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A Day with James Bach

June 4, 2012

I recently attended a 1 day workshop on how to coach testers. This workshop was organised by Anne-Marie Charrett and run by her and James Bach.

James is a fascinating teacher/coach.He does have a very forward style and will not shrink from challenging what you say. So you have to pay attention to what you say.

I have been an instructor for over a decade, teaching at Object Training. I regard coaching as the next step after teaching. Teaching is a structured activity with prepared lesson plans, presentation, exercise and a defined scope for each lesson. While teaching does have an amount of spontaneous interaction with students it is comparatively ‘tame’ compared to coaching. In coaching the student tends to set the parameters of the interaction by defining the problem domain they want to be coached about. It is the nature of the situation that the student may not be able to present the problem domain concisely. So the coach has to be able work with the student to  clarify it and guide the student through the thought process towards a solution.

There are a number of techniques in coaching, but central to it are what James and Anne-Marie call the Energy. To the best of my understanding this refers to what the student cares about, what gets them interested. When you, as coach, explore the potential problem space you will see the student respond and when you get to the actual problem, the responses of the student should exhibit a positive energy – veering away from it results in negative energy.

James showed us an interesting picture, called the coaching space. This reflects that both the student and the coach have a mind image of the problem space which is communicated between the two using whatever media are available (which may be face to face, skype, or any other media).  Given that communication is never comprehensive and the human languages by nature imprecise, the mind image in both parties tend to differ. The coach needs to be aware of it and may have to explore specific parts of the mind image to gain a better understanding.

The session included a 30 minute skype session with testers that had agreed with James to be coached as part of this course. Afterwards the skype transcripts were forwarded to Anne-Marie and James for review and returned with comments. Needless to say they are tough critics and it showed that I still have quite a way to go to become a good coach.

I particular liked what James called ‘Heirloom’ exercises. These are exercises that he has had around for a long time and which have been refined through its use. Attributes of heirloom exercises are that they are often simple, specific to a particular purpose and effective. In my time as an instructor I have accumulated a few of these exercises myself but had never thought of them in that way.

James’ and Anne-Marie’s coaching course reminded me of Stephanie Burns’ book ‘Artistry in Training’ which was formative for me when becoming an instructor. Both introduced me to  the respective matter (teaching & coaching) and gave me the guidance that I expect will help me to develop and improve myself. Hopefully one day I will be a coach as well as an instructor.

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