I often hear that coaches should never tell people what to do. While I agree with this, I don’t believe the common rationale for it – that it may cause resistance – is the strongest reason. Very often people want to be given a solution. That’s why they hired a coach in the first place.

There are two other reasons, far more important. The first is that it implies the coach knows more than they do. This, of course, is not true. While the coach may know more about Flow, Lean, ToC, and organizational development, the people being coached know a lot more about the actual work being done. If the coach is external, then the team also knows more about the organization and how it works. This knowledge may be critical in deciding future actions. Ignoring this may also damage the relationship between the coach and the team.

For external coaches, the biggest reason not to tell teams what to do is that they need to figure it out for themselves. Not having them figure it out for themselves shortcuts the thought process they need to go through in order to understand the details of what to do. People will often follow the advice in many situations. But if they don’t understand the first principles underneath it, when they try to implement it and hit a difficult situation, they may not figure out how to get beyond it. They’d stall and then blame the coach thinking the coach was wrong with the suggested approach. And s/he would deserve the blame even if the approach were correct because s/heI didn’t prepare them for it.

Coaches can avoid telling people what to do by providing the “why” of the contemplated advice. Understanding the theories of Flow, Lean, and the Theory of Constraints, along with the Value Stream Impedance Scorecard, usually provides for accurate predictions of whether or not a change in the team’s way of working will be an improvement. For example, changes that remove delays in a constraining part of the workflow will likely result in an improvement.

The more you violate first principles the more likely you are to make the situation worse. While lessening the violations of first principles doesn’t always lead to improvement (the violation may not be in the constraint of the system, and/or other actions may be needed) it usually opens the possibility for improvement.

The coach should focus their conversations on these concepts, having people confirm theories of Flow and Lean based on their experience. Guide ppl with questions that give them a sense of what will happen if they make certain decisions

It’s like telling someone “if you stand in the middle of the road w/o looking, you may get hit by a car.” They’ll know to get out of the road. You don’t have to tell them to do so.


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