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Montreal Agile Coach Retreat

Montreal Agile Coach Retreat I attended the Montreal Agile Coach Retreat on Saturday (7 Sept 2013). This was an intensive one day retreat where Agile coaches could practice and develop their coaching skills. The Coach Retreat format came about from Oana Juncu and Yves Hanoulle, and is derived from combining two ideas - Code Retreat and Coaching Dojo. In a nutshell, a Coach Retreat is a day long event, during which participants choose a kata, a coaching situation, and practice it in small groups multiple times during the day in various techniques. You can read a full description on the Becoming Agile blog, here.

To me, the operative word is practice. Getting the opportunity to spend a whole day actually practicing coaching skills in a safe and supportive environment was priceless. I noticed how the attendees coaching skills, especially mine, had improved significantly by the end of the day.

We had the privilege of having Oana Juncu, (Oana’s Blog) attend (all the way from Europe) as one of the facilitators! Special thanks also go to Omar Bermudez who co-facilitated and organized the event, and Jesus Mendez who worked with Omar on the organization. The event was generously sponsored by SeedBox Technologies @SeedBoxTech, who paid all the costs, and provided lunch and snacks, in addition to providing first class meeting facilities.

I found the day immensely valuable, and I can’t thank Oana, Omar, Jesus, and SeedBox enough for donating their time and resources to make it happen.

The slide presentation from the day can be found on SlideShare here. And check the following Twitter hashtags: #CoachRetreat #sbAgile

My detailed notes and observations from the day can be found in the rest of the post.

The “Prime Directive”

The event was run as an Agile Open Space event.

  • Here is a great poster on Open Space Principles
  • And Oana’s “Prime Directive” from the chart package:

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone does the best job they can, given what they know at the time, their skills and abilities, the people and resources available, and the situation at hand.

Information & Resources on Coaching

The Techniques we Worked on

Free style and Click, and Rewind

  • Click: “simple and stupid, therefore effective” - if you don’t understand something say “click” to step out of your role, ask for an explanation, then say “unclick” (ie. interrupt and “return from interrupt”). When coaching in pairs, coaches can “click” to ask what the other coach is doing.
  • Rewind: ask to have the last few sentences, or questions “struck from the record”. To change or remove something you wish you had not said, or to change your mind.

Yes, and…

  • Defined by psychotherapists in 1950s
  • Used a lot in improv
  • Instead of saying “yes but…” say “yes and…”
  • This creates a different dynamic in the conversation.
    • Brings a more positive attitude
    • Brings ideas to the conversation
    • Makes improvements, solves problems, vs creating new problems
  • “Yes, and…” makes me stop and think and be more positive… it helps me keep the conversation moving forward

Appreciative Inquiry

  • 4D - four phrases
    1. Discovery - “what is the world like right now? What is good?”
    2. Dream - “what should the world be like? What do you want it to be?”
    3. Design - “what could the world be? What are the options to make it better? What could be done given the reality?”
    4. Define - “what the world will be like? Decide what is really the option you will take to make a step forward?”
  • Note that is similar to the Coaching/Mentoring questions below.

Solution Focused

  • The Magic or Miracle Question - “How will you know when the problem has gone away?”
    • You go to sleep tonight and a miracle happens during the night and the problem goes away.
  • The Scaling Question - “For you to be happy, what is good enough?”
    • If 10 is perfect, where do you need to be to be happy/OK?
    • And where are you now?
    • So if you are already at X, why are you already at X? What are the good things that make your score be greater than 0?
  • The Mirroring Question - “How does someone else (a stakeholder or friend) know that you solved the problem?”

  • “What do you want to achieve?”
  • Don’t ask about problems, don’t focus on the problems, keep focused on the solutions.
  • Exercise called “remembering the future” … but you need to give the coachee the time to get to the perfect future. Let then take the time, rather than trying to force it.

Real Options

  • Book Commitmentt. Based on Lean
  • Decide at the last responsible moment. (you close options when you make decisions too early)
  • Options vs Commitments… when you make a Commitment you change an option to a commitment.
    • Why you buy a concert ticket, you create an option to go to the concert, but you still have the option to not attend.
    • Options have value. But not taking an option (eg. going to the concert) has an implication in terms of loss of value.
    • Options expire. At some point they lose all value, or are no longer valid
    • (So its the same as stock options)
    • When you actually go to the concert, you make the commitment.
  • Questions to ask:
    • What are you options? (List options)
    • What is the least valuable option? What is the most difficult option? Pick the fanciest (messiest, complex, difficult, but potentially high value) option.
    • Who are the stakeholders? (List stakeholders)
    • Who are the stakeholders you trust?
    • Invite your seeker to make the assumption that they can trust all stakeholders. Invite them to describe what the option looks like. Does this assumption change other options in some way? Does it open new options?

Crucial Confrontation & Difficult Conversations

  • We make assumptions, don’t run with assumptions, do a reality check… find out what’s really going on!
  • “So why did you do such and such?” vs “Tell me what happened?”
  • Check your adrenaline… don’t let it get the better of you. Use neutral tone. The more you have a charged tone in your voice will create charged emotions in the other person, and maybe a counter attack
  • Ask questions.
  • Use “I felt”, “I got xxx” …. put the emotions on yourself, not on the other person.
  • Understand the difference between assertive and aggressive communication. Be assertive, not aggressive. Don’t attack
  • Don’t “should” on people. “Have you thought about…”, “I wonder if ….”. “I would appreciate it if…”
  • Be prepared before for a crucial confrontation or difficult conversation.

Coaching/Mentoring Questions

  • Vision - what is the vision? What is the problem?
  • Data
  • Solution
  • Planning/Details - its easy to follow into the details questions, but it may not be valuable to go there.


  • Coaching the Coaches is not easy!!
  • Being coached is an uncomfortable experience. If the coachee is not uncomfortable, the coach may not being doing their job!
  • The term “coach” means different things to different people. Many people in Agile don’t necessarily understand the differences between coaching, mentoring/teachng, and managing.
  • Coaching - the solution is inside the coachee, you are asking questions to help them get it out. Mentoring/Teaching - the solution is outside the mentee/student
  • You should ask permission before you change hats (before you move from coaching to mentoring for example)
  • Coaching and being coached is a stressful (in a positive way) experience that generates emotions, and involves personal and cultural context. Coaching or being coached in a language you are not comfortable in can be very challenging (and sub-optimal).
    • The Montreal coach retreat had participants who were more comfortable in English, and others who were more comfortable in French, so the issue of language was very real. [Full disclosure, I was one of the few who struggles with French!]. So we got to experience this issue first hand.
    • This is a very significant issue in many real-world situations, especially in large companies where staff may be spread across the globe (In my personal experience, I’ve dealt with agile teams split between two or more of: India, China, the US, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, the UK, and France). So it was great to have this issue as part of the coach retreat, so we could work on it!
    • Being “good Canadians”, we found a few different ways to address the language issue, but only with difficulty. As is often the case, we tended to lean towards English, simply because in S/W Development, most French speakers know a lot of English. It was only towards the end of the day that a few of the French speakers admitted they found coaching or being coached in English difficult. (editorial comment: In spite of Canada’s efforts at bilingualism, and conducting the coach retreat in Quebec, which is officially French, in my experience it is more often than not the French speakers that seem to end up accommodating the English speakers in this country)
    • In my last session of the day, we conducted the coaching session in French, as the two coaches and the coachee were French-speaking. Myself and the other observer were English-Speaking, but knew enough French to understand the session. We then did our speaking in English (it was much easier for us to understand French than to speak it) This actually worked fairly well. In other cases we divided groups up so that the entire group was comfortable with one language, and the session was conducted in that language.
    • But, in the end, we did not have any “magic solutions” to this issue. (Except to be respectful and accommodating of everyone)

Neat Ideas

  • SeedBox has their org chart on a whiteboard … each person has a magnetic badge with their photo and name. The organization chart is created on the whiteboard using the badges and markers…. Visible, clear, and trivial to change - very cool and very agile.
  • SeedBox has a “wall of appreciation” in the hall, where people put up thank-you notes. Its organized by month. The wall is full of short notes … very positive and supportive, and minimal cost. A great team builder!