Research Paper By Vernon Stinebaker
(Agile Coach & Business Coach, CHINA)
Coaching Case Study
The aim of this case study is to highlight the results of a coaching issue or problem that you have applied coaching skills to. It may be a positive or negative case study, i.e. maybe the coaching worked, maybe it didn’t. Either way we are interested in your PROCESS and LEARNING more than your result.
Coaching can help people move outside their comfort zone to realize their latent potential and provide long-term organizational change. But to do this, coaching must be more challenging and move away from the notion that supporting the individual alone is the most important factor for success. (Blakey, Day 2012)
My case study focuses on an area of coaching that isn’t directly covered in the ICA curriculum – group and team coaching – and an underlying coaching concept that resonates strongly with me, challenging coaching.
I have two key motivations for sharing this case study:
- To offer insight and reference for anyone who might be interested in group or team coaching
- To demonstrate how challenging coaching can be applied in a group context to build teams that can achieve remarkable results
Initially I considered doing a research paper on challenging coaching, but in a review of the available information Challenging Coaching (Blakey, Day 2012) seems to be the primary reference. Therefore, instead of summarizing material contained in that title, I have opted to describe how I have applied challenging coaching in practice in a group and team coaching scenario.
Who are the main players in this case study (you can use fake names to protect anonymity)
The main players in this case study are a group of 4th year college students who joined Perficient China’s award winning internship program, a program we refer to as Boot Camp. We have conducted Boot Camps 20 times since the inception of the program in 2008. The program is ongoing. For this case study we will look specifically at Boot Camp 15.
Boot Camp 15 was comprised of 20 interns. Consistent with the principles of Scrum (self-organizing teams) and the coaching belief that individuals have answers to their own problems, the larger group self-organized into 4 smaller groups.
Coaching was provided at the group, team, and individual levels.
What is the core problem or challenge you applied your coaching skills to? Really dig into this problem, use these questions as a guide:
- Why is it a problem?
- How long has it been a problem?
- What is the worst thing about this problem?
- Why has no one been able to solve it so far?
Like most Information Technology companies in China, Perficient’s China Global Delivery Center (GDC) is challenged by high employee turnover. This is a significant issue since employees are the most valuable asset in knowledge-work organizations and developing qualified consultants is expensive and time consuming. Continuing turnover brings the risk of not having skilled consultants to effectively deliver to our client’s needs.
High turnover has been a consistent challenge to IT organizations throughout the 22 years I’ve been working in China. Direct answers to the problem, offering ever increasing levels of compensation and growth opportunities, may not be sustainable, however the consistency of the problem allows us to build structures to help mitigate the issue.
Our Boot Camp program is one response to this problem. By engaging students during their 4th year of university in our internship program we are able to identify and develop individuals that are personally and professionally aligned with our organizational goals. The program builds their capability as consultants by having them practice key technical, social and soft skills required to be successful. By developing solid consultants, we are able to backfill vacancies with individuals who have the requisite knowledge and skills, significantly reducing the impact of turn-over.
Boot Camp is an intensive program. It involves formal classroom instruction, practice labs, and the implementation of a software system all occurring in parallel in a program that spans 8 weeks.
All Boot Camp structures are supported by coaching at the individual, team, and group level.
What specific coaching skills or approach did you use in this case?
Powerful questions and power listening are at the core of all coaching. With these coaching skills at the core, the FACTS model (Feedback, Accountability, Courageous Goals, Tension, and Systems Thinking) (Blakey and Day, 2012) was applied to bring a group of disparate individuals together to form cohesive teams that were able to create team-level goals aligned with the overall program objectives of developing a mobile enabled IT Warehouse application.
Explain your process in detail
Coaching begins as we’re identifying people to join our program. During the interview process we ask powerful questions related to the individual’s career goals and values. Interestingly it’s not uncommon for this to be the first time that college students, at least here in China, have been ask these types of questions. Through introspection around the powerful questions they discover much about themselves during the interview process, and a number of them self-select to consider other options including other career options. Through powerful questions we’re able to establish initial alignment between individuals’ value and objectives and our organizational needs.
Our organizational culture is well aligned with the coaching belief that individuals are capable and have latent potential waiting to be released. With this in mind we endeavor to offer our team members an environment where they can stretch, sometimes uncomfortably, to realize this potential. The Boot Camp model is designed around this belief. Applying the concepts of challenging coaching we are able to deepen learning and forward action at individual, team, group, and organizational levels resulting in remarkable high levels of performance.
The FACTS model, like any good coaching model, should be something that is flexible and broadly applicable without imposing a strict structure. In the paragraphs that follow I will describe the application of the FACTS model in the sequence the acronym presents, however it is important to note that in practice the model isn’t applied sequentially. Instead various aspects of the model are applied in context and in the moment.
The Boot Camp program provides many channels of feedback. We can separate these at large into two categories: process feedback and coaching feedback.
The Boot Camps make use of the Scrum framework in their development of the system. Scrum emphasizes feedback through a variety of feedback loops that are included in its core ceremonies, namely the Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective meetings. In Sprint Planning the feedback focuses on gathering the necessary information for the team to make a commitment to the work they will deliver in the upcoming Sprint. They typically break the work down into more granular items that can be tracked on a finite (daily) basis. With their commitment in hand the team sets itself to work and each day conducts a Daily Scrum. The Daily Scrum is structured around 3 questions:
- What did I get done yesterday?
- What will I get done today?
- Do I have any impediments?
The first two of these three questions provide objective feedback on a daily basis that provides granular tracking around the team’s progress against its commitment.
At the end of a Sprint a Sprint Review will be conducted. In this ceremony there are two levels of feedback, the first being clarity around whether or not the development team delivered to their commitment – i.e. what they committed to is either done or it isn’t – and the second being feedback provided by the stakeholders related to the applicability of what has been provided to their context (also related to Systems Thinking below).