This is the 4th and last part in a series of blogs that revolve around one of the strongest and most damaging anti-patterns for Agile, Agile Coaches and Agile Leadership.

It is also a key element in the Coaching Levers – Lever 1: Activate the Coach, Activate Coaching.

The first part of this blog set the stage for the consequences of advice giving. We feel like it is adding value and instead what it does is tell the people we are working with that they are not good enough or able to solve the problem themselves. The other side of giving advice is that it contains everything into the experience of the advice giver – so you can only repeat what the advice giver has experienced, you can’t experience anything else.

Which is an issue for an Agile coach who is coaching into 30 people plus! We start to struggle to get a good enough understanding of 30 different perspectives, 3 teams with specialised content and so the real value of our advice starts to diminish.

The value of a coach comes in activating the greatness of the people they are coaching. What do I mean by that ? Well it is activating the ability for individuals to get better and better at delivering and so to perform at a higher and higher level. We can’t do this by giving advice! We can do this through coaching and having a coaching stance.

Coaching is in its essence about enabling and strengthening an individuals ability to see how they are thinking about something, what they are missing and so what is also possible. It supports and grows critical thinking and when critical thinking improves, so does the performance of individuals and teams.

It isn’t as easy as it sounds, which is why professional coaching courses take anything up to 18 months to complete and required 30 plus hours of observed and mentored coaching conversations. Coaching is a habit. It is also a foundational skill for an Agile coach and a sure fire way for a coach to create that sought after psychological safety and Pull. When individuals know that you respect what they know and trust them to find their own way, then they ask for more and more of your time and insight.

There are two books that I have found to be fundamental for Agile coaches who really want to activate their coaching being and settle into a strong and empowering coaching stance. Both from the same author, Michael Bungay Stanger they provide quick and easy ways to have coaching conversations. The first is called, The Coaching Habit and if you haven’t read it and aren’t using it I would strongly suggest that you get hold of it. It is a quick read and has had a significant impact on coaches who have integrated its content into their coaching.

The second is a new book that follows on from the Coaching Habit, The Advice Trap. This book succinctly outlines why giving advice isn’t the good idea we like to think it is.

Here are the reasons why our valuable advice, isn’t.

  • You are solving the wrong problem. We jump to conclusions and listen to the interpretation being presented and then because we have been trained to be action oriented, we select from the pre-built solutions in our heads and voila, here is how we do it!
  • You are proposing a mediocre solution. You just don’t have the full picture. It sounds like something you experienced, but we listen for the similarities, not the differences (and ignore those, they get in the way). We have a few facts (not so many as we think), an ocean of assumption nicely dressed up as fact and even more opinion sounding really factual.

The impact of advice on organisational effectiveness is even more telling. It is perhaps the single reason why a team can never be more than the sum of it’s parts.

  • Advice demotivates receivers. Being told what to do quite simply informs the advice receiver that they are unable to think for themselves, they just aren’t here for their ability to think, they are here to implement other people’s ideas. So they do
  • Advice over whelms the advice giver – who is now the bottleneck and so focused on solving other people’s problems they aren’t in fact doing their work
  • Advice compromises team effectiveness as the team is now full of demotivated receivers working furiously on the wrong problem
  • Advice limits organisational change simply because leaders are responsible for more than the effective delivery of their teams, they are also the champions of the ambitions and strategic focus of the company

Advice giving prevents organisations from changing. It embeds hierarchy, process and dependence. It creates waste and bottle necks.

All of which plays into the anti-patterns that I have seen consistently over the years across a wide range of inexperienced and experienced coaches.

Some common agile coaching anti-patterns that significantly impact a coaches ability to influence and support a shift to higher performance

  • The number one coaching anti-pattern is to stop doing and start empowering.
  • Stop telling, start being curious!
  • Stop solving the problem and presenting the solution, start conversations that enable everyone to co-create the solution using their mastery and knowledge.

Which leaves me with this question ? How strong is your coaching stance ? Do you even have one ?

And more importantly, how strong is your advice giving pattern and what would it take for you to start to minimise it ?