Coaching well means giving less advice.
If you lead a software team, then you probably deliver coaching for improving
certain behaviours of your team members.
In doing that, never give more than 3 pieces of advice. Your advice should be
constructive, never merely a critique. Aim for giving only 1 piece of advice.
This is because we human beings have a limited capacity for change.
If you give more than 3 pieces of advice, you risk seeing a lack of progress on
all of the behaviours, or worse.
I have seen managers, leaders, and coaches bombard their team members with
criticism. I have made this mistake myself and learned from 2 decades of
coaching - it doesn’t work.
Here are some things that can go wrong when you deliver too much advice in a
- The team member is able to make some of the changes, but they prioritize
improperly, and fail to make the most important change first.
- The team member becomes overwhelmed with the advice, and becomes incapable
of making any of the changes; the coaching is thereby wasted.
- The team member disagrees with some of your advice and therefore distrusts
all of your advice; they make no changes and they trust you less.
- The team member internalizes the advice improperly; they transform the
advice into harmful thoughts that they are inadequate; performance drops
due to their lowered self-esteem and you never find out why.
- The team member feels hurt that you observed so many flaws in their
behaviour and feels a loss of psychological safety; their trust in you is
lost and their engagement drops precipitously.
If there are many behaviour changes that you rapidly need from a given team
member, then give more frequent coaching.
Giving fewer pieces of advice allows the employee to focus on the desired
behaviour changes and to succeed at them. They feel successful. Subsequent
coaching sessions begin with a history of success.