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My friend Sebastian Hermida asked one of those questions that make a coach get serious:

What would you recommend for coaches that want to get better at all stages?

For coaches to get better there are a variety of possible methods.

Hire a Team or Personal Mentor

A coaching mentor  brings three attributes:  experience, outsiderness, and readiness:

  • Experience has obvious value.  Have you ever been to an agile conference and seen how the pro coaches hang out together all the time?  They’re learning from each other’s experience.  And drinking.
  • Outsiderness might seem a bad thing at first blush, but it’s not.  As an outsider, a mentor can focus on process much more clearly when not caught up in the daily grind.  Outsiders always ask the dumb questions that perturb you and your team.
  • Readiness means that the mentor is essentially, available at your will. In law firms they call it ‘retainer’.  A retainer means that you pay a certain amount each period, and that you are guaranteed access to your mentor at some level.

Virtually all of the big names in coaching are willing to work with you on formulating a mentoring plan.  For a good time, call me, Jim Shore, Ron Jeffries, Joe Rainsberger, Industrial Logic, ObjectMentor, and so on.  (Just realized I need to prepare a list of GeePaw-approved coaches.  I mean, there’s dozens of them, these are just the names and companies of some I know are world class.  I’m already feeling guilty.)

Cross-Coaching

You can learn very quickly by pairing with another coach in your company. In large organizations, this is quite possible. You’re external to your partner’s team, and internal to your own, and vice versa. If it’s doable, this is very cheap, too.

It’s a simple arrangement.  Some do something like this:  “Mornings we hang with your team, afternoons we hang with mine.”  Others don’t even bother: “Where you go I go.”  Either way works.

Master Teacher Debriefings

You can find a debriefing master teacher who’ll help you debrief every day or two. This sounds like the first option, but it’s not: your master teacher can have nothing whatever to do with your company, your team, or even computers.  My own master teacher was my wife, Virginia, who’s been a successful teacher for thirty years.   When I first started coaching and teaching, I would debrief to her every single day for an hour or more. I still debrief to her when I’m having a particular failure or a particular success.

Virginia is and was a continuous fountain of ideas to try.  Not everyone has a smart beautiful kind sexy debriefer just laying around, the way I did, but if you can find one, you definitely should.

Form a Local Sodality

(I’ve never used the word sodality in a public utterance. Makes me a little giddy.)

If there’s more than one team going agile in your company, you should definitely form a group of some kind.

Reading groups are most common:  they choose a location, a day, a time, and a text.  The text could be a whole book, or it could just be a single chapter, or an article or website.  The mission:  show up having read the text and ready to schmooze.

Presentation groups are only slightly different.  They choose the same attributes as a reading groups do, but instead of assuming that everyone has read the material, these groups appoint someone each meeting who will be the presenter of the material.

Support groups place more emphasis on simple conviviality. They are formed for no other reason than to support each other.  Support groups are made from any number of coaches getting together to drink and talk. Support groups are the easiest to form, but they still will help greatly in terms of improving your coaching skills.  Finding the right bar can be tricky.

Give Up in Despair

I thought that might get your attention.

Look, kids, coaching is hard.  I’ve been a programmer for 30 years, and a teacher for 10.  Coaching is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  If you’re going to take on a role like this, don’t be stupid.  Don’t go it alone.

I will put up a reading list, soon.  That will help.  Meantime, you might as well get started with your Weinberg.  The Secrets of Consulting is probably the best starting place.  (I don’t endorse Jerry’s every view, but I’m an enthusiastic fan of the way he makes a coach think.)

What about a lonely coaches sodality?  We could have a steady flow of e-mail discussion, a wiki, and remote sessions.  I could easily start and manage such a thing.  The issue is really only obtaining critical mass.  If you think you would like to be a  part of a lonely coaches sodality, drop this e-mail address a line.  LonelyCoaches@anarchycreek.com.

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