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Coaching Vs. Teaching: How to Maximize the Advantages of Each

In many workplace environments, especially in the software development outsourcing industry, the concepts of teaching and coaching are often used interchangeably, despite being independent, unique approaches to employee development.

Without a clear understanding of each practice, and the impacts they have on the recipients of those practices, it's easy to get confused about which avenue to take, which could limit people's personal growth and success.

Here's a look at how PSL defines coaching and teaching, along with some advice on ensuring these similar approaches are beneficial for your teams. 

Teaching: Early-Stage Knowledge Development  

Teaching (or training) is generally a one-directional practice that works best when students have limited knowledge of a specific topic, as it helps them acquire new information quickly and learn new skills.

We've all been in this situation: A teacher or trainer stands in front of a class and provides information, perhaps giving advice on how to solve a problem or providing an introduction to a new software development methodology. Communication is generally one-way, from teacher to student, or from a trainer to a trainee, besides maybe a few opportunities to ask questions.

The teaching process is heavily centered on the teacher, as that person is sharing knowledge and delivering the message that students need to hear. It's best suited to large groups as a means to disperse new information, allowing many people to learn quickly and simultaneously.

Once a teaching or training session is complete, the teacher is no longer responsible for the student's ability to apply their new knowledge and build on it. Unfortunately, in this scenario, it's incredibly difficult for students to retain the majority of the information that they are taught during these scenarios. For teaching to be more successful, students need to be actively participating and using the information learned, this can include activities, exercises, or Q&A sessions.

In the case of teaching, it then falls on the student to take their knowledge to the next level, which is often why coaching is such a valuable next step. 

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Coaching: Student-centric Development  

While teaching is heavily dependent on the teacher's knowledge, experience, and ability to share information with large groups, coaching is more focused on the individual and how they move towards personal improvement.

One-on-one coaching is the ideal practice for providing real-time feedback. Coaches can observe what coachees are doing in the moment and are able to maintain a broader understanding of their environment and constraints, giving them an opportunity to offer advice that will immediately improve the person's performance.

Coaching makes sense for employees that already have some knowledge, allowing the coach to leverage that knowledge to help them achieve better results. Coaches should still provide advice and knowledge, but it's always aimed at building on an individual's existing knowledge while ensuring they achieve their goals. It's important to note that we never stop learning in our careers and it's vital for coaches to also become coachees, always learning and expanding their coaching skills.

Unlike teachers, coaches are responsible for ensuring other people's development and need to make sure those people actually learn and grow. Think of it this way: if teachers are like fitness class instructors, then coaches are personal trainers—always pushing and motivating people to reach their goals. 

Perform and GROW  

In his best-selling book, Coaching for Performance, John Whitmore introduced the GROW principle, which stands for goal, reality, options, and will. The model works on the concept that people already know what they need to know, they only need someone to guide them towards the right answers.

The first step Whitmore suggests is to set goals. Coaches should help people set short-term and long-term goals over months and years. This goal-oriented approach to coaching enables people to overcome challenges and enjoy short-terms wins that also represent progress towards their long-term goal.

Reality is all about understanding a coachee's current situation. Aspects like personal life, health, work style, and personality type all play a part in a person's development, so it's important to take these—and many other—variables into account as they will often have a huge impact on the person's ability to meet their goals.

When you understand a person's goals and their reality, you can shortlist the potential options for coaching. Choose one option and go with it. Define what each coaching session will look like, what time and place it will happen, and the topics it will include.

From there, the next question is, "What will you do to help a person commit to their own actions and meet their objectives?" By stating an intention to succeed, people become compelled to follow through on those intentions, resulting in better results down the line. 

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Quick Tips for Mastering Coaching  

  • Personalized coaching sessions - It's very difficult to coach ten people at the same time because coaches cannot provide maximum value to every individual, and we recommend coaches only do individual sessions with one person at a time. Coaches may have a general style, but the idea is to adapt that to each individual receiving coaching and to differing topics. Coaches should be there for people whenever they need them, offering personalized advice based on a deep understanding of the person's goals and reality. Ideally, the fewer trainees they have to coach on varying topics, the more specialized attention each person is going to receive.
  • Change the protagonist - This simple concept will help to make obvious the difference between the two practices of teaching and coaching: in coaching, the protagonist is the person receiving the coaching, whereas in teaching the protagonist is the teacher. If in doubt, change the protagonist.
  • Constant revision and connection - Coaches should be there constantly to observe, interact with, and recognize faults or regressions in a person's development. Their role is to help people uncover and utilize the knowledge they already have by guiding them towards what they know. Without a strong, constant connection to make that happen, the valuable benefits of coaching quickly dissipate.


At PSL, we use these coaching practices to develop engineers who are more knowledgeable, more invested in their work, and motivated to solve problems without direction. 

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Coaching vs. Teaching isn't always straightforward. To learn more about coaching and training in software development, contact us and we'll happily share our knowledge.

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Friday, 10 July 2020

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