What stings sticks

[Deutsche Zusammenfassung] When do you really and consciously change? Willingly? I change willingly when I unexpectedly detect something I do that hinders me. Within a second I realize a pattern, that before was hiding in a blind spot and from that moment on I am uncomfortable with it. Detecting such things and overcome them makes me more efficient and effective because I stop to impede myself. How could we implement such reflection into everyday life?

When ever I read something about coaching it always comes to a clearly defined coaching process from contracting to looking for solutions to evaluation. If someone comes to me and asks for a coaching and wants to change and has the time for it, we do a classical coaching, sitting there for an hour or two and I fire some systemic questions and we find out a lot about what that person wants and needs.

Sometimes such a coaching can be helpful. But sometimes it simply isn’t. Sometimes, people don’t need finding out something (or themselves). Sometimes they simply need answers to very specific questions (i.e. they need consulting). And sometimes they need help to navigate in an environment (i.e. they need mentoring). Sometimes they even could use a classical coaching but they’d never do that due to time, cost or just because they are afraid of someone bringing up their deepest psychological inconceivabilities.

Most of the time and almost constantly I do an on-site coaching or coaching-between-the-lines. It wasn’t until I learned about Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches that I realized how important this way of coaching is for new workplaces, where people work self-organized and management is concerned about the happiness of its employees. In agile environments you don’t sit down with each of your employee for an hour or two to find out, what keeps them from happily being efficient and effective. You coach them on-site to improve both – their productivity and their happiness – by observing the situation and giving them hints of how to collaborate better.

Coaching self-organized people

Two weeks ago I had the chance to visit a big room planning at an insurance company nearby. I followed two Agile Coaches from Scrum Team to Scrum Team and observed their working with them. The teams must self-organize. Sometimes though they have to be remembered on the framework and the rules. One coach had to interfere with a Development Team (that was missing a Scrum Master that afternoon) because they insisted on not pinning all their dependencies on the big wall. Rule is that all dependencies are pinned down. It applies to all teams. So someone had to tell them to do what is needed in order for the whole organization to succeed.

But the main part of the coaches work was rather the coaching-between-the-lines. They observed calmly, then approached a team and asked them (more or less systemic) questions about the situation on a meta level. Things like: „Have you seen that…“ or in a second step: „When do you think that this might become a problem?“ They jumpstarted conversations about things they know can become an impediment and steer the teams in the right direction so that they can detect those possible problems by themselves and find an appropriate solution.

It’s exactly the approach I’ve been using with my students for years now. Of course, as a teacher I could go straight to them and tell them to do it the way I wanted. But I’ve never liked the thought of me being a teacher and I always tried to be a coach instead. That is more difficult for the students since like that they have to think and take responsibility. But it’s much more sustainable because they have to think and take responsibility. And still I wonder a lot, what actually gets to them.

Creating attention

What sticks with me is what stings. A person who doesn’t know me at all spontaneously tells me about a totally innocent observation: „Why did you do that?“ Or a dear friend knowing me for a very long time suddenly tells me „You always do this.“ And it stings. I don’t think that it does so because I did something „wrong“, but because I am ashamed that I didn’t realize it by myself. These are blind spots. And when someone shows them to me I recognize what I am doing.

If something stings, I do change. And I am so glad for everyone that plainly comes forward – willingly or by accident – to tell me about such sharp observations. I know a lot of people who don’t like to be stung. But me, I try to hold on to those people having this capacity. It’s the gift of observing, but also the courage to tell about these observations. (And courage is also one of the five core values to Scrum.) When I observe – and I do it a lot – I always check whether the other person is capable of coping with the sting. Also, it is very important to divide observations and interpretation. Even my closest friends are often wrong with the interpretations but never with the observations.

So my conclusion to this subject is: Be a good observer and have the courage to tell others respectfully about what you’ve observed to bring the team as a whole forward. And if you’r stung – work on it: You will never get a better starting point.

Deutsche Zusammenfassung

Das klassische Coaching geht von einem klar definierten Prozess aus, der bei der Auftragsklärung anfängt, über Ziele und Lösungsfindung zu Transfer und Abschluss gelangt. In meinem Alltag coache ich sehr oft und praktisch nie in diesem Setting (ausser natürlich, jemand kommt zu mir, möchte gecoacht werden und bringt die nötige Zeit dafür mit). Meist mache ich also ein “on-site Coaching” und oft ist es sogar ein “Coaching zwischen den Zeilen”. Das heisst: Die gecoachte Person nimmt den Vorgang nicht als coaching wahr und hatte unter Umständen nicht einmal den Wunsch danach, gecoacht zu werden. Typischerweise handelt es sich um Studierende, welche etwas abgeliefert haben und denen ich ein Feedback auf ihre Arbeit gebe. Mein Ziel als Coach ist es, die Studierenden weiterzubringen, ihnen einen Weg zu zeigen, wie sie sich selber verbessern können und wie sie damit unter Umständen auch zufriedener werden können mit ihrer Leistung.

Guckt man sich die Rollen von Scrum Mastern und Agile Coaches an, so ist diese Art von Coaching genau das, was für eine agile Arbeitsumgebung nötig ist. Hier besteht weder Zeit noch Absicht, sich stundenlang mit allen Mitarbeitenden einzeln hinzusetzen und mittels systemischer Fragen zu erörtern, wo sich das grosse Potential verbirgt. Stattdessen versucht man mit stetem Mini-Coaching Zufriedenheit, Effizienz und Effektivität zum Wohl der Zusammenarbeit zu steigern. Ich denke, die Ziele der beiden Coaching-Varianten sind dieselben: Hilfe zur Selbsthilfe.

Geht man nun davon aus, dass die meisten Menschen in ihrem Alltag nicht ständig gecoacht werden wollen (was auch für meine Studierenden gilt), dann stellt sich die Frage, wie man sie trotzdem packen kann. Hier setze ich bei meiner eigenen Erfahrung an: Mir fährt es ein, wenn jemand mir einen blinden Fleck aufdeckt. Im ersten Moment erschrecke ich und schäme mich vielleicht auch mal, weil mir selber das entgegangen ist (ja, das haben blinde Flecken so an sich). Und dann beginne ich sofort daran zu arbeiten.

Ziel des Mini-Coachings muss es also sein, dem Gegenüber seine blinden Flecken aufzudecken. Das braucht erstens eine gute Beobachtungsgabe, zweitens braucht es Mut, diese Beobachtungen zu teilen (und Mut ist auch einer der fünf Werte in Scrum). Ich freue mich immer, wenn jemand mir unverblümt meine blinden Flecken vor Augen führt: Was für eine bessere Ausgangslage könnte es geben um sich selber zu erkennen und verbessern?

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