coach facepalm

Five ways I’ve fucked up as a coach

Lets face it, whatever your profession, you don’t always get things right. What’s probably more important than the fuck up itself, is how quickly you learn and recover from it.

Here are some of the things that I haven’t got right over the last few years. If you feel like sharing some of yours, please use the comments to do so.

1. Allowing bad behaviour in a team to go on for too long

The storming stage of the team can see conflict amongst team members as boundaries are tested. This is all part of a team’s formation process. In most cases the team will gel and they’ll move through it. Unfortunately, sometimes a team gets stuck. If this happens for too long the conflict will cause a toxic atmosphere and people will leave. The only avenues at that point are somewhat radical and time consuming for all involved. In retrospect, you’ll wish you had dealt with the behaviour much sooner.

Lesson learned: Trust and respect are the two key building blocks for an effective team. Regardless of the stage of team formation, nurture these two as fundamentals. Without these the team will implode.

Tips: Set clear boundaries for acceptable behaviour. Then make it clear to team members if they break those boundaries, what you expect them to do to reign it in or change things. Give them a timeline by which you expect to see a demonstrable difference in their behaviour. If after this period there is still an impact on the team, make the tough calls, you’re a leader. Whatever you do, don’t allow it to drag on and watch good people leave.

2. Allowing emotions to lead you

It’s hard not to get emotionally engaged if something gets in the way of a good outcome for a team, the company, the customer, or all three. The emotional response can be described as gut instinct. It can be quite raw. What’s certain, is it doesn’t always get the outcome you’re seeking. Emotional responses can make you come across as needy or may be easily dismissed by colleagues as irrational.

Lesson learned: No matter how good your intention is, if it’s coming from an emotional place, it’s very hard to successfully negotiate a good outcome.

Tips: If you feel yourself being tipped into an emotional state, try to understand the other perspective and look for the valid request in what is being asked for. People don’t tend to say or do things to be deliberately obtuse, there is usually a legitimate reason.

3. Didn’t say no enough

When you first join an organisation, you often want as much information about it as possible. You tend to get invited to a lot of meetings and included in a lot of emails. Sooner or later, the sum weight of information flowing your way will get out of control. This can make you feel like you’re always in firefighting mode, moving from one fire to the next. This is exacerbated when substantial organisational change is underway – uncertainty can trigger a lot of meetings. As a change agent and a better than average facilitator, people will call on your skill set. You’ll easily get pulled into meetings, some of which have little relevance to your overall strategy. What’s worse, you may be seen as the meeting administrator and you’ll be expected to write and distribute minutes.

Lessons learned: Too much information can be as ineffective as too little and soon the signal is lost in all the noise. If you’re in meetings, you’re not being productive. If you don’t have time between meetings, you can’t actually put any of your devised strategies into effect. Thus the circle of meetings continues.

Tips: Prioritise your time. Block out parts of your day in your calendar. If a meeting invite doesn’t have an agenda, email the meeting caller and ask them for one before you accept.

4. Spent too much time evangelising

When you first pick up some new theory that generates an a-ha moment, just eulogising about it to others doesn’t mean it will generate a-ha moments in them. Also, it’s just a theory.

Lessons learned: Avoid theorising, it only sparks debate. Unless you have a team of early adopters, the late majority and laggards will block any suggested change. It also makes you sound like a preacher, and if people aren’t ready to hear your message you’ll only push them away. The reality is, if people don’t understand the message, or you haven’t considered how it might work from their perspective, you’re going to have a potentially lengthy debate on your hands . The quicker way is to show them how it works, in a way that they can derive meaning so that they can incorporate the idea if they like it.

Tips: Once you’ve recognised the theory that resonates, decide how you want to incorporate into your practice. Design and execute experiments for putting it into place. Then measure and learn.

5. Didn’t make time for strategy

Once the teams are up and operating, you’ll need to increase your sphere of influence. There is only so much cost benefit that you get from coaching at the team level or one-on-one. Soon the biggest impediments to the team’s / organisation’s success will be ones that are occurring outside of the teams. If you haven’t strategised how you’re going to spread the Agile love, you’re going to quickly hit a ceiling.

Lesson learned: The Agile maturity of the organisation will often govern the level that Agile coaches are engaged. If you’re only engaged at the team level, changing the organisation around you will be hard, but not impossible. However, nothing is going to improve if you don’t make time for strategy.

Tips: Schedule time to strategise and enact strategy. Get out of the office if need be so you have clear time to innovate and create.


(Image: Facepalm, Brandon Grasley, CC-BY))