Picture of a dangerous transport

Sometimes You Have To Step In


Coaching is a core role for facilitating getting work done — all kinds of work.   On the surface, coaching is a fairly simple role. A coach has six basic modes of operation.  But…if you peel back the layers just a little bit you will find that coaching is part art and part science. That’s code for “coaching is complicated”, making those six modes different from easy.  The six modes of operation every coach need to become fluent in are:

  1. Positioning
  2. Observing
  3. Nudging
  4. Pushing
  5. Shoving
  6. Ignoring

Positioning lays the groundwork for every other mode of operation.  Positioning creates an agreement that grants the coach permission to interact with the coachee.  Positioning is a form of contract between the coach and a coachee in which the coach establishes credibility, intention, operating norms and an agreement on the purpose and duration of coaching (coaching transactional). Coaches will shift into and out of positioning mode when the people they are coaching change and when the basic context of the relationship changes. For example, I have had several coaches during my career. As my roles and skills have changed, I have changed coaches.

Observing is a coach’s data collection mode.  Coaches MUST see (in the broadest sense of the word) and hear how the person they are coaching acts and interacts with those around them.  Even the relationship between the coach and coachee is fair game for observation. Action is based on the data collected through observation.

Modes 3 through 6 are all forms of intervention.  To be effective all coaches have to take some action (even ignoring something is an action).  We will spend time defining when intervention makes sense and how to determine which mode makes the most sense later in the theme.  Today we will define the four forms of intervention.

Nudging is a technique that draws attention to an action or behavior without being overly overt.  The goal of a nudge is to draw attention, create a pause for self-reflection and a change in the trajectory of behavior. Asking questions is a classic nudging intervention most agile coaches use. When my wife wants me to shut up I will occasionally get a nudge in the form of a discrete elbow to my ribcage.  Other forms of body language can be used as a nudge such as a glance or quick locking of eyes.

Pushing is a more direct application of force to change behavior than a nudge.  Whereas a nudge is gentle and discrete a push is not. Because it is direct, pushing should rarely be done in public and requires significantly more trust and preparation than a nudge.  As an example: a team I was coaching was dominated by a single very strong and outgoing personality (the person had become the informal leader of the team due to force of will). With the permission of the team (establish permission before pushing) I facilitated a few meetings to show the team how they could regulate who was talking, get everyone involved and how to stop interruptions.  Coaching included teaching meeting techniques coupled with one-on-one conversations with each team member to establish boundaries.

Shoving is the rarest coaching mode.  Shoving is the most direct form of intervention and should be reserved for situations that are life or career threatening to the coachee. When individuals or teams find themselves in situations they can not learn or recover from (for whatever reason) the coach needs to do what is needed to help them avoid the situation.  Good coaching requires finding a way to change the trajectory of the coachee, de-escalate the situation and then find a path to learning. While not a perfect metaphor, a neighbor recently moved into the neighborhood with a big friendly dog. Very quickly the dog was hit (not hurt very badly) when he charged into the street. Had a coach been observing, a shove would have been appropriate to stop the dog.  Sometimes being a coach means shoving someone out of the way.

The final mode is ignoring.  A coach does not need to react to everything going on around them.  A coach that reacts to every slight situation will be perceived as a nag or nitpicker which will reduce the coach’s credibility.  Very few professionals want their first-grade teacher as a coach.

Coaching is not a passive role. That said, most of a coach’s day should be spent observing (using all senses), acting when needed to help the coachee or team learn to be self-sufficient or steer clear of scenarios where the cost of learning is too high.


Next: Ground rules for ALL interventions