Random Coaching Tips


As a person who has been successfully coaching software development teams for twenty years, let me throw out a few ideas to chew over. With luck, maybe one of them will jiggle the frame enough for you to find a next step.

  1. Nothing, absolutely nothing, always works. There are thousands of forces in play in a typical team or organization, and many of them are inherently or ontogenetically anti-change. I vary my game a lot, and I have a lot of variants to offer. And I still lose all the time.

  2. My dog Wally likes to lead, when we’re out on Tiger Patrol. But he only occasionally knows where we’re actually going. He finesses this by frequently checking to make sure that he’s leading where we want to go. This is primo coaching practice.

  3. Oblique approaches are often far more successful than direct ones. To the point, I might add, where I see the directness of many change efforts as being the exact reason for their failure. Meandering paths seem inefficient in the abstract, but that’s a trick. Wander.

  4. Because lived experience nearly always beats out verbal argument, reserve most of your wrangling juice for getting folks into experimentation. Set up the most favorable conditions. Accept the results. You’ll win far more often if you get folks to live your idea.

  5. It’s relationships all the way down. It’s relationships all the way down. It’s relationships all the way down.

  6. Have fun. Remember Zander’s Rule #6 ("Don’t take yourself so goddamned seriously.") Have fun yourself, and share fun. Be of good cheer! None of this is actually all that deathly important.

  7. Trust builds in a spiral shape, little deals made and kept, then a little bigger, then a little bigger. And they don’t have to be the same kind of deal to grow the spiral.

  8. Shoot straight, but remember, honesty means believing everything you say, not saying everything you believe. You are allowed, nay, encouraged, to direct your meanness — we all have moments of meanness — somewhere it can be safely grounded.

  9. Going from zero to agreement using a meeting fails way more often than succeeds. You can build ground for consensus in hallways, small groups, backchannel chats, and informal conversation, far more effectively than in a 10-person meeting. Use meetings to formalize and confirm.

  10. Find someone outside work whose job is also changing things, outside of geekery. Ply them with beer and nachos, mutually de-brief and support. Changing things is changing things, largely regardless of domain. Safe place for grounding, too.

  11. Accept the ultimate reality: you’ll fail, plenty. And you’ll constantly have to decide whether to try something else or to move on. Don’t be so hard on them, sure, but also? Don’t be so hard on yourself. If this game were easy, it wouldn’t be worth the candle.

  12. Don’t get them to do what you want them to do, get them to do what they already want to do. They nearly always want to do things to make their lives better, and some of those things are part of what you want, too. Help with that.

  13. Prioritize the easiest nearest owwie, and leave the hardest furthest nightmare for later, when it will have become easier and closer. What small fixable thing is bothering them now? Work on that. You’ll build trust and you’ll enable the habit of change.

That’s it for now, a lucky thirteen.

Find someone today who could use a little kindness — including maybe even yourself — and make sure they get it.

Have a good week!


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