Mark Needham

Thoughts on Software Development

ThoughtWorks University: The coaching/training conflict

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As I mentioned in an earlier post Sumeet has been encouraging us to act more as coaches rather than trainers during ThoughtWorks University but it’s not quite as easy as it seems.

I’ve noticed that there are a few things that contribute to this difficulty.

Assessment

The biggest obstacle is that by the end of TWU the trainers are required to send a review about each of the grads to the respective Resource Managers describing each person’s current level of skill in various categories.

Although we’re trying hard to be helpful when conveying this message it’s difficult for the grads to get beyond the feeling that they’re being tested which to some extent is true.

I find the idea of assessing people while I’m working with them quite difficult so for me it’s more a point of working out the best way to help each person improve their skills.

On the other hand the advantage of being in a mode where you’re explicitly looking for ways for them to improve is that you are able to give much more detailed feedback than you might be able to if you were on a ‘normal team’.

Switching roles

One of the things that a couple of the trainers were doing was acting as a proxy customer as well as playing their normal role.

This is an approach that has been used on previous TWU’s and the intention was to give the grads an idea of the different types of customers that they might encounter.

The feedback from the grads was that it can be quite confusing because you’re never quite sure which role the trainer is going to be playing when you go to speak to them.

As a result we’ve decided to drop this idea and let the Sukrupa guys completely play the role of customer while the trainers just play their normal role.

Drifting outside the group

A more subtle thing which can signify a difference between trainers/grads is the tendency for trainers to drift outside of group situations physically.

For example in the wrap up that we do at the end of the day if the trainers don’t participate in that then it signifies a difference between them and the grads i.e. they’re not really part of the group.

I think we’ve got better at this as time has gone on and it’s actually much more fun to take part in everything than to just be an observer.

It’s very difficult to completely get rid of the role of being a trainer but at least having an awareness of the situations where we make it more difficult for ourselves can help us get closer to achieving that.

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Written by Mark Needham

April 3rd, 2011 at 5:11 pm