Arto Eskelinen and Sami Honkonen gave an agile coaching workshop at Agile 2010. They presented the GROW framework in which coaches can structure effective questions. They started by stressing that sustainable change has to come from inside and as coaches we should not be tempted to give advice but instead create better awareness to help the team take ownership and feel empowered. They recommend favoring what and when questions and recommend avoiding how, who and why questions. The goal is to keep things at an observatory level and not at the analytical level.
The GROW structure provides questions that lead to exploration, aim at descriptive answers, avoids judgment, and avoids an unproductive state of mind. The idea is to look at the goal 1st, then look at the current situation, and analyze what are possible ways to move forward. Finally, make a decision and follow through.
Arto and Sami describe each stage of GROW as:
1. Goal: A description of the desired or ideal state. Make sure it is meaningful and specific and stated in a positive way (use: Catch the ball vs. don’t drop the ball). Ideally, how would you like things to be? What will you get out of it? What do things look like when we get to that ideal state?
2. Reality: A description of the current state? Try to expand coachee’s view of the situation by testing current assumptions, exploring different angles and exposing feelings to different situations. Do not be tempted to just gather data and make a decision. Try to ask questions that lead to moving away from reality and lead to exploring and seeing things from a different angle. What if we have more time? More people? What does the other team see in this situation? What does this solution feel like?)
3. Options: State the existing ideas (how would you solve this?) and challenge the limitations (if this limitation was not there, what would you do?). Also, make sure to discuss “stupid” ideas. These might lead to exploring other interesting angles that were not considered before. Try to have at least 3 options to consider. Keep asking: what else? Until there are enough good option to evaluate.
4. What will you do? The last step is evaluating the options and formulating and action plan. Make sure a timeframe is set, obstacles are removed, uncertainties are cleared and done is defined. What are you going to do? When are you going to start and how do you know when it’s done? Are there any obstacles? What prevents you from achieving your goal? On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel about this solution? If they answer 8, then ask what is stopping it from being a 10.
A questions checklist is provided at Sami’s site at http://sami.honkonen.fi/checklists.pdf