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Part 2: 12 Focusing Questions for Agile Coaches

So you're an agile coach.

You walk into a situation and immediately you are expected to assess the situation of the context that you find yourself in.

What do you do? How can you accurately evaluate the coaching engagement you are faced with so that you can offer appropriate guidance to your client?

In Part 1 of this post on 12 Focusing Questions for Agile Coaches I gave you the first 6 techniques for observing and orienting yourself as a coach.

In this post I am going to reveal the remaining 6 focusing questions.

Let's get to it!

7 - What is Remarkable, Interesting, or Unusual?

Although there are many common attributes, challenges, and characteristics of organizational situations that we observe, there are often one or two elements that distinguish one story from the next.

Your ability to extract the noteworthy aspects of a particular context are essential so that you don't fall into the trap of treating this like any old thing that you have come across before.

For example: You might determine that an organization has experienced a tremendous amount of change over the previous months but there has been very little resistance to any of it. I'd say that is quite a remarkable, interesting, and unusual situation.

As a coach you need to be a able to recognize that fact and determine why that's the case. Is there an abrasive leader who is intimidating everyone to accepting the changes? Is there a history of backlash against those who resist - resulting in everyone's reluctance to share their concerns? Or perhaps it's because of effective leadership that is approaching change in such a way as to acknowledge and respect people's emotional needs so that they get ahead of resistance?

Whatever the reason. Your ability to capture what is unique and distill it into one or two sentences will be helpful in your efforts to understand a given context. So make sure to ask what is remarkable, interesting, or unusual.

8 - What Options or Alternatives Were Tried?

When you find yourself in a new coaching situation it's critical that you do not assume that you have a blank canvas. There will certainly be a history that has contributed to the situation as you find it. You need to understand key elements of that history as it relates to the problems you are trying to currently help solve.

You need to discover what was tried before? What didn't work? Why didn't it work? What did work and why did it work? Where there things ruled out? Why were they ruled out?

As a coach you need to understand and have an appreciation for what lies behind the struggle to get to where things are today. You will discover that they offer important clues that feed into your decision making about what to try next.

9 - What Options Might You Have Suggested?

This focusing question is not about being judgmental about the actions of others, but it is however about being a Monday morning quarterback.

What might you have done differently and why? Why would you have ruled certain approaches in or out?

Be curious. Be a student of change.

This isn't something you need only apply in your current coaching context, but you can also do it when hearing about other situations or perhaps reading other case studies.

10 - What Are The Pros, Cons, Side-Effects of Your Actions?

Your actions have consequences. Take the time to consider them BEFORE you act.

Different courses of action also have trade-offs. Do you understand them? Think about what they may be.

Don't assume that your decisions and actions will take the "happy path". Recall that everyone is going to initially respond to any changes you propose by evaluating it through a lens that is emotional. You're going to encounter situations where your ideas are supported, but more often than not there is going to be risk that a proposed change will be met with resistance.

Get ahead of that curve. Understand your context and audience. Weigh the pros and cons and proceed accordingly. Don't act without considering these questions. Understand the potential impact of your suggestions.

11 - What Would You Do Next?

Anticipate situations. Always be asking yourself the question "What would I do next?"

Be ready. Take the time to ponder possible questions that are going to arise and be ready to be flexible and negotiate.

Don't just be reactionary.

Again. This doesn't just apply to the here and now! Whenever you hear stories about what another coach is experiencing, or talk to someone about their prior challenges, or reflect on past situations, make sure that you make an effort to learn from prior situations. If you found yourself in one of those situations what would have been the next appropriate move for you to take?

12 - What Have You Learned From This Story That You Might Adopt?

As a coach you should be a prodigious notetaker. You should get in the habit of taking notes and then revisiting them to look for insights that you may not have had the time to contemplate while you were actively observing.

Look to make discoveries. Learn from previous situations. Look back in your notebook to see what successful models may have been applied during certain situations. You might be able to re-apply certain elements of things that worked before.

Taking notes and reflecting on what you have learned from past and current situations is how things like this guidance I have shared with you develop.

Discovering what works for you and learning from each unique situation is how you develop as a coach. Not all approaches are going to work for you. You need to find the things that are good for your way of approaching problems.

Asking yourself what can be learned from the situations you find yourself in is a key technique for enabling that professional development to foster.


Your ability to respond to situations in ways that are contextually appropriate will largely be affected by your ability to observe and effectively asses situations from a coaching stance.

The 12 Focusing Questions I have shared with you are proven ways for you to see situations from varying lenses so that you can see what often goes unnoticed by coaches who are concerning themselves more with "process coaching" and policing aspects of process adoption.

You can do better than that. I challenge you to do so. I hope some of these focusing questions might help you develop as a coach and provide you with some thought provoking questions to help you better focus in your efforts to help your customers solve problems.

What focusing questions do you use? This list should continue to grow and change. Keep what works for you, discard what doesn't, and add your own.

When you do, please tell us about it!

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