leading structured conversations without the feeling of rigid scripting – free flowing and controlled at the same time
Let’s look closer at each pillar.
Arsenal of Great Questions
A coach asks questions which help the problem solver dig deeper, think outside the box, develop countermeasures, and implement a sustainable solution.
The best questions will draw out objective facts. These are not yes or no questions. You need to promote a conversation. Getting someone to shrug and grunt is not an effective question.
Of course, it would be nice to simply download 1,001 great questions and check this item off your list. Unfortunately, building an arsenal takes more time. You can think of stopping by an ice cream shop and sampling a few flavors. Then, you pick one you like and have it served atop an “Eat-It-All” ice cream cone.
I will help you build your collection of questions by providing a few samples with each coaching tip. Give some a try. Keep the ones you like. Modify some others. And create your own collection of questions you can pull out where and when you need them.
Skills of the Problem Solver
Coaching a problem solver requires a focus upon two big goals:
- Developing the skills of the problem solver – they need to learn work the systematic process
- Promoting conversation in a manner which allows the problem solver to work through the process
Of the two goals, developing the skills of the problem solver is more important than solving the problem.
Now, if the coach feels solving the problem is more important, then the coach should take the role of problem solver and focus upon finding and implementing a solution.
“The best coaches are more concerned with developing the skills of the problem solver and less concerned with the actual problem which needs to be solved.” – Jodi Smith
The coaching role is to manage the conversation by bringing structure to the process of thinking, planning, committing, and doing.
You need to be systematic and walk through a structure which brings clarity on accomplishments, deals with challenges, faces reality, and leads to achievable goals.
One nice way to structure a coaching session is an agenda with:
- Accomplishments – what has the problem solver accomplished since the last session
- Challenges – what is slowing progress working through the problem solving methodology
- Momentum – reality check and progress on working the problem to a solution – assign a green – yellow – red status
- Goals – explore options, decide on next steps, and commit to an achievable plan
A word of caution for the coach – having a structure is a means to free your energy for listening and pulling great questions from your arsenal. Do not be rigid with a programed list of questions and never just wait for a pause, so you can jump in and seem like a genius with all the answers.
What have you discovered since our last conversation?
Where are you with step one – defining the problem?
What are your wins since we last met?
What challenges have you encountered?
What’s proving to be more difficult than you expected?
What’s holding you back?
Where are you on your project plan?
How would you classify your progress in terms of green-yellow-red?
What needs to happen for you to get back to green?
What do you need to focus on now?
What items do you need to complete before our next meeting?
Can you commit to getting back to green?
“A key challenge for beginning coaches is learning to be mindful of broader issues while remaining fully engaged in listening.” – Tony Stoltzfus in Coaching Questions
The concept of coaching is very hot in the work of organizational improvement.
This coaching tip #1 is just the beginning! Becoming a great coach takes time, dedication, and experience.
The journey includes:
- Developing an arsenal of questions
- Dedicating yourself to developing the skills of problem solvers
- Leading structured conversations without seeming rigid or robotic
Call To Action
Beginning a great coach is a marathon. You will need to practice.
You are not going to succeed by reading one article or attending one presentation.
Take some of the ideas you have learned in this coaching tip and give them a try.
Remember the words from one coach who observed how “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Read Why Do A3 Problem Solving Efforts Fail?
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