Manager as Coach (Part 1)


In order to understand the role of manager as coach, it is first vital to understand the difference between coaching and … well, everything else. I often find that people confuse coaching with other things such as dictating, micro-managing, performance managing, mentoring, teaching, and other things that I can’t quite name. The interesting thing is that coaching is completely different than all these things. When we talk about coaching from the coaching people in professional settings perspective it should not be confused with a coaching people I professional sports setting. In professional sports, the coach has all the power and tell the players the plays of the game and what they will practice in order to grow in their expertise. He may issue types of reprimands or punishments to reinforce the lessons he wants his players to learn. He also encourages the players and displays lots of care and pride for them.

Professional coaching – coaching in a professional setting – is very different. In this setting, the coach is a neutral party neither having more power or less power than the client. Rather there is an agreement that both the coach and client give power to the coaching relationship and coaching agreement. The coach does not teach, give solutions, or tell stories about how they would approach the problem if it were them. Instead, the coach asks relevant, open-ended questions that push the thinking of the client to boundaries they haven’t encountered in order to trigger new ways of thinking and ideas about how they would like to move forward. The topic of the coaching is completely in the hands of the client and they are the only person who has the power to make decisions. Accountability by the professional coach is more like holding a mirror up to the client to help them observe what they said they wanted to do and what actually happened in order to learn and come to new awareness. The professional coach doesn’t have the authority to issue orders, make demands, or reprimands. They also are ethically bound to keep in confidence the contents of the coaching session.

If this is true, how in the world can managers act as a coach to their staff? I would say the answer to that is, “Very carefully.” Or at least, don’t say you are coaching when you are actually managing, mentoring, doing performance management, or something else. Keep coaching in the coaching lane to avoid confusion.

  1. Boundaries – In order to have a successful coaching relationship with a subordinate (or anyone else) it is important to establish boundaries for the coaching relationship. This is called the coaching contract or working agreement. Don’t leave things up to assumptions as most people don’t do this well. The contract does not have to be written but it should be specific.
  • Generally it should cover such things as:
    • What types of topics will be considered as coaching and never leave the coaching session – which means they also can’t be considered as part of performance management and are confidential to the relationship
    • What types of topics will be considered manager/subordinate and will be subject to non-confidentiality including reporting to others, using in performance management, etc.
    • How will we be explicit about when we are coaching and when we are doing something else
    • An agreement that when/if it becomes impossible to remain impartial there will be open discussion and a termination of the coaching part of the relationship
  1. Clarification of Roles – This helps the relationship to have clarity around who is responsible for actions and non-actions. It also helps keep both the coach and the client in their own lane. Examples of some of these clarifications are:
    • The client owns the agenda of the coaching unless otherwise agreed
    • The client owns the determination of actions to be taken after the session
    • The client maintains the power to be open, honest, and vulnerable without fear of reprimand or repercussions resulting
    • The client should not assume that the coaching relationship suggests that there is a relationship beyond professional outside of the coaching sessions and professional conduct towards the manager is still expected at all times. No preferential treatment should be expected.
    • Items revealed in the coaching session should not be considered in performance decisions even when the information could lead to leniency.
    • The coach’s role is not to give advice, therapy, or counselling.
    • The coach’s role is to ask questions, make observations, and hold a mirror for the client to see in order to better make decisions and take actions.
  2. Self-Control – The hardest part of the manager coaching is the actual coaching. It takes time and self-restraint to be able to stop giving orders and advice. It is hard to leave our own experience and expertise at the door when we think we can clearly see the answer to someone else’s problem. If we can’t do this, then we should consider ourselves mentors and work with people from the place of their existing talents and skills adding ours to the mix to empower them to grow. There’s nothing wrong with this – It’s just not coaching.
  3. Coaching skills – Learning coaching skills is important if you want to coach your staff. You already know how to be a manager so look at this as an opportunity to learn some new skills.


Gut Check Information Radiator


Information radiators are a great way for you to communicate information to a team that they just are not seeing for themselves. It also helps you to not have to nag the team with information they aren’t ready to hear about things they are doing that self-sabotaging.

I created this radiator when I was working with a team that had gone through several sprints where they kept voicing that they were going to finish all the work until the last day when they finally admitted that they were not going to finish. I’m not sure if they were deceiving themselves or if they were afraid to admit failure but either way there were several reasons why I could see early in the sprint that they were not going to complete the work, but they couldn’t accept fate until the last day of the sprint. By then, there wasn’t much that could be done to change directions or not frustrate stakeholders with surprise unfinished work.

The radiator I used is pretty simple. I wrote and labeled a line for each day of the sprint across a piece of flip chart paper. (This could be easily done on a white board.) Then I wrote the numbers 1-10 evenly across the lines. I then divided the lines into 3 parts and highlighted one part red, yellow in the middle, and green on the right. Across the bottom I wrote, “How confident are we that we will meet our sprint commitment at 80% or higher?” I selected 80% because the company had a 80% metric that they expected teams on average to complete 80% of the work each sprint. You should label this however seems appropriate to your organization.

I introduced the information radiator to the team and explained that I had noticed that we seem to be confident that we will finish the work until the last day but we were ending up with lots of unfinished work each sprint. I asked them if it would be okay if I just did a check in with them once a day during the sprint to see how they felt about their ability to complete the work they selected. So, every day at around 3pm I would ask the team for their gut check, which was their personal confidence level on a scale of 1-10 that we would finish the work in the sprint. If they were all in green then all was well. If they were in yellow or red the team would regroup and figure out what changes they needed to make in the way they were working and would also decide if any communication needed to go out to stakeholders for work in jeopardy.

On the 5th day of the sprint something amazing happened. One of the developers stood up at about 2:30pm and declared to the team. “Look everyone, in about 30 minutes she is going to ask us about our gut check and I can’t honestly answer because I have no idea where we are. Testing tasks are just sitting there and I have no idea what’s happening!” Then, the team FINALLY had a heated discussion about the fact that testing tasks were not broken down into individual tasks and no one had any idea what was being tested and how testing was progressing on each story. At the end of their heated debate they decided that they would no longer write tasks like “implement” or “test.” Instead, they agreed to write their tasks more specifically like, “write test cases,” “write automated test,” “regression test,” and similar for development tasks.

I was so proud of this team! I knew that this was the problem and had tried to get the team to break down their tasks and to push on the tester to explain where they were on the work each day since his 3 hour testing tasks were lasting 3-4 days. However, until they could see it with their own eyes they weren’t ready to accept that a change needed to be made. They also needed to get to a place where they were ready to have some healthy conflict instead of just “being nice” all the time.

After this incident the team was better about being open and questioning why work was not getting completed to identify if there were impediments or additional assistance needed. Another side effect of using this radiator was that someone wanted to know why the team was shooting for 80% as a goal. The team discussed this and decided that even though 80% was acceptable for the company they should strive to always get 95-100% of the work completed each sprint. They also decided that if they got 100% for 3-4 sprints they would raise the bar and take in more work to try to increase their velocity.

Remember, this information radiator is not intended to be a whipping stick. When I asked about their gut check I just indicated where people were. You can write a dot or an x or whatever other type of indication is right for your team. I wrote their names. You could even leave off the numbers and have the team just write an X on the line where they are. The colors are important so don’t leave those off.

I didn’t use this radiator with the team for very long. I think I used it for two sprints. It had done the work I needed it to do so I stopped when it was no longer valuable. If you decide to use this radiator, please let me know about your experience and send me a picture!

Sprint Health Information Radiator


Information Radiators are a great way to make things transparent for a team or organization. The radiator pictured above I a sprint health radiator. It can be used however you choose to implement and using whatever colors you select. I just happened to be using a white board and green, blue, and red dry erase markers when I created the one pictured above.

You could also make this smaller on a flip chart and create a new one daily to show progress over time which is really cool because the team can see how far they’ve come each day. It also shows them when new work is added to the sprint or when things are not moving along as expected. Take care to ensure that this information radiator is used to display and radiate information that is useful to the team to see the health of the sprint and make decisions about changes they might need to make in the way they are working. Don’t use this as a whipping stick to prod the team to work harder, faster, or more recklessly!

Let me give a description of the radiator parts, options, and how it’s used.

WORK STATES: To Do, In Progress, Accepted. These are the states I used on mine because these are the states that my team was using. If you team has a state for Dev, Test, or Done then use the states the team actually uses. Or you can combine all “in progress” states into one simple “progress”. You can change “to do” to “not started” if you like. So, I guess what I’m saying is take the concept of the radiator and apply it. Cater the labeling to your team. What it says isn’t as important as what it does.

How these states are used: I give a legend of what specific colors mean so when people look at the radiator they know what they are seeing. The numbers written in the colored blocks can represent the number of stories in those states or the number of points. DO NOT use hours. As you can see the size of the colored in area corresponds to the number of points or stories in that area. The intention here is to show how much work is in progress so the team can see how much is complete, in progress, and no started in a sprint. Remember, since the team should be limiting WIP this will show if they have more work in progress than accepted or waiting to start. It gives them a quick visual of the state of the health of the sprint so they can make adjustments to how they are working or what they are working on when they meet for the daily scrum. Therefore, this should be updated before the daily scrum so the team can have current information to make decisions. I often find this radiator much more helpful than the burndown but not always — it just depends on what the team really needs to know to be successful.

You could create just the part of the visual I described and get tons of value for the team. On the radiator pictured, I have some other things added: Commitment, Time Elapsed, Work Accepted. Again, use these as needed and in the best way to radiate information for your specific team.

For this team, they were having problems continually adding unplanned work to the sprint so I needed a way to radiate that information and how it impacted the success of the sprint. So, I put the number of points the team originally forecast during sprint planning on the radiator. You could use the number of stories here instead if you choose to add this to your radiator. During the sprint, when the team added work, I crossed out the original number (do not erase) and I wrote the new number next to it. As you can see in the sample shown, this team added unplanned work 3 times during the sprint and went from 16 points (which is likely their average velocity) to 23 points. Having this shown on the radiator gives the team a talking point during retrospective when they are looking for improvement areas they can investigate and implement experiments for change.

The next item, time elapsed can be written in number of days or in percentage. You could also change this to say time remaining. What would your team respond to best? Use that. This helps the team get a quick view of how much time is left during the sprint and how much work they still need to finish. If they are taking in too much work and ending the sprint with a lot of work started it will help them see that if they started less they would actually complete more. Since working software, not started work, is the primary measure of progress it is more important to finish than it is to start.

Lastly, on this sample I have the percentage of work completed. You could just as easily put the number of points or number of stories. OR you could put the amount of work not finished, at risk, etc. For this team, they had an internal goal of always finishing 95-100% of the work selected for a sprint (predictability metric) so this was a motivator for them to see how far they were from their goal. It also told them if they went over 100% of the original amount of work every sprint that they weren’t taking enough work into the sprint to begin with. Lastly, it told them how adding unplanned work impacted their predictability goals.

If you choose to use this radiator, take some time to modify it and get the right measurements for your team. Information radiators are meant to be catered to the team using it to ensure that it reflects the right information they need to make the right decisions. It should also encourage and motivate rather than deflate and demotivate the team.  Sent me a picture of your Sprint Health Radiator if you choose to use this with your team!







ICF Professional Coach Training Available


Many of you have shown interest in joining the ICF professional coach training announced last month. We are now ready to start accepting registrations. We have scheduled a morning and evening class in Central US Time to make it more convenient for people in multiple time zones across the world to attend.

If you do not see an offering time that works for your timezone, please reach out to me directly at so we can determine if there is enough interest to open another class.

More information and registration can be found here.

I’m looking forward to working with you!

Change Your Questions – Video

Change Your Questions – Change Your World

Change Your Questions

Questions are powerful tools in the hands of agile teams that can help people discover innovative solutions that have been locked inside waiting to be released into our products! This high-energy workshop teaches how questions can be used to help a team learn, grow, and break through thought barriers. Learn what makes certain questions provoke more thought than others and how to make your questions more impactful. Participants in this session will discover how to change the way they currently communicate to incorporate powerful questions that will unlock new thinking patterns in their teams. They will also interactively learn how to identify if the way questions are being asked are actually impacting others in the manner intended.



Beyond Removing Impediments – Video

Beyond Removing Impediments – Scrum Master as Team Coach

Scrum Master as Team Coach

The role of the Scrum Master is about more than removing impediments and facilitating meetings. Scrum Masters act as mirrors for their teams and mentor team members great Scrum Masters coach their teams to high performance every day. We will share a metaphor for teams to use on their journey to high performance and teach Scrum Masters how to be coaches for their teams.  Additionally, this presentation teaches the coaching skill of asking powerful questions to help a team resolve problems and design solutions.