3 Questions - Establishing a Coaching Relationship

I have a simple framework for starting off a coaching relationship with someone - say another coach or Scrum Master. It’s really based on my own experience. I’m sure I’ve kneaded it around a bit over the years but basically this is what my first coach did with me.

Session 1

In the first session I’m really just establishing a basic working relationship based on trust. Trust in me as a coach and the kind of trust in the process that comes from knowing what the boundaries and expectations are.

I ask three questions. I write them down as I’m asking them and, if it’s a remote call, I share my screen so we can all see my notes.

Q1: What does success look like?

Usually the person (let’s call them “the coachee”) will identify something that they’re expecting to get out of the coaching. This might be “I’m learning new things” or “I’m ready to get a new job as a Scrum Master”.

Whatever they say is fine. Don’t overcook it.

Q2: What will we do if it’s not working?

This is the start of me as a coach asking hard, even powerful, questions. It’s open. We’re deciding the boundaries and protocols. I sometimes have to guide us to an answer, usually along the lines of “We’ll talk about it”.

It’s important to raise the possibility of things not going smoothly, and also the idea that it might not be working for them or for me in different ways, and that talking is the key.

Q3: Are we ready to start?

Sometimes the answer is no. The coachee might be busy or under pressure. Or they might have decided that they don’t want to be coached by you. Usually it’s a yes or a qualified yes.

This leads on to a discussion about timing and duration of sessions, then to scheduling the sessions. This might be deciding to have another session and see how it feels, or it might be booking in a hour hour session each week.

NOTE: If you’re doing coaching for free within the agile community, raise the idea of some kind of symbolic exchange. I think this is important because it’s what my coach did with me. I can still remember him asking “So, is this just a casual thing for you or do you want to pay market rates?”. I bravely (because I was broke) said ”Oh, market rates”. He said “Ok, market rates is you buy the beer”. I thought that was a pretty good deal but it turned out he can drink a LOT of beer ;) It was still a great deal though.

Session 2

In the second session we explore Lyssa Adkins’ ‘X-wing’ diagram. We go through all the sections. This is partly so that the coachee understands the true scope of the field and partly so that I can get a better idea of where they’re at.

Lysssa Adkins' x-wing diagram

I finish the session by setting the homework my coach gave me. I ask the coachee to colour in the sections to indicate how proficient the feel they are in that area. This homework helps to establish the “arc of the coaching conversation”, which ends with some kind of intention of committment by the coachee.

Session 3

Discussing their coloured in X-wing and getting started with the coaching based on what comes up. Basically we’re using the X-wing as a starting point for deciding what the coachee wants to work on.