Unobtrusive Coaching

The Agile Coach Competency Framework teaches us that there are four competencies in a toolset of an Agile Coach:

  1. facilitation
  2. professional coaching
  3. teaching
  4. and mentoring

You might have asked yourself: where and how do I know exactly when to apply which stance to create the highest impact?


To answer this let's look into obtrusiveness of agile coaching stance (below is my personal understanding).


Despite the fact that all of the tools are handy, some can be less obtrusive and have a more natural fitting into the environment (like water flowing into water) and others that create waves and new streams (like throwing rocks in the water).


Facilitation is the most unobtrusive tool to use. The coach here doesn't have an agenda and helps the client balance the flow of collaboration. The coach is an expert in collaboration and can help clients have richer discussions on the topics they are interested in. In any new situation the coach can always rely on her facilitation skills. That's a lifesaver. It is also pretty powerful.


Professional Coaching is slightly more obtrusive than Facilitation. Here a coach still follows the client's agenda, but can decide to guide the client to explore unknowns, what-ifs and what-would-it-be-likes, that the client might not even know exist. By using this competency a coach can help the client see new unseen paths and directions. It can be also used to raise motivation and commitment.


Both facilitating and coaching the coach assumes the client has all the resources and inner wisdom to drive to needed conclusions.


If it is not the case, then teaching and mentoring are the proper tools for the task.


Teaching is far more obtrusive than Professional Coaching. The coach here wears a trainer's hat, stands by a flip-chart and raises his index finger explaining the right way of doing things. She is knowledgable in the content of the domain. She explains the fundamental theories, proves them right and shows new ways of accomplishing tasks. She is showing options. The decisions whether to apply the new knowledge and skills is still on the clients' shoulders. They are in the driver's seat, it is them who will drive themselves to the new horizons (or maybe not).


In my view Mentoring is the most obtrusive of all. It doesn't mean you need to avoid it. No! But it needs to be used with caution and deep awareness of the impact and dependency created between the mentor and the mentoree. Here the mentor (rather: an agile coach wearing a mentor's hat) is pairing with the clients. The mentor is an expert in the domain. The coach shows new practical skills, pairs up, gives exercises, provides feedback, gives pieces of advice and leads by example. Usually some kind of teaching happens in between teaching sessions (or had already happened earlier) to explain the theories behind the practices.


A great agile coach has mastered all of the Four Stances and uses them constantly and alternately.

Agile Coaching Stances: Level of Obtrusiveness
Agile Coaching Stances: Level of Obtrusiveness

 So when to apply which stance?


A coach can use different coaching Stances depending on various factors. Here are a few common situations to keep in mind:


Use facilitation when

  • You don't know yet the current maturity level of the client
  • More obtrusive coaching is happening in the other knowledge domain (e.g. you're mentoring code excellence so you can stay lighter on team planning skills and here engage as a facilitator only)
  • You have done some training and/or mentoring and believe the client now has all the needed knowledge.
  • A whole group of people in engaged in the matter that need help in driving their collaboration (e.g. building shared understanding or decision making)

Use professional coaching when

  • Pure facilitation didn't give sufficient results.
  • You have done training and/or mentoring and now you would like the clients to make decisions based on what you had taught.
  • You are working with a complex issue that requires deeper look and insights.
  • You have enough capacity to work one on one with a person

Use teaching when

  • Previous facilitation and coaching resulted in a low level of insights.
  • It is possible to help the clients get insights by reviewing a case study or a made-up example.
  • You (or other coaches) are able to follow up on this topic later with coaching or mentoring. 

Use mentoring when

  • You have gained trust from the mentoree(s).
  • You have solved similar issues in the past and have a set of proven methods.
  • You are an expert in the domain and passing your skills on to the clients will make a change.

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    tushar (Tuesday, 27 December 2016 06:20)

    Hi, thank you for this post I agree with you Facilitation is the most unobtrusive tool to use. The coach here doesn't have an agenda and helps the client balance the flow of collaboration. very useful information