I’m always eager to learn new things, as I find it a useful way to maintain a ‘beginner mind’ approach to life. Usually my focus is in the agile and/or creative area, but earlier this year I had an opportunity to go for a surf lesson at a discounted rate, and on a whim I booked the lesson. Unsurprisingly, while I managed to stand up on the (large, beginners) surf board, I didn’t really feel a passion for it.

But after a while it dawned on me there was another reason for learning something completely out of my comfort zone: agile methods are by definition about continuous improvement, and therefore about continuous learning. By slowing down and paying close attention to my own learning experience, I could try to apply what I notice to agile coaching.

I’ve now had four lessons, three in a dedicated “group”, and to date all with different coaches. This is what I have so far:

  1. Fear of failing manifests as doubts and naysaying – what we know as ‘resistance’. This has been present at every lesson (“maybe I can skip this one, I’m tired & have a lot of work to do” etc.) and I wonder if it ever truly goes away. But ignoring that voice is immensely satisfying – I’m beginning to think ‘ignoring’ is the key to overcoming resistance, rather than motivation or rationalization.
  2. For the most part my coaches don’t tell me what to do, aside from basic info before we get into the water. They just help me get going and let me at it, knowing each person will find their own way.
  3. There’s a lot more to learning a new skill than just the main objective – it’s familiarising yourself with a whole new environment (language, orientation, techniques, constraints).
  4. My coaches don’t judge when I fail, or tell me what I did wrong. Sometimes they offer other information – ‘try this’, ‘what you should know about the water (environment) is that’ – but as a beginner there is so much sensory overload that it’s hard enough to make sense of what you are doing without someone telling you what you’re doing wrong.
  5. Once I’ve made a mistake often enough to realise it’s a pattern, I know what to ask. Then I can focus on learning how to do it right. So I’m really committed to that improvement, and I do so at my own pace. Yes, some of my questions are dumb, and sometimes I do feel dumb. But I still own gaining that piece of knowledge.
  6. When I do follow a suggestion rather than work it out myself, I’m never quite sure what I was doing before. But then I usually go backwards again, and find out the hard way anyway.
  7. A small word of praise goes a long way – both from peers and from the coach.
  8. It’s important to get out of early comfort zones quickly – as a beginner, you’re likely to be working within unrealistic ‘safety-harness’ boundaries that allow you to conquer the basics. Once you’ve done that, the safety net quickly becomes a limitation, and staying in that zone keeps you struggling with the wrong things. So you need to be able to stabilise, then move swiftly to more challenging ground.
  9. Different coaches know different things – it’s great to be exposed to a variety of perspectives.
  10. The community of experts are a lot more forgiving of an outsider once you’ve given it a shot, and come back again for more.
  11. No matter what your skill level, a good dose of humility and a recognition of others’ achievements is what engenders friendship and encouragement – and these are what create a sense of “team” out of a group of individuals.
  12. Learning something new redefines how you see yourself and your skill sets. A new skill might extend your current grouping to include the new one (i.e. ‘more sport skills’), or open up whole new avenues (‘now I’ve done this, perhaps I could also do that’). I think both of these are things to celebrate with team members as they happen.

I’m hoping that over time these and other observations will help me to be more attuned to the agile teams I work with, and to address similar issues as they arise with a deeper insight into what’s going on.

So why is this on a facilitation blog? Because a lot of agile facilitation happens outside of the time-boxed and clearly defined meetings: as a Scrum Master skill, coaching is both helping people adapt to agile methods and aiding the process of team transformation. To do so with as little “telling” and as much understanding as possible is one of the definitive aims of facilitation.