In a land far far away, I overheard a conversation between a team member and a coach.  The dialog is a reflection of my memory and a bit of poetic license. I was present, waiting for a meeting with another team to kick-off and was not part of the conversation. I bit my tongue to keep for jumping in. 

Team member:  Poop (that really wasn’t the word used), I’ve been looking at this epic for 30 minutes and I have no clue how to break it down.

Coach (from across the pod):  Didn’t you do that training a couple of weeks ago?

Team member (looking around at fellow team members for help):  Yeah but I haven’t thought about it since, and I don’t think you covered this specific scenario. 

Coach (rolling over in his chair): Where are you stuck?

Team member: I can’t remember where to start.

Coach:  Need some help?  I still got those slides and I can go through them again.

Team Member (looking around for help from their team members):  Ahhhh, yeah I guess, but I have to go to lunch soon. (Note is was 1030 am)

Coach:  Great, let me show you how to start. 

This dialog occurred over 5 minutes, and if I could I would have missed the meeting I had was going to to see the outcome.  My assumption is that there would have been a rehash of the slides, the team member might have gotten an answer and they would not remember that answer 5 minutes after the conversation.  Before I wandered to my meeting, I did hear another team member mumble something about someone being arrogant. I think they may have been talking about the coach but it might not have been the coach.

In my mind, I can hear a different dialog using Socratic Questions that might have been more effective. 

Team member:  Poop, I’ve been looking at this epic for 30 minutes and I have no clue how to break it down.

Coach (walking over): Why are you having trouble?  (Question about the question or statement.)

Team member: I know we talked about breaking stories down last week and but I can’t remember where to start.

Coach: What assumptions are you making about the features that will be in this epic?  (Question to probe assumption and to begin to get the team member to think about approaches.)

Team member:  Well there will be impacts to the shopping cart, a new database segment, and a new search for audio segments.  I guess I could start using features to break down the epic.  

Coach: Great, is a way to generalize this kind of approach?  (Question probe the implication of the answer.)

Team member:  Using features is a pattern.  I can use patterns to start breaking work down.  There are other patterns that might be useful but this one will get me going.  Thanks!

As the coach returned to from where they came from the team member whispered to a co-worker, “That was useful.” 

My imagined conversation is an ad-hoc coaching moment. Jeremy Willets, a former colleague, coach, and deep thinker, suggests occasionally using Socratic Questions in the Daily Standup Up.  The example is a great place to ask Socratic questions. He said, “I’ve done the “question the question” type thing a few times recently; where I’ll ask a question to the team, get zero response for a second or two, and then ask “why do you think I asked that question?” The goal of the questions to get participants to stop and use System 2 thinking where they can synthesize information and not shoot from the hip.”

Returning to the imagined dialog, the coach would have made a better impact using Socratic Questions.  At the very least, I doubt the word arrogant would have been uttered. Using Socratic Questions shifts coaching moment from an “I am going tell you” moment to a “let me help you discover” moment.  When a student discovers the answer, they own it. When a student owns an answer, the answer becomes stickier.