When I trained as a coach and was working towards certification, over a decade ago, a lively topic of conversation amongst some of my fellow learners was ATPCTCWDHAC (all those people calling themselves coaches who don’t have a clue). “Anybody who has a life thinks they can be a life coach,” we moaned. “Everyone without a job sets up as a business coach,” we wailed.
As someone who had a life but didn’t have a work permit, to some degree, I fit the profile of the clueless imposter. Still, to me, it seemed that coaching without training was a bit like driving without knowing the rules of the road – possible, but a really bad idea.
It’s true that anyone can call themselves a coach. There’s no requirement to be trained or certified. Some untrained people are fine coaches, just as some with training can be ineffective. No amount of instruction guarantees good performance and no certification can replace experience, empathy and effective communication. On the other hand, no amount of passion, interpersonal skill or drive can replace sound knowledge and time-tested approaches to coaching conversations. Coaching needs a foundation.
Once in a while, if you are very lucky, you get a gigantic dose of brain candy. That was my experience at Agile 2013, a five-day gathering of smart and thoughtful individuals working to find new ways to work, particularly in the realm of software development.
This was an enormous conference, twice as large as anything I’d been to and twice as long. There were more than 1,700 people registered for five days of non-stop idea sharing. In every time slot, there were over a dozen sessions to choose from. That didn’t count the unscheduled ‘open jam’ sessions and lively discussions during the breaks.
And don’t forget the parties. We were, after all, in Nashville. Music City. Honky Tonk Heaven.
It took place in a hotel that could pass for an amusement park. The Gaylord Opryland Conference Center is a massive biodome-like structure with islands, rivers, jungles and other distractions. Rooms are in at least five distinct buildings connected by meandering paths on several levels. It’s one thing to be lost in a new city. But to be lost in your own hotel? Every five minutes? Our hotel map would prove to be as important as our room keys.
This could have been a ticket to overwhelm. Instead, it was a most exquisite learning experience. Inspired by the Agile Manifesto, this is a community that spends its days promoting collaboration, pairing discipline with creativity, trying to create more people-centric work situations, and learning.
So what did I take away from this adventure that might be useful for readers of this blog? (more…)
I’m getting lean. Alas, this is not about my body. It’s something I’ll call “lean communication.” I’m not about to preach on short sentences and plain words, though that can be part of it. I’m convinced that good communication reduces waste.
In manufacturing, the concept of “lean” describes practices that use fewer resources to provide greater value to customers. Anything customers don’t value enough to pay for is considered “waste,” something to eliminate. Lean practices originated in manufacturing in the 1940s, when Taiichi Ohno introduced them at Toyota. Over the years, they’ve been adopted and adapted in many contexts, including lean startups and lean software development.
When I look at the ideas I use with my communication coaching clients, I see a lot of overlap with lean principles, particularly those set out by the Lean Enterprise Institute. I’ve paraphrased them, but you can find the original version here.
1. Establish value from the customer’s perspective
This is my top tip for communication. I never tire of sharing it because it works so well. The audience for any communication might be considered your “customers.” The more you can make your communication about them and their needs, the more likely you are to be listened to, heard and understood. Whether you’re addressing one person or 100, in conversation, in presentations, in broadcast or in writing, you can almost never go wrong if you explain your point from the perspective of your audience. You make people care about your message by answering their question, “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM) That’s the value will it have for them. When you talk about anything they don’t value – no matter how much you love it – you waste your time and theirs. (more…)
When my professional communicator friends ask what I’m up to, I need to explain – non-techie to non-techie – what ‘agile’ means. I tell a story that goes something like this:
“Being agile is about business sustainability. It’s an approach to work that lets an organization respond to changes in its environment – customer needs, market fluctuations, new technology, competitor moves, resource constraints, whatever.”
Communicators get that. We pay attention to the business environment. We’re also familiar with change, since most of what we advise on or write about has something to do with something new.
It’s about change
“Since every part of the business uses computers, change can’t happen without systems changes. Even great communication can’t compensate for crappy tools. But developing systems can be slow and expensive and, sometimes, by the time you’re done, the target has moved and more changes are needed.”
Heads nod. Everyone’s witnessed this. (more…)
I have no idea why they call it “camp.” It’s held in summer, there are games and it’s fun. But you’re unlikely to get a sunburn at Agile Coach Camp. And there are no spiders – though we did build a web – literally and metaphorically.
The weekend attracts people whose role is to help introduce new ways of working, primarily in software development. Communication is at the heart of the work of the agile coach as he or she helps teams work in more human-centric ways. Coach camp invites them to bring ideas and questions to discuss with colleagues in a conference framework called “open space.”
The French term for “attend” is “assister.” At ACC, participants truly do “assist.” We’re not watching a presentation; we’re part of a dialogue. I am rarely in a situation where so many people are listening carefully to what others are saying. Nor did anyone seem to be trying to impress anyone. (This crowd may be hard to impress.)
Sue’s Letter from Camp – Part Three
As I gaze upon the parched earth that is Southern Ontario, I’m thinking about thunderstorms. They’re forecast for tomorrow. Thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening!
But apparently, not as frightening as speaking in public. As someone who coaches speakers, I see lots of fear – at least when people first contact me. We work together to take the scariness out of the experience. Of all the tools and ideas we use to make presenting resemble a relaxed conversation, the most powerful is practice. That’s where Lightning Talks will be very useful.
I was exposed to the concept a couple of weeks ago at Agile Coach Camp Canada. They were part of our “Getting To Know You” process. Participation was optional. Yet I was surprised how many people opted to participate. Aren’t these IT people? Don’t they have the gene for nondisclosure? Or introversion, at the very least? This was an event that busted all the stereotypes. I’m not sure participation would be as high in a crowd of my usual conference mates – professional communicators, coaches, and trainers.
As with the Open Space process, it was self-organizing, yet a structure emerged. We sat in a huge circle. One by one, people rose to speak for three minutes on a topic of their choosing: work, life, whatever. Some were funny, others serious. Each was an invitation to consider an idea or to take an action the speaker felt will be good for us. (more…)