Consulting, Mentoring & Coaching

I see some confusion when people talk about the role of the Agile Coach and the differences between Coaching, Consulting and Mentoring, and how this relates to management. In this post I explain the differences in the context of an organization, and how they relate to each other based on my experience, training and individual perspective.

Consulting

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A consultant is a subject matter expert who will diagnose and provide solutions to problems. A consultant will give her client’s expert assessment in a specific field. Most of us have met consultants or have been consultants at some point in time. So, this role is quite clear, I think.

Mentoring

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A mentor guides you from her experience, typically in a specific area of knowledge. She might use a directive approach, based on transmitting knowledge. The mentor is a subject matter expert.

The mentor will typically answer to the question “do you know what is going to work to solve this situation?”.

What you are looking for in a mentor is her experience and wisdom.

I strongly recommend to anyone who has an interest in their professional career to get a mentor. My recommendation is that you choose someone who is a model for you, someone whose behavior resonates with your values and beliefs. Preferably someone who is not in your direct management reporting line.

Coaching

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Coaching increases consciousness of a system and invites to action. The system can be a person, a group, a team, an executive committee or a whole organization. There is no coaching without action.

A coach maximizes your personal and professional potential through a thought-provoking and creative process. You will develop in order to increase your contribution to the organization or to draw upon your potential to achieve personal goals.

A coach will help you understand yourself better. She will help you increase your self-awareness, a fundamental step for any successful change process. She will help you finding your own answers.

A coach is not a subject matter expert. Actually, experience demonstrates that the less you know about the area of expertise of your coachee the better the outcome of the coaching process will be. A coach helps you learning to learn. You take your own decisions, the coach helps you widening your perspectives, questioning your beliefs and assumptions, acting like a mirror where you see yourself reflected.

A coach will never tell what you have to do. The main tool of coaching are questions, an evolution from the Socratic Method.

A coaching process is a change process towards a vision, pulling from your strengths and moved by hope and desire.

Coaches believe that individuals and teams are capable of generating their own solutions or action plans. The coach offers approaches and frameworks based on discovery whereas a consultant offers solutions based on her expertise. If a need of expert assessment is needed, then you have consultants that can help.

For instance, a typical example of coaching process could be public speaking. A coach will help you identify your strengths, visualize your future, help you connect with your emotions, help you connect with situations where you have been at your best and pull from there, help you detect your limiting beliefs. A consultant will provide you specific training and advice on public speaking skills like how you move your body on stage, empathizing, your voice tone, storytelling, metaphors, why-what-how principle, rhetorical devices, etc …

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Can you be a coach, a mentor and a consultant? Absolutely, you just need to be aware of which hat you wear on every specific situation and make that very clear to your customer, coachee or mentee.

What about the “Agile Coach”

An Agile Coach helps individuals, teams, groups or organizations adopt principles, behaviors and practices coming from the Agile Manifesto and Lean Thinking. This person mainly works in software industry but also works with any system in which humans interact in order to produce something (R&D, Marketing, etc).

In this case, the word coaching has more to do with “trainer” or “sports coach” than it has to do with the traditional definition of coaching.

An Agile Coach is typically perceived as an specialist in Agile practices, so we could say an Agile Coach is a consultant rather than anything else. However, experience tells that an Agile Coach has to develop 4 main competencies:

  • Team Coach: supporting teams in their evolution as cohesive a performing work units
  • Agile Consultant: expert in Agile principles and practices
  • Change Agent: any agile implementation is a disruption to organization culture, so knowing about individual and organizational change management and transition is a must
  • Facilitator & Trainer: must be able to facilitate sessions, workshops and trainings

An Agile Coach must be able to adapt to the situation of their team. So, she will move from consulting to mentoring and to coaching as teams evolve in their understanding and practice of Agile principles, values and practices.

What about the Manager

Your manager cannot be your coach, that’s basically because she couldn’t be following the ethical principles that support a true coaching relationship, however manager should be able to use coaching techniques.

A coach cannot have any personal interest in the coaching result, any hidden agenda. As long as a manager has the capacity of getting rid of the employee, that cannot be a trustworthy relationship. As long as your manager is responsible for your performance and has an interest in it she cannot be your coach.

Managers set direction, objectives, boundaries, principles and rules. In a coaching relationship that’s absolutely responsibility of the coachee.

I hope this helped in providing some clarity about this fundamental roles in organizations.

Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing.

Gerard.

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