Learning Transfer: The Growing Popularity of Extreme Coaching (EC)
Born in the crucible of Agile Software Development and Extreme Programing (EP), Extreme Coaching (EC) repurposes successful values, patterns and practices from the world of technology product development to the world of personal and professional development. While this might sound strange at first blush, consider that an important reason Agile approaches to product development work well is because they are lightweight, human-centric approaches that advocate careful prioritization, focus, teamwork, iterative innovation and continuous improvement.
In Repenning and Kieffer’s excellent analysis of the applicability of Agile practices to domains outside software development, they conclude by offering the idea that “best principles” are superior to best practices since they are necessarily adapted to the situation at hand; and so it is with coaching.
In Extreme Coaching (EC), the person being coached is called the Player, borrowing from the apt analogy of sports. The Extreme Coach is half of a coaching dyad, and is the primary person working with the Player. The other half of the coaching dyad is the Coach’s Coach or C2 or Second. The Second is there to observe the coach on the field of play as they coach the Player, and to provide retrospective coaching and advice to the Extreme Coach. (This dyadic approach to coaching borrows from the notion of Pair Programming, a defining and important practice of Extreme Programming; more on this later.)
The singular goal of Extreme Coaching is to help the Player continuously improve toward the realization of their full potential. Although Extreme Coaching is currently only focused on the professional realm, this goal covers a tremendous amount of ground, and the Extreme Coach has a number of tools at their disposal to guide the Player on their improvement journey.
Although Extreme Coaching operates within the bounds of generally accepted best practices for coaching in general, the overarching Agile principles and specific related practices improve the efficiency, quality, speed and impact versus more traditional approaches. This is similar to the way Agile development methodologies employ project and program management best principles resulting in superior efficiency, quality, speed and value. Although one may find some of Extreme Coaching’s practices in other coaching programs, one is unlikely to find all or even a majority of them. The synergistic interaction of these practices and the underlying best principles are what provide the additional benefit.
The underlying foundation of Extreme Coaching is embodied in five key values which are adopted directly from Extreme Programming. The values are communication, simplicity, feedback, courage, and respect.
Coaching is a team endeavor with communication at its core. Extreme Coaching advocates for the use of the richest form of communication for the circumstance. In-person where suitable, then video conferencing where in-person is not suitable, then audio where video is not suitable, and finally in limited capacity, written form where the others are not suitable.
Simplicity means asking: “What is the simplest thing that will work?” What is the smallest action we can take to make sustainable progress toward the goal? Human nature, when confronting the need for adaptation or change, is often to make big, bold moves. (Go big or go home!) Unfortunately change is difficult and big change even more so. Counterintuitively, simplicity is extraordinarily difficult for high achievers who can see the big picture and the amount of work that needs to be done. Nevertheless, small, simple improvements when compounded pay huge dividends over time compared to complex changes that fail to get sustainably implemented.
Continuous feedback between the Coach and the Player uncovers opportunities to improve in real-time. Through feedback, a coaching unit identifies areas for improvement and updates its approach. Feedback bolsters simplicity and relies on communication. Feedback leads to ever-improving practices and guards against complacency and tacit acceptance of mediocrity. Feedback demands transparency and dealing with facts. Once facts are brought to the surface, they can be acted upon. Ignored or hidden facts derail and subvert improvement.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather effective execution in spite of fear. Fear is a human emotion that will inevitably appear when there is perceived danger. It is unavoidable in Extreme Coaching, and some degree of fear is a common indication that effective coaching is taking place. The fear experienced in a Coaching relationship is anticipation of confronting a problem, or making a change, or stepping out of a comfort zone in some way. The Coach should never, ever be a direct source of fear! Intimidation, or creating an environment that threatens someone’s sense of psychological or physical safety has no place in Coaching. The Coach is a partner in acting courageously. Everyone in the coaching relationship is expected to act with courage. Courage is required for feedback to be possible.
The members of a coaching unit must have mutual respect in order to embody any of the other values. Respect also requires mutual trust. Any breaks in trust or lapses in respect must be handled with courage, communication, and feedback, otherwise respect will be impossible, and results will be scant if not non-existent.
The inter-dependence of these values is important for Coaches and Players to remember, as they form the foundation and an important set of benchmarks that will be visited time and time again during the coaching journey.
We’ve covered the genesis, goals and values of Extreme Coaching. In our next installment we will explore the defining practices of Extreme Coaching and map them to proven Agile and XP principles.