When is it the right time to give the answer?

2019-07-01

Suppose you are trying to coach a team mate. Let us pretend ,for simplicity, you know the answer to their problem. You already know it's better to ask questions than give answers when coaching. But is there ever a right time to just give the answer?

The answer is yes. But it depends on the circumstances. If you and they haven't established a coaching relationship, then give the answer. If you tried to coach them to the answer in this example, you are more likely to tick them off than to help them.

But, if you have an established coaching relationship, it may be better to ask questions. In this case it will depend on the level and need of the trainee. Take for example a new volunteer Scrum Master. They have just volunteered ( or been volun-told) to serve the team. Wonderful! But they've never done this before. If we tried to allow them to struggle with some of the basic questions now, we would likely discourage them. Instead of building them up, would be pouring water on the spark that started their efforts. Not what we want! As a result, someone entering Shu should receive direct answers. But it must not stop there.

Thinking about coaching, I find myself looking for ways to train myself out of a job. I define success in coaching or training to be when a pupil could now lead the next generation. I kind of brought this idea over from my QA automation days. So with the idea of training myself out of a job in mind, leaving someone in Shu is a disservice! Ideally, I can at least guide someone through to Ha, and then point them to Ri.

Once the trainee has amassed enough knowledge, you need to shift to asking questions. Especially if they are in Shu. Of course, you 're going to ask questions of a nature that the trainee can answer. And in this way you begin to help them to think, rather than rely on you for the answer while learning.

Since, I am still new to the practice of coaching, I try to include a safety for this practice. I am not always accurate on my estimation of the difficulty of a question. So if I see the training struggling for a while, or if they start with talking and then drift off for a while, I will step in. I don't immediately provide an answer. Instead I'll ask a leading or 'limiting' question. I use these questions to help the trainee back onto the thought path. Or they can serve to redirect the trainee's questions and thoughts. Very often I find that I had asked my question in a very obscure way, and that had caused the confusion.

So by taking care to provide answers for a Shu level student at the right times I can help to build them up. By keeping an eye on the next stage, I challenge them as we go. I help further their confidence as they learn to think and use the knowledge they now have. Finally, by asking follow-up questions when the conversation stalls, I learn. I find where I have pushed too hard, or where I have missed vital information. In this way, finding the 'right time' to give the answer, both the student and the coach learn together!