Coaching Software Development Teams
Wednesday morning, second half
Not a Grand Unified Theory of Coaching. Just observations.
Coaching and Change
- Team advocate: thinks about what’s good for the team
- Coaches aid change and provoke change
- Coaching has ethical responsibilities
- All coaching relies on some model of human behavior
- It’s hard to talk about human behavior frankly without offending people
- Have to live with the fact that there are “Things You Can’t Say” — Paul Graham
- Objectifying people
- Labeling — disrespectful, barrier to communication
The Dilemma of Work
- Asks self: Would I like to work in this team?
- The necessary evil? The necessary good?
- If you didn’t need the money, would you work as you do now?
- Why? Why not? What about your coworkers?
- Some people become passionate about the work they have to do
- Others just see it as a job
- Can’t assume that everyone will be passionate about what they do
- Who are we at work?
- What matters to this person? What motivates them? Can I get them tied into the passion of doing this stuff?
Organizational and Personal Values
- In any social setting, there can be conflicts between our personal values and those of our surrounding organization
- Company can assume that you’re available to the company all the time
- These conflicts determine the character of organizations and how well they function
- They are hard to talk about
- Can be a core issue with morale
- Emergent personality
- From a teacher: “Every class has its own personality”
- Backronym: Personal Anthropomorphization of the Team
- When we’re together, we’re something different than what we are separately
- Super-Organism theory:
- “A group is its own worst enemy” — Clay Shirky
- The Lucifer Principle — Howard Bloom
- Is Pat happy today? Is Pat sad? Apprehensive?
- Individual people might be happy, but the group might be depressed
- “Pat” does not embody organizational goals; “Pat” is an amalgam of the team
- People outside your department do view your department as a single entity
- Who does “Pat” work for?
- Core values (inferred from action)
- Typical behaviors
- Reasonableness of Expectations
- E.g., overtime, blogging and smoking
- Who we are (individual members of the team):
- Our personal lifecycle, our personal experience (how old? have a family? what kind of commitments outside work?)
- Can make educated guesses, but really need to talk to people
- Our history in the organization
- Our level of commitment
- No judgment here
- In many organizations, default assumption is that everybody is totally committed to the organization
- But if people are doing what they need to do and aren’t getting in the way, they can be effective even if they aren’t totally committed
Anatomy of Learning
- Learning involves a Tension/Release Cycle
- Needing to know something, not knowing what to do: tension
- Learning how to do it: release
- As a coach, need to surf on that wave
- There’s usually a source of tension you can work with
- The thing we work for, we remember
- If the team wants to work to get something done, let them
- If necessary, show them how to fix it. They won’t be as invested in the result, but you do still get that release.
- Pay attention to the mood of the room. Find a tense moment to help introduce something, and help them learn.
- The job of a coach is to find teachable moments, and help team members release the tension productively
- Places where people are receptive
- Chaos aids learning
- Can be more effective to tell someone to eat right when they’re in the emergency room after a heart attack
- One of our jobs as coaches is to identify the conflicts / problems
- Think about the team, think about its health, and identify problems that may not yet be recognized
- When you identify, you can
- Address and fix it, or
- Lead people to find and fix it themselves
- To know which, ask “Pat”
- Page on Ward’s Wiki, has “Genius” in the title. Points toward this: you may have a solution, but it’s better if you can lead others to find it themselves.
- Recognizing when people are stuck, and offer alternatives
- Keep some distance, but watch progress
- Problems are enticing and captivating, but every moment you spend captivated is wasted if you’re going down the wrong path
- When problems don’t yield to pressure, help people switch gears, to try a similar but smaller problem
- Often this is enough to make the original problem yield
- Help people step back; sometimes some distance will solve the problem
- Well, not really, but…
- Pay attention to progress on problems.
- Cultivate a sense of when people or problems are overloaded.
- “Guys, you can’t have fifteen people working on this.”
- Sometimes you have too many people working on too few things. Help redirect them to other things.
- When you’re a coach, you have to develop a sensitivity to what’s actually happening.
- Who’s working with whom, how they’re interacting
- What work is being avoided
- Just be aware of these things
- Can be draining to do this as well as work on software
- Have someone else who knows the team available to bounce ideas off of
- You might not have the right interpretation
- In consulting, this works very well
- Internal coaches can use peers on other teams, or trusted members of the team
Ask the Room
- When the team adopts a new rule, ask them to call a huddle when tempted to break it, to see if there are alternatives
- Leverages the whole team and builds a sense of how the team works
Make It Physical
- A key coaching technique is to take the abstract and make it tangible
- Information Radiators
- Design: CRC cards, etc.
- Single most powerful thing you can do as a coach
- It is hard
- Listening with minimal judgment is harder
- Keep it centered on work
- Balancing judgment (“Pat” vs. Person)
- When you listen and it isn’t recognized, you identify resistance
- Listening is deep respect.
Advance / Retreat
- Work with someone initially on some task, but selectively withdraw support
- When you know how to do something, it’s easy to just do it. Resist temptation, especially when you’re trying to teach practices.
- A way of gauging engagement and aiding initiative
- By letting them take the lead, you’re helping them develop initiative in other situations
- Imagining what Pat is like right now. Visualization. Is s/he tired? Scared, relaxed? What’s the feel of the room?
- What is Pat afraid of?
- Losing job?
- Extra work?
- Is Pat nervous?
- May miss things if you’re looking at individuals
Personal Encouragement / Discouragement
- Most coaching work is one-on-one
- You can’t address “Pat” directly
- Coach has to be able to address things no one wants to address
- Active Listening and Respect are your tools
- Know the person
- Know the feeling
- Feel it first
- Often the first step in solving a problem is naming it
- May not even have to say what needs to be done in response
- If it’s an “elephant in the living room”, this is doubly true
- Name problems and coach others to name them
- This teaches the team reflection
- Don’t always have to have a solution right away
- Identifying the “Elephant in the Living Room”
- Obeys “tension / release”
- Pointed questions, soliciting comments… ending with silence. (tension) Then stark honest assessment of the problem, usually with emotional gravitas. (release)
- There’s some drama to doing this
- The most effective way to change “Pat” is surgery
- Most companies loathe the idea of moving people from one team to another
- Team surgery is hard: politics, fiefdoms
- Internal sub-teaming
- The surgery that changes “Pat” the most is “Add Person”
- Removing people doesn’t force as many differences in relation
- Unfortunately, results are unpredictable
- Try moving someone to a different task for a while, see what happens to the team
Push in the Water
- Coach has to be able to ask people to go beyond their limits
- Part of “Tending Pat”
- If coach knows more than the rest of the team, team can rely on coach for answers. Pull yourself out of the loop.
- “I think Sara knows about that, check with her.”
- Can work well with a tension/release cycle
- “Of only we spoke to Sara first”
- Be aware of your desire to be in all loops
- When the work gets done without drama and you didn’t do any coaching, that’s success
- Most important when you’re dealing with a bunch of individuals, as opposed to a team
- Doesn’t have to be very overt
- Part of being a coach is identifying what has gone well
- There are successes on all teams in all situations. Tie back to goals.
- Before cheerleading, decide whether it’s appropriate. Think about how it’s going to be received. Don’t come across as a Pollyanna.
- Especially in a dysfunctional team
- People on teams will objectify each other (build a picture of another person based on a few experiences)
- They will attempt to develop intimacy by complaining to you about others on the team
- Your reaction is *important*.
- Make it clear (without pushing them away) that you can’t look at people that way
- Have to see them as a person too. Where are they coming from?
Ethical Questions in Coaching
- When is “Pat” asking for too much?
- When is an organization asking for too much for a team?
- Fall back on honesty
- Worst thing a coach can do is accept an organizational goal they don’t believe in, and go back to the team as if they believe it
- Say you think it’s problematic, but we still have to do the best we can
- Not every intervention has to be completely above board
- Don’t always need full disclosure about why you’re doing a particular thing, when it’s in the best interest of the team.
- Intimacy and Unguarded Moments
- Do team members know each other’s kids’ names? Do they talk about what they’re doing on the weekend?
- When people know a bit more, things are a bit more at ease at work
- No Emotional Steady-State
- In a healthy team, the emotional state will change
- If the emotional state is stuck, something’s wrong
- Goal Achievement Record. How often do they meet their commitments?
- Have people personalized their space?
- Do people solve problems, or wait for someone to come save them?
- The Role of Rules
- Zero tolerance for zero tolerance
Dealing with Resistance
- Sometimes people will act counter to the team’s interest
- Ignore. Some things will sort themselves out. Takes a lot of judgment.
Dealing with Personality Conflicts
- Levels of relatedness:
- could hang out and talk about things outside work
- can work with for a couple of hours a day
- No, get me away from this guy/gal.
- Team Surgery
- Align on communication boundaries
- Let them go
Politics and Cliques
- “Us versus Them” is natural, get used to it.
- Generally shouldn’t happen inside the team.
- Doesn’t have to be pathological.
- Can be galvanizing
- If the surrounding organization is dysfunctional, might not be all bad
- Can be dissolved at times (team surgery)