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The Difference Between Teaching and Coaching

This is a guest blog from Phil Dexter, Senior Project Manager at Torchbox. Phil recently attended one of our ICAgile courses where he got inspiration for this blog post. You can find Phil’s original article here.


Great coaching leads to great performance.

I’ve been reflecting on the role of coaches and their influence - both in sport, and at work. Specifically, I’ve been considering the difference between coaching and teaching - something focused on at an Agile Coaching course that I recently attended.

 

Coaching Course

As per the course definition, teaching is explaining something to someone. It is the natural reaction that all of us have - someone asks us a question and we give them an answer. Perhaps we go the extra mile, and teach them - “here’s the answer, and here’s how I got to it”. The problem is solved and the knowledge passed on… kind of.

Coaching is a little different. Coaches give the individual the prompts and the space to develop problem solving skills themselves. Rather than focusing on the issue, coaches use a variety of techniques to help the person to think creatively in order to come to a solution. As well as solving the immediate problem, the person develops confidence and ability to help them in their future.

Experience of solving the issue brings true development. From teaching, the person will return with similar problems in the future. The art of the coach is in developing the individual (or team) to independently deal with situations.

American football CoachTo demonstrate the difference between coaching and teaching, consider two sports: NFL and football. In the NFL, plays are very short, lasting just seconds. All players are given defined instructions on what to do during the play. Before the game, they practise over and over to ensure nothing goes wrong. In a game, the “coach” decides which plays will happen just before they are carried out. This is a teaching situation, as the players are taught to repeat actions with little thought or individual creativity. Though they are called coaches, they are teaching. Coaching is unnecessary - the decisions are already made for the players.

 

Football team talkAlternatively, consider football. Each half lasts 45minutes. Players react based on the context Agile relies on self-organising teams - people making decisions based on the context they find themselves in. If we ignore coaching, teams will fall back to command and control, which is incompatible with agile delivery.they are put in. Any preparation before the game is in order to best improve players’ decision making, so when they are in the game, they can use those skills. The coach cannot give instructions to all players throughout the game, just as a CEO cannot direct all the actions of their employees. Coaching is appropriate here - developing the right skill, judgement and creativity in preparation - and then letting the team come up with the answers.


Teaching is appropriate sometimes, but coaching truly empowers teams and individuals.