Becoming An Effective Coach

Becoming An Effective Coach

Laveena Ramchandani shares her thoughts on what it takes to become an effective coach in this Testing Planet article

By Laveena Ramchandani

What Is Coaching?

We hear the term “coaching” a lot these days. It's usually not explained well, so it's easy to get confused as to what it means. It's also easy to get coaching mixed up with mentoring.

A mentor is someone who gives specific guidance to less qualified or experienced people in an area of skill. Among a mentor's common tasks: suggesting certain courses to attend for upskilling or recommending as contacts additional people with expertise in the area.

In contrast, a coach specialises in individual skills and growth goals which must be met in a short time. A coach for testers would help each tester develop a vision and goals by asking several questions to the coachee without providing any opinions. I was coached once by a more senior coworker who always helped me reach my goals. He would ask me questions whose answers I would provide: in developing my answers, I could see much more clearly what I needed to do, even in the case of tough problems.


Mentoring vs Coaching: Key differences and benefits

Image source: Mentoring vs Coaching: The Key Differences and Benefits, PushFar, 2021

To excel as a coach,you need the following:

  • A relationship of equals where the coach and coachee have mutual understanding

  • Mutual respect

  • The skill to make it real, meaning finding the right balance of interpersonal skills and the practical skills to convert discussions into actions

  • The ability to help the coachee confront problems without dwelling on them

  • The ability to recognise the coachee's strengths and challenge them to help them move forward

  • The ability to inspire the coachee 

Coach and mentor relationships do have quite a bit in common:

  • Trust between the parties

  • A desire to grow

  • Knowledge sharing

  • Developing self-awareness

  • Discussion of goals

  • Exposure to new ways of thinking

  • Skill development

  • Focus on career progression

  • The unlocking of potential

Preparing To Coach 

When you make a contract with a potential coachee, you need to make clear the terms of the relationship:

  • How often do they want to meet?

  • Do they want to meet face to face or online? Video, voice, or text only?

  • Which issues do they want coaching on?

  • What problems are they currently facing? 

To coach successfully, it's vital to:

  • Invest your time in a coaching course

  • Practice your sessions with friends and family 

  • Look for feedback frequently

Evaluating A Coaching Session

At the end of each coaching session you should reflect on what went well and what didn"t, just as your coachee will do. 

For instance, at the end of the session, I tend to summarise the points the coachee raised and ask if they are confident to take the suggestions before the next session. This is their opportunity to raise doubts or questions about the suggestions made, and revise the suggestions if need be. At the next session, make sure to check back and see if the coachee made progress on those suggestions. 

Getting feedback on the coaching provided during the session generally makes the coachee feel more comfortable with the tasks that have come out of the session. I have also had comments from the individuals being coached that they feel much more clear and happy to work on the tasks from the session. It is all about helping unlock a person’s potential.

Examples From My Coaching Experience

The way I carry out my coaching session generally follows an “EAR Model.” I tend to listen more than talk, so I keep a 70:30 ratio of coachee questions to my suggestions. 

I create a contract with my coachee, asking them how often they would like to have a session. The coaching tends to last between 30 minutes to one hour depending on what the coachee brings to the session.

I follow this format:

  • Welcome the coachee

  • Ask questions

  • Encourage

  • Reflect back on words and emotions

  • Summarise and play back 

  • Make an action plan for next meeting

I use a problem solving model known as the "TGROW model.” Basically we start from the topic such as "what do you want to talk about?" Then move towards the goal: "what do you want to achieve?" After that, ask "what challenges are you facing" or "what have you done so far?" Then talk about the options for the previous points by asking "What have you thought about, but not tried?" or " If you could start from scratch, what would you do?". Finally I ask the coachee to think for themselves about their goals or problems: " Which option would give the best result?" or "How committed are you?"

The TGROW method has yielded good fruit for my coachees and me, since it encourages a back and forth and requires the coachee to engage with their goals.

Keeping The Conversation Going

As coaches, we have to make sure we make conscious choices. We may need to ask clarifying questions such as "What is the reason for that?" We should generally avoid giving our coachees direct answers to or solutions for their problems.

Also it's worth noting to keep your questions to a minimum. This is because the coachee may be sharing something with you that could be serious and if we ask them too many questions they might not remember all of them or answer only a few. You should stick to open questions like "Did the project go well?" "What went well?" "What are the challenges?"

If I follow my training and an established procedure, summarise what we spoke about in the session, and plan something for the next meeting, I can count on the session being beneficial.

Another tip: give suggestions only if your coachee agrees to it explicitly. For instance, if you have a good suggestion in mind or have gone through a situation similar to what your coachee describes, then you can ask "May I tell you my story or share a suggestion?" If they say yes, go ahead.

Feedback From Coachees

Sometimes sessions go very well indeed. Coachees have said to me that thanks to our work together they were able to achieve what they could not manage before. 

Listen for tone changes. Over time you will be able to know instantly if your client started the session a little confused and has become either happier or more confused during the session. Positive feedback would sound like "Thanks Laveena, your suggestions really helped me" or "Thanks Laveena, that's different from what I would do, but I like your suggestion and will follow it." 

The way to make sure someone is clear in their mind about a planned course of action is to ask them a few times if they are clear or need some help. If the session has already ended, you can email the coachee with your request so that your clarification request is on the record. I tend to ask my coachees if I can help them by sending a kind reminder. 

Patterns and Practices To Avoid

Avoid Unconscious Bias

Watch out for unconscious bias. For example, you are better off accepting clients whom you don"t already know personally. However, if you do have to coach someone in your team, go with a clean canvas and make sure not to fall into the trap of “since I work with this person, I’ll give them a little extra help...”. |Always strive to be even-handed with your coachees. 

Don"t Tell Your Coachees Why They Need You

Your coachee is an adult who is very much capable of assessing whether they need coaching. Do not undermine their confidence by acting like an authority figure.

Your job is to coach individuals, so that they come to see that they are confused.

NOT to tell them they are confused.

NOT to help them in their confusion.

NOT to agree with their saying they’re confused just for the sake of expediency.

If you are worried that you are missing unexpressed confusion, you will be able to judge that by their tone or the questions they ask. 

If they do not ask for another session, that can be a tip-off too. In that case, you can gently clarify with them if they would like another session. If the answer is no, some gentle clarifying questions may be in order so that you can redirect your own efforts. But sometimes, the answer is no.

Don't Overreact If Coaching Does Not Go Well

I keep an attitude that it"s OK if coaching does not come out as well as expected.  I will use that as a learning outcome for me to work harder on. I am here to facilitate. Sometimes I may be in a mindset that's not ready to facilitate. We are all humans and not perfect. However it's good to keep a clear mind and offer the same treatment to all clients as much as possible. 

If you do happen to get it wrong, do not panic. Try gently to solicit feedback from the coachee, speak to fellow coaches, or contact the team who trained you as a coach.  Critique will help you improve.

Some Closing Thoughts

I have coached many individuals, testers and non-testers alike. I find it a very fulfilling task to be able to help someone. 

In terms of coaching testers, I do tend to ask the coachee if I can share my experiences or specific tools that have helped me. Sometimes I ask the coachee how their actions will be of value to them and their teams.  I have also suggested that they read particular books, attend a conference of their choice, or even look into certain courses to help them stay on track with their goals. I even suggest blogging and speaking at events depending on their comfort levels. And I give suggestions only after the coachee agrees to it. 

When I hear back from coachees that my suggestions really helped them, it makes me very happy and confident as a coach. Remember as a coach we are here to help facilitate a coachee’s aims or goals. Coach so that you can enable your coachee’s goals come true!

Additional Resources

Author Bio

The tech world is ever-growing, and Laveena has been working in Tech for over eight years now. Laveena is a software tester and a quality advocate.  She quite likes the tester's role as it is a good mix of technical and business awareness roles.  She has learnt a lot through her career and looks forward to gaining more knowledge and inspiring more testers in the United Kingdom and around the world.

Laveena Ramchandani's profile
Laveena Ramchandani

Test Manager - Data science & Digital @ EasyJet

I am a vibrant, motivated and committed individual. I have been in the testing industry now for over 7 years. It's been a great experience learning and sharing skills. I aim to broaden my knowledge further more. Data science is what I am currently focusing on, and it's very exciting to see all the new things one could learn out of it and merge it with testing. Definitely quite interesting!

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