I gave a talk at Agile Coaches Exchange meet up yesterday and someone emailed afterwards saying

"Rachel mentioned about few questions that she  uses during one on one. Those set of questions could help me a lot because I am terrible to start and flow the conversation with my team."

So I thought it might be handy to do a quick write-up of what questions I tend use in individual coaching sessions.  

Well just to be clear, I don’t follow an exact format or set list of questions -- I’ve been coaching for so long that questions seem to come burbling out of my mouth without much premeditation or forethought. Here's what I think I ask but this might actually differ a lot depending on the person or current issues.

Before we head off to our meeting, I check “Is now a good time for you?” and I’m fine to move to another time or skip the meeting. Coaching is always optional. 

Once we sit down, I tend to start with open questions like:

  • “How are you doing?”
  • “Are things going well at the moment?”
  • “Are there any issues you want to discuss?”

This tends to open out topic areas that we kick around -- discussing root causes , trying to see events from other perspectives and identifying possible courses of action.

I also look back in my notebook to see whether we talked about any specific issues at our last meeting:

  • “Last time we discussed pair rotation in your team, is that working better now?” or
  • “You facilitated a retrospective for the ABC team last week, how do you think that went?”

If they led a meeting, I ask if they’d like any feedback from me.

I might also mention current events such as team or process changes:

  • "We have a new developer joining your team next week, have you thought about how she's going to get to know the system?"
  • "We've changed the story time meeting format to run it with both teams together, how do you think that's working out?"

If the conversation dries up then we move onto specific areas such as personal development:

  • “What research projects/Gold Cards have you been working on lately?”
  • “Got any plans to give a lightning talk about that next week?”
  • “You mentioned that you were planning to submit for XYZ conference, have you sketched out an abstract?”

I usually check at the end “Are there any other things you wanted to discuss?” and let them know that I’m around to discuss further any time.

There are no magic words or special incantations that I’m aware of. The main thing is to focus on what the other person has to say and try to listen carefully to what they’re experiencing and changes they wish for. I care about whether they’re happy at work and hope that talking will help them stop worrying about things that are holding them back and start acting on their concerns and ideas.