How we work

Introduction to Coaching 

Coaching is taking a less directive style to facilitate a conversation or group. It is a process that encourages reflection, learning and taking action. In simple terms, it is more asking, less telling


By taking a collaborative coaching approach you enable more self-directed learning and ownership. There are practical things you can do to encourage this, but the underlying principle is that the team member is the expert of their own situation - your role is not to solve their problems, or tell them what to do next. Your purpose as a coach is to enhance their ability to understand and solve their own problems. 

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A collaborative coach believes in the ability of the individual to create ideas, decide for themselves, and move their situation forward.

They use advanced skills of listening, questioning and reflection to create a highly effective conversation and experience for the individual.
— Julie Starr, The Coaching Manual

In a team context, the person using coaching would be the Project Lead. In this setting it is a move towards facilitating rather than directing the group to enable self-organisation. 

You can also use coaching to boost the effectiveness of one-to-ones as a development manager.

Think of this diagram as the spectrum of telling vs. asking, and consider where you can move closer to helping people to be self-directed and having more personal agency.

Adapted from The Coaching Manual by Julie Starr

Adapted from The Coaching Manual by Julie Starr

How is this different from mentoring?

If you're wondering about the difference between mentoring and coaching, this is a simplified way to think of it:

The mentor... holds expertise and experience and will make recommendations.

The coach... treats the coachee as the expert of their own situation, and asks questions to uncover insight. 

However, even when we are mentoring at Adaptive Lab we're committing to exploring taking a less directive approach. Think of it as being a 'coaching mentor'. 

Active Listening

Listening is a foundational and essential skill for coaching and facilitation - and just LIFE IN GENERAL! Active listening is the practice of giving another person your full attention in order to help them understand themselves. 

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One way to think of it is that listening happens at different levels:

Level one is fairly shallow, when your attention is often going elsewhere. This might be internal distractions such as 'mind chatter' about your own ideas and worries, or it can be external distractions such as background noise or other people speaking too. You are likely to slip into thinking how what is being said relates to your own experience rather than the speaker's experience. 

  • this might sound like, "Oh I KNOW, me too! When I went there I had the exact same thing happen....."
  • or "...." (drifting off, not paying attention) 

Level two is where we really get focused on the speaker. We are taking in everything that is being said, giving them space to pause and speak until their thought is completed. Really this is where you want to be most of the time in a coaching conversation.

  • using body language and non-verbal cues to indicate your attention is on them - leaning in, eye contact, occasional nods, etc
  • this might sound like, saying "Mm-hmm" (or whatever feels natural to you) to show you want them to go on 

Level three is powering up level two, by taking in other 'data' beyond what is said, such as non-verbal expression: sighs, smiles, eye-rolls, shoulders dropping, tightening/bristling etc. This is, the 'vibes' you're getting in the conversation. 

  • this might sound like, "I noticed you sigh every time you mention doing timesheets, did you notice that?" 

Asking powerful questions

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A powerful question is one that put a halt to evasion and confusion. By asking the powerful question, the coach invites clarity, action, and discovery at a whole new level.
— Henry and Karen Kimsey-House, Co-Active Coaching

Think about making your questions an opportunity for the team member to forward and deepen their reflection or decision-making rather than for you to make sense of the situation and get all the facts.   

Below are some examples of how a powerful question might look. This isn't about having 'stock' questions though! Instead, practice staying in Level two and three listening and remaining curious. This combination of curiosity and a commitment to being less directive means the best powerful question is likely to come naturally. 

Keep them as simple and short as you can so that the speaker isn't derailed from their own thought process. You can also use a powerful question to reflect back something you've heard, and to clarify. 

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  • What's on your mind?
  • Where can you make space to focus on this?  
  • How would you like it to be? 
  • How will you begin?
  • What will you do first?
  • Why do you think that is? 
  • If you could do it over again, what would you do differently?
  • How do you suppose you could improve the situation?
  • What aspects of this do you have control over changing?
  • What would you do if you had unlimited resources?
  • What is the opportunity?
  • You've said you feel as if you're "fire fighting" a few times. How does that feel? ...What is the opposite of that feeling?

Contexts for coaching at AL

There are different contexts when you may wish to try taking a 'coaching' approach - moving from telling or directing, to asking and listening. Not everyone has to be a coach, but it is a useful practice to add to your skill-set. 

As a Development Manager... you can take a coaching stance in one-to-ones by shifting from giving advice, and instead giving extra space for the ALabber you're supporting to speak and reflect. Your role shifts to active listening, reflecting back and asking questions to deepen reflection while supporting accountability. 

Further reading on taking a coaching approach as a manager

As a Project Lead... in this setting, the coaching approach is to facilitate the group to self-organise around the work, rather than being directive. Ask lots of questions! You can also try the 'coaching manager' stance described above in your one-to-ones.

In your Community of Practice... we are all growing together in our communities of practice. Offering advice from a place of experience is really important. However, there are times when you can take a coaching approach to help someone uncover their own answer to a puzzle. Try shifting to asking open questions when someone first presents a problem instead of jumping to offer solutions. 

With clients... We've committed to 'building muscles not dependency' with our clients. The coach role here is about facilitating learning in the client's organisation. Sometimes it will it be more beneficial for you to play a coach role rather than a teacher role, to uncover blockers through deep listening.