Curious Coach


Curious Coach

– From the Ambassador learning material – 

Role of the Curious Coach

Coaching comes in different forms. We will focus on a type of coaching best characterised by curiosity and humility. The framework for this was developed by a friend of 100-Day Challenge work and best-selling author, Michael Bungay Stanier. The aim of this role is to enable you to bring out the full potential in individuals you work with, through one-on-one conversations. Team leaders and team coaches would benefit greatly from this type of support during their 100-Day Challenge journeys. Naturally, you can use the skills you practise in other contexts as well as with colleagues in your organisation. 

Questions

The fundamental tool of the Curious Coach is questions: curiously posing questions that inspire the client (or “coachee”) to think more clearly and creatively about their situation, and to come up with their own ideas and solutions. 

Here are the types of questions that a Curious Coach can use in almost every conversation with their coachee:

Issues questions

Questions that elicit the issues that would be helpful to talk about and to reflect on.

“What’s on your mind?”

“And what else?”

“What’s the real challenge here for you?”

Note that these questions come in a natural sequence. The first question opens the conversation. The second question invites the coachee to dig a little deeper and to share issues they may be less comfortable talking about. The third question invites the coachee to reflect on how they are dealing with one or more of these issues – it is more personal.

Coach
Coachee

What’s on your mind?

I am worried we are not making enough progress towards the goal. We seem to be trying hard, but the numbers are not moving.

And what else?

I am not sure the team is coming up with really new ideas. It feels like we are simply doing the same things, just a little more efficiently.

What’s the real challenge for you here?

I am not sure. I think I need to push the team a little more. To challenge them. But I do not want to come across like a dictator or someone who knows or cares about ending GBVF more than they do. So I feel a little stuck.

Note how, with each question, we are getting deeper and closer to an actionable solution.

Ideas questions

Questions that elicit ideas for action.

What can you do about this?

What do you want?

How can I help?

The conversation continues…

Coach
Coachee

What can you do about this?

I can try to be more forceful. I can throw some new ideas in the mix and see how they react. I can talk with some of them one on one about this.

What do you want?

I’d like to see the team come up with their own new ideas and try them out. And I’d like to do this in a way that does not come across as condescending or dictatorial. After all, we are all peers, and they elected me as a team leader.

How can I help?

I’d like to see the team come up with their own new ideas and try them out. And I’d like to do this in a way that does not come across as condescending or dictatorial. After all, we are all peers, and they elected me as a team leader.

Exercise

Pick a partner from your learning group. Practice asking these questions. Get comfortable asking and pausing. Then debrief and ask your partner how this felt. What was most helpful to them?

Tip - Using trust building modes of conversation

During these coaching conversations, it is helpful to signal to the coachee that you are genuinely curious to understand the things they are talking about. One way to do this is to use modes of conversations that are designed to show respect and to build trust.  These include:

Reflecting back on what you heard: “Let me make sure I understand what you are telling me. So you are worried that if you suggest fresh ideas to the team, they will think you are bossing them around or acting like a “know-it-all” manager or team leader”?

Imagining the future with the coachee: “So you’d like the team to become an engine of innovation? You’d like them to feel motivated and empowered to come up with new ideas?”

Holding the space with silence for a minute: Sometimes, the most powerful show of respect is to be silent, indicating that you are thinking and reflecting on what you heard and inviting the coachee to elaborate further on what they said.

Exercise

Practise these modes of conversation with your learning partner. Debrief about the feeling it inspires between the two of you.

Warning: Beware the Advice Monster!

In your role as coach, you will be tempted to give advice and to offer up solutions. Whether you are asked for this or not. It will be a strong temptation. The more successful you are in your career, the more tempted you will be to succumb to what Michael Bungay Stanier refers to as the “Advice Monster”. Please resist the temptation. Instead of offering advice, ask a question that inspires the coachee to think for themselves and to find their own solutions.

Even when the advice is solicited, it can set up an unhealthy power disparity between two colleagues. Both sides subconsciously feel it. And it can become toxic to the relationship.

Giving Advice – if you have no choice…. 

If you are compelled to give advice – when for example you observe a team leader saying something counterproductive to the team, here are two tips that can mitigate the negative impact of offering unsolicited advice:

Ask for permission first, and give your colleagues an easy way out: e.g. “I have some observations about the way you spoke at the team meeting. I’d be happy to share them, but if you prefer let’s do this at another time.”

Share a personal experience. E.g., “The team meeting brought back a memory of a time when I reprimanded a colleague in public – embarrassing him in front of other colleagues. He clamped up and became risk-averse from that point onward. I have learned since to always give constructive (aka negative) feedback in private.”    

Here’s an insightful LinkedIn article on the downside of giving advice: The Best Advice is Not to Give Advice

Exercise

Try spending a whole day without giving any advice (at work and at home). If tempted, think of the Advice Monster and count to ten. And if asked for advice, ask a question instead of giving advice. See if you can last a day without offering advice!

Thought starter reflection questions

Jot down thoughts on these questions – to the extent they are relevant to your experience at the session:
  • When did the mood in the event shift from “why are we here?” to “this could be interesting – I am excited to be part of this.” What triggered this shift? 
  • When did you have to go “off script” on the agenda or to change the agenda? What triggered this? What did you adjust? How did it go?
  • What was most surprising to you at the event?
  • What new insights did you gain about the issue at hand, and about the way leaders in the system interacted with each other?
  • Where did the conversation get stuck? What got it unstuck?
  • How would you characterise the level of trust among participants in the meeting? To what extent did this shift as the meeting progressed? To what do you attribute this shift, if indeed it happened?

Thought starter...

Reflection Questions 

Jot down thoughts on these questions – to the extent they are relevant to your experience at the session:

  • When did the mood in the event shift from “why are we here?” to “this could be interesting – I am excited to be part of this.” What triggered this shift? 
  • When did you have to go “off script” on the agenda or to change the agenda? What triggered this? What did you adjust? How did it go?
  • What was most surprising to you at the event?
  • What new insights did you gain about the issue at hand, and about the way leaders in the system interacted with each other?
  • Where did the conversation get stuck? What got it unstuck?
These are 100-Day Challenge Mentors. 

They did some work before you received the Challenge Note. This included:

  • Writing the Challenge Note, and making sure that the leaders of all the organisations represented on the team are comfortable with it – and committed to supporting the work of the team
  • Helping the leaders of these organisation recruit you and your colleagues to the team
  • Gathering some baseline data and other information that will help you and your teammates set your 100-Day goal and develop your plan.
  • Making sure all the preparations are made for a successful Lift-Off workshop, when you and your teammates will meet and get your 100-Day Challenge started. This includes venue, facilitation support, food, swags, comms, travel arrangements and whatever else is needed.

 

Mentors will participate in all or part of the Lift-Off Workshop, mostly at the start to provide context and answer questions, and at the end to give you and your teammates feedback about the goal and plan you develop.

During the 100 days following the Lift-Off Workshop, here’s what the Mentors will do:  

  • They will check in every two weeks with the team leaders to see how the team is doing and what support they and the team need.
  • They will keep other organisational leaders informed and engaged during the 100 days, and pull them in to help as needed.
  • They will participate in the last part of the Refuelling Workshop, halfway through the 100 days, to see what additional support the team needs, and to begin to plan with the team for sustainability and scale-up.
  • They will work with the team at the Sustainability Workshop to finalise recommendations on sustaining the results and building on the work of the team.