Creating Teachable Moments as an Agile Coach

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Creating Teachable Moments as an Agile Coach

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I was in a Moose Herd session the other day, and someone brought up the challenge of teaching as a coach. That people had to want to be taught. That they had to be curious to be taught. They had to be vulnerable to say—I don’t know, can you help me? And that if they didn’t adopt this empty vessel posture, it was nearly impossible to teach them.

Some of the phrases we shared around how to ask for or detect their receptiveness included—

  • Are you curious about this?

  • Can I teach you about agile estimation?

  • What do you know about agile?

  • I think you misunderstand the agile mindset; can I tell you what it is?

All of these are sort of binary, yes/no questions. I would argue that they put whoever you’re asking them of on defense. From a power dynamics perspective, you’re saying—I know, and you don’t. Can I bring you up to my level…yes, or no?

And I would argue this probably isn’t the best first way to engage someone in their learning.

We also explored the notion of interest versus curiosity. Whether they mean the same thing or quite different.

I reacted that I think they’re different and that one (interest) comes before the other (curiosity). Let me explain.

To me, interest is casual. It’s like reading a newspaper. You see the headline and you scan a few articles. You’re interested in the news but not necessarily a lot of specifics.

I think when we’re teaching, we need to focus on creating interest first. And be light-handed with it. Sharing things to pique people’s interest. To draw them in.

Then, based on interest, someone might want to diver deeper into curiosity.

The other thing is that interest is more pushed towards a person. That is, you’re sharing something with them whether they’ve asked or not. It’s like a documentary that’s on tv. You’re sharing your information with enthusiasm and passion. Hoping that some of that rubs off.

But then curiosity is a pull. That’s when someone asks you a question. And, there might be a long period of time between the two. Or interest may never develop into curiosity. And that’s ok.

As I reflected on the Agile Moose discussion, I reflected on my time at iContact where I was a leader, change agent and coach.

I realized I didn’t ask people if they wanted or needed to learn something. Instead, I walked around and taught—nearly all of the time.

I looked for teaching moments everywhere. Some were relatively short, with only a few minutes of discussion or a brief email. Others were more extended conversations. Rarely was my teaching couched as a coaching moment or as a class. It was just me sharing my passion for agile and what “good practices” potentially looked like within our context.

As part of my journey, I told stories. Lots of stories. Stories of practice. Stories of failure and learning. Stories of success or what good looked like.

And what I found…

Over time, the organization learned, grew, matured, and evolved. Not in one big class but in a continuous series of teaching moments. Did everyone learn and grow at the same pace? Of course not, but enough did so that the culture and our results became something that I think fondly of to this day.

I wrote this post to augment your agile coach thinking around the Agile Coaching Growth Wheel’s – Guiding Learning competency. Many coaches view that competency with an eye toward big-bang training events and mentoring sessions.

While those are certainly valid, and learning things like TFTBOTR are great skill sets, I think of it more as a continuous, baby/micro-step activity. One where you are always looking for teaching and mentoring moments that are inspiring interest and then if you’re fortunate, curiosity. The more of these you have each and every day, the better.

Another critical aspect for success here is the meta-skill that you enter each and every teaching moment with. Do you enter with disdain, self-importance, ego, and urgency to “be agile” or do you enter with respect, kindness, curiosity, and a passion for others to grow?

You see, your own mindset matter so much in the ultimate outcome of your mentoring and teaching!

Stay agile my friends,


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