Coach the Coach Episode 2 - Building Relationships
To be effective, all coaches must develop a productive relationship with their team or teams. If they don’t know you, trust you, believe you, and understand you, they won’t listen to you, no matter how good your advice is.
Building this all-important relationship is the subject of episode 2 of our Coach the Coaches series with Host Tom Bullock and Scrum Inc. Principal Consultant Dee Rhoda.
How Should Coaches Start Building Relationships
Scrum Teams are, of course, are comprised of individuals. That, Dee says, is where the relationship building has to begin, on the individual level, “because they have to have those individual connections to help the team come together.”
How to best do that varies from coach to coach. Dee’s favorite approach starts with a quick explanation of herself. “I'll get them into a comfortable space environment and say, here are the three things you need to know about me. First foremost, I am radically honest. Second, I value confidentiality incredibly highly. And third I’ve got to have fun.”
The first two points are about building trust. They need to know they can believe what the coach says and trust that they can be open and honest in return. Without taking the time to build that trust, Dee says, “You're not going to get that level of psychological safety that you need to help them be high performers.”
The third point is an honest introduction to the coach’s personality which sets the stage for the relationship going forward. “If team members want to get better, they can’t be serious all the time,” she explains.
However, Dee stresses this is just her preferred method to begin building relationships. “I invite any coach to figure out the way they want to do that introduction for themselves.”
Remember That First Conversation Is Really About Them
Dee’s simple, 3-step formula is more than just an efficient way to introduce herself as a coach. “I'm modeling behavior in that conversation,” in order, she says, to ask a really important question, “I'd like you to tell me something that I need to know about you in order to keep the coaching relationship going.” She adds “It has to be something you're comfortable with telling me, “and then just listens to how they respond and what they respond with. “What they tell you and what they don't tell you is invaluable as a coach.”
The Importance Of Psychological Safety
Amy Edmondson describes the value of ‘psychological safety’ in her book The Fearless Organization. Dee is a big fan. In short, she says, Edmondson studied teams and organizations and found, “that the best teams are those teams who feel they have a shared belief that the team is safe. And that the team can take risks.”
The belief that risks, and yes failure, can be positive is something good coaches must foster through strong relationships. “There's no shame. There's no blame,” explains Dee, “We understand that through failure, we have actually learned something. And as a team, we are going to lift up and applaud team members that take those risks.”
A lot goes into creating a sense of psychological safety on a team. One of Dee’s main go-to’s is establishing “the difference between trust, as in being vulnerable, and trust as in being predictable.” If as a coach, she adds, “I can help the team members understand vulnerable ability-based trust. That goes a long way into setting a foundation of psychological safety.”
Know The Right Way To Ask Questions
Coaches act as a guide for the individual and team. They go on a path of discovery with them. They don’t tell them to go that way or else. That is a quick way to ruin a coaching relationship.
When Dee trains a coach she always tells them to “stay away from questions that a simple yes or no will answer.” Those, she adds, “won’t help them at all.” Instead, she advises open-ended questions and techniques such as O.R.I.D. where you’re using objective, reflective, interpretive, and decisional types of questions.
Dee always asks coaches to consider how they give their advice as much as what advice they give. “How does it sound coming out of your mouth? Is that really your style? Would you really use that word or would you use a different word? Would you really make that statement or would you not? So try these words, try these questions on, try these different styles on, see which one or a mashup of them works for you.”
Consider The Arc Of Your Conversations
As you can tell from the above references, Dee Rhoda is a reader. Lyssa Adkin is another of her favorite writers. Dee has modified Adkin’s arc of a coaching conversation to better suit her particular coaching techniques.
The first step is to create the right environment. “Get yourself prepared to step into a coaching conversation.” And establish that this is a conversation where the individual is ready for and open to coaching.
If that is the case, Dee advises coaches to ask themselves “What’s your agenda? What is the area or the focus the topic needs?” Be prepared to explain to the individual why you’re having this conversation.
“Now, sometimes you don't have that luxury as a coach. Sometimes you are being asked to come into a coaching conversation and you may not know what the agenda is.” In this case, Dee says, ask the individual what the agenda is. Keep it focused and not overly broad. And if it is, Dee explains, it’s time for the coach to do a bit of exploring. “So the individual may come with this really big topic of, well, I need you to make me better. Or I need to be a better communicator. Wow. That's a humongous topic that you're just not going to cover in a 30 or 60-minute coaching conversation.”
The next step is to narrow the actions down to a very specific piece of that broader topic. Dee uses a hypothetical situation to explain. “Let's say the topic was I need to communicate better. We're going to narrow that topic down a little bit to written communication or verbal communication? Is it communication with the team? Is that communication with a specific team member? Okay, great. So the situation here is that you need to be a better communicator during the Sprint Retrospective with Claire. When Claire is asking you for help.”
Here is where open-ended questions pay off. In this situation, Dee would ask “What does an experiment look like in the next retrospective with Claire?”
This open-ended question is the fourth step, getting a commitment for a specific action from the individual being coached. “What are a few of the things that they’re going to take away and do?” And when are they going to get them done? “This could be very explicit as a part of the end of the coaching conversation, or it could be an implied action commitment either way.”
Common Coaching Relationship Pitfalls To Avoid
The true value of any coach is largely determined by their ability to boost team performance. This is why Dee states plainly, “You are not there to be a friend to these folks.” That doesn’t mean coaches are antagonistic. “A friend accepts you just the way you are. You are there to be a coach. So listen from a place of how you can help them be better. That’s what coaches are there to do.”
Here, Dee suggests another book to help coaches hone their craft. “I’ve been reading through a new book Brené Brown put out, which is called Dare to Lead. In it, she talks about being very clear as a coach. Don't use ambiguity. Being clear is kind to the folks that you are coaching. Be clear in your observations, be clear in your questions, and be clear in your concerns as you continue that relationship as a coach.”
Another common pitfall is when coaches make it personal. That, Dee says, should never be the case.
And you always should ask permission before giving feedback or going into coaching mode. “This is very important because if the folks aren't in a place where they want to hear or receive that feedback, you're wasting your time. So, as a coach ask, ‘Hey, are you open to feedback?’ ‘Hey, Can I give you some coaching’ and be prepared for them to say no, and don't take offense to that, don't make it personal.”
Finally, Dee has this advice that is especially important for new coaches. Don’t assess your performance in real-time. When you’re in a coaching session, “don’t be in the back of your head trying to evaluate how the session is going.” When you do, “you’re not really listening to them. You’re not really present in the conversation.” Therefore, you can’t help to make them better.
Did you miss Part 1 of our Coach the Coaches conversation? Visit it now
This post is part of our new ScrumCast series of conversations with thought leaders who have successfully helped transform organizations and empower teams and individuals. Each episode will explore organizational Agility and Scrum patterns, tactics, and techniques that drive real-world success. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for the latest ScrumCast episodes.