What coaching is and what it is not

Coaching is about developing a person’s skills and knowledge, so that their job performance and effectiveness improves, leading to the achievement of organization objectives. It targets high functioning and improvement at work and it usually lasts for a short period and focuses on specific skills and goals. A coach assists supports and motivates a person to get fr om where he/she is to where he/she wants to be. For example, if a person wishes to improve his/her facilitation or soft skills, a coach can help step by step to turn wishes into reality and work out an approach, so next time the “coachee” is able to resolve the issues or reach objectives by his/her own means. The main point of coaching is to learn how to fish, and then be able to catch a fish every time.


Coaching is not therapy. It does not focus on the past, heal emotional wounds or sooth symptoms. A coach assumes that a coachee is capable and qualified to work with a coach to develop his/her skills based on her/his values and talents.
Coaching is not consulting. Unlike a consultant, who is hired to provide the answers, the coach is not in a role to know all the answers and solve all the problems. The coach may frequently challenge a coachee to take action toward their goals, but does not tell them exactly what to do.
Coaching is not friendship. Similar to a friend, a coach can also offer basic support and encouragement; however, a coach also teaches specific skills to help people change their mindset and professional behavior.

Coaching Tools and Techniques

When talking about techniques used in coaching, worth mentioning is an extremely popular model among coaches which is called -G.R.O.W. This model is a widely used coaching technique, it is proved to be effective for goal definition and accomplishment. There is also a variant of this model that is called T-G.R.O.W which provides a possibility to specify a topic - professional area within which the goals are setup.


In G.R.O.W model G stands for Goal(s), during this part of conversation a coach is discussing the coachee's goal(s) with regard to the topic they started during the first part of the conversation. When a goal is identified, it should specify our current position – Reality, wh ere we are now. Then, it's time to list Options that we have to reach the goal from our current position, the last point is to set a Way Forward/Wrap-up and convert options into particular action items - steps following which will enable one to achieve goals.

By the way,goals should be stated in S.M.A.R.T format and be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. There is one more attribute that stands out of this paradigm and it is an eco-friendly quality of a goal. It means that the goal should not be harmful to a coahee or to people around him/her.

A good illustration of how T-G.R.O.W + S.M.A.R.T models work in practice within Scrum framework can be seen in an issue about Retrospective event that team members didn’t wish to attend. Once I dealt with such case which a SM faced during his daily work. Hence, the Topic of our personal coaching session was a Retro that was attended only by a part of the team and the people who were not involved in it. The Goal was to have a Retro that was valuable and interesting to the team. In reality, on that project some people didn't see any use of a retrospective and as a result skipped it from time to time. We discussed several Options with the SM to solve the situation.

  • Discuss with the team a reason of retro negligence. Make a retro on a retro to see, what can be improved;
  • Change retro format, there are dozens of formats;
  • Change retro time, as maybe the current time simply is not suitable for some team members;
  • Explain again the goal of the retro to the team;
  • Escalation to the manager. It's not an Agile way of solving problems, though in some cases it can work and can be taken into consideration;
  • Focus on involvement of all team members, try to hear not only the most vocal ones;
  • Bring sweets and Coca-Cola from project budget to the Retro
We discussed all these options and agreed to announce Retro aims once again for a team and change Retro format choosing a more dynamic and engaging format.

During the wrap-up we defined the following action items.

  • Communicate the Retro Goal for the team after the standup on the day, when Retro should take place;
  • Kindly invite all the team to take part in a Retro of a new more amusing format, suggest just trying.
The goal that we defined corresponded to S.M.A.R.T criteria as well. We needed the particular outcome to be measured by number of involved people on Retro, the outcome achieved to be relevant for the project, and to evaluate it during 4 sprints making it time-bound. Moreover it was "eco-friendly" as it did no harm to anyone on the project, we were not going to insist and make people come to the Retro, we aimed to interest them.

During the T-G.R.O.W session I used open questions and an approach of question asking that is called Navigation (worked out by Leader Coach Group), it can be easily used in combination with T-G.R.O.W and S.M.A.R.T models. The approach is focused on 4 question types and motivates us to observe our manner of asking and the coachee manner of responding. E.g (see pic. below) if a coach tends to go only "South" while coachee sticks on West, the dialog can fail and the proper goals will hardly be setup. During a personal coaching session a coach should try to go and to bring a coachee in all directions, exploring various possibilities for a coachee to pick the most effective for him/her at the given moment of time and for this particular case.


T-G.R.O.W session with the Scrum Master I used various powerful questions to make sure we evaluated the problem from different sides and found an optimal solution to resolve it. E.g. "What you would like to discuss on our session?", "Why it's important for the project?", "How do you think we can achieve it?", "Why not to try several approaches to solve this issues?", and etc.

When SM implemented action items, within a couple of sprints we saw that people become more involved during Retro sessions, they pay less attention to their phones/tables, they ask more questions, participate in group discussions, show more interest. Certainly, from time to time someone still can skip a Retro, there are also people who are less enthusiastic about it then others, but the majority (90%) started seeing value in this event.

There are many other useful techniques and approaches to reach the required results, professional destination and improve a skillset. The good news is that a coachee can stay away from memorizing all these models and techniques; the most valuable coaching process is invisible for a coachee and should be evaluated only by results a coachee and organization acchieves.
Svetlana Mukhina
An Agile coach and a trainer at Luxoft Agile Practice. She has over fifteen years of experience in IT as a delivery manager and department head. She is currently working closely with delivery managers, teams and businesses, performing project assessments, providing teams and individuals Agile coaching, creating and conducting trainings and workshops. She enjoys observing how a new concept or approach is internalized and waiting for the “A-ha” moment to arrive. She is passionate about showing innovative and useful tools to teams and individuals, and loves helping make their daily tasks less burdensome and more fun.