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Sometimes Trying Something New Is A Learning Experience!

Coaching is a core role for facilitating getting work done. Intervention requires the permission of the person or team on the receiving end of the intervention. Without permission, as Eli Goldratt stated, “ people will do almost anything before they shift their paradigm.” Agreement on positioning sets coaches on the lookout for learning opportunities. Learning opportunities come in two basic flavors, discovered/harvested or manufactured.

  • Manufactured learning opportunities are scenarios in which the coach controls the situation so that that the coachee can learn a specific point. Generally, these types of situations are safe (little chance for physical or career harm) so the coach can allow mistakes, debrief, and then run the scenario again until the coachee begins to build up muscle memory to help guide them in the real world. In a controlled scenario, it is far easier to dispassionately assess performance and outcome so that the feedback can be precise. Manufacturing a learning opportunity requires not only skill but the coach needs to keep several concepts in mind.  They are:

    1. Address the learner’s perspectives and mental models. Unless the coach links the lesson of the learning opportunity to how the coachee sees the world, it will be hard for them to learn.  Their cognitive biases will act as a filter.
    2. The opportunity needs to build on what they know today.
    3. The lesson needs to be in the context of the situation.  As the great sales trainer once said, “you can’t teach a kid to ride a bike in a seminar.” Delivering a lesson that fits the context and the environment won’t be missed or rejected.
    4. One exposure is rarely enough.  To enhance learning, provide space to practice, reflect and then to practice again.  Remember, some types of mistakes are useful and acceptable.
    5. The coach needs to deliver feedback as close to practice as possible AND the coach has to be more knowledgeable than the learner.
    6. The learning opportunity requires a purpose linked to what the learner wants from the coaching relationship.  Learning opportunities that focusing on rituals needed for compliance rarely stick.
    7. The learner needs to be in control of the learning process. Learners that feel like the learning opportunity is “happening to them” will reject the lesson.  Learners need to have control so they can monitor and assess the outcome of the lesson.

Manufactured opportunities are more structured and tend to be more formal. The timing of the delivery of the opportunity and the lesson is more controlled than discovered learning opportunities.

  • Discovered opportunities are harder and more random. Finding learning opportunities relies on the coach’s power of observation to recognize the scenario. Once the coach recognizes a learning opportunity he or she will need to decide whether the learner can learn from the opportunity and whether there is a need to intervene to guide the learner through or around the opportunity. Timing is often an issue.  Coaches can react too quickly in an attempt not to lose control of the process. Reacting too early does not let the learner learn or creates a dependency on the coach. The alternative end of the spectrum, since the learning opportunity is not controlled, is lack of intervention that can result in injury to the coachee and/or the coaching relationship. Finally the coach needs to debrief with the learner to make sure the lesson sticks.

The coach and coachee to agree upon the type of learning opportunities they will capitalize upon when they set up the agree how they will work together.  Permissioning can also detail the timing of interventions. In the end, learning opportunities must exist, whether discovered or created is more a matter of relationship. Without learning opportunities, performance cannot improve.