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Michael became a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) in 2004 and is huge advocate of better (XP) engineering practices since discovering unit testing in 2001. Michael has a B.A.Sc. from University of Toronto in Engineering Science and a M.Sc. from U.B.C. in Computer Science. He has presented at Agile Tour Toronto and the XPToronto/Agile User group on Scrum and XP. His is also an active member of the Agile community and co-organizer of Agile Tour Toronto. Michael lives and works in Toronto, Canada, as an independent Agile and Lean coach, consultant and trainer. Michael is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 90 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Coaching Skills Dojo

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Although Agile coaching requires many skills, we get back to basics by revisiting three fundamental coaching skills: observing, listening and questioning.

As you put these three key skills into practice, you will get feedback on your performance and have the opportunity to try out improvement ideas in a safe, open and friendly environment.

Learning Objectives

  • Practice listening without judgment
  • Gather information more effectively
  • Ask different kinds of questions to understand the real problem
  • Gain fresh insights into a problem you face at work


  • Number of participants: 6 to 20 (could go to 30 with a bit of deterioration)
  • Team size: work in groups of 3.
  • Duration: 90 minutes (can be made shorter or longer)
  • Materials: Flip chart paper and marker for each group.
  • Setup: Chairs for sitting, walls for flipchart paper.
  • Credits: This game was created by Michael Sahota and Portia Tung. It can be considered a variant of The Yellow Brick Road – Agile Adoption Through Peer Coaching (see below).


Below is the core part of the Dojo – practicing skills.

We will use flipcharts and posters to support a highly interactive workshop where most of the work will be done in small groups.

(2 min ) Introduction – session objectives, activities
(2 min) Three key coaching skills (…) – tell participants that we will only focus on these three.
(5 min) Human bubblesort: participants order themselves by listening, observing and questioning skills (low to high)
(1 min) Form Triads (groups of three) with neighbours

(9 min) Build Skills poster for listening, observing and questioning

  • (5 min) Each triad creates a poster to define the three skills. (Need poster, markers)
  • (4 min) Triads share posters with large group; only some groups will share, not all. We will ask if anyone has something important that was missed.

(6 min) Launch triad

  • Re-iterate session goals: 1) Identify Action Points 2) Practice Skills
  • Individuals brainstorm up to three problems and pick one
  • Explain Roles: Client, Coach, Observer
  • Explain timing and structure of the practice rounds

(27 min) First Round of Practice

  • 5 mins x 3 mini rounds (everyone rotates through roles)
  • 5 mins sharing within triad
  • 7 mins sharing with group

(27 min) Second Round of Practice

(2 min) Wrap-up

  • Action point takeaways – close eyes for one minute and think of how you will use these skills in the next week.

(6 min) Slack/Buffer – for possible late start or time overrun

Facilitator Tips

  • Prepare in advance flipcharts with:
    • The 3 roles
    • Timing of each mini-round
  • Bring a gong or bell to let people know when to change roles. Why? People get so far down the tunnel it is hard to get them to shift gears.
  • (Optional) Prepare a handout with a summary of the three skills.
  • (Optional) Prepare your own poster explaining the three skills.

Sources of Inspiration

Michael attended Rachel Davies Coaching Dojo at Agile 2010 and was curious about how to build upon its subject using aspects of the Yellow Brick Road game.

Coaching Skills Dojo can be considered a variant of The Yellow Brick Road – Agile Adoption Through Peer Coaching created by Portia Tung, Pascal Van Cauwenberghe and Duncan Pierce. The inspiration for this new game is to streamline it and create a more relaxed pace than the original Yellow Brick Road game. For example, the mini-rounds are extended by five minutes and there are only two mini-rounds rather than three in the original game. As well, we have introduced a learner-led mini-workshop at the start to remind and grow peoples understanding of the three skills.

This was submitted (but not accepted) to Agile 2011 as “Over the Rainbow: Coaching success through observing, listening and questioning” and has been subsequently renamed.

Feedback from First Run at Agile Games 2011

  • “It was great to bring specific focus on the skills involved in coaching: observing, listening and questioning. It is too easy to take this for granted.” – M.C.
  • “Made 2 really great contacts.” – L.L.
  • Rated 9.2/10 for usefulness at work.
  • As facilitator, it was very moving to see participants improve their skills in such a short time.
Published at DZone with permission of Michael Sahota, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)



Mark Anthony replied on Fri, 2012/04/13 - 9:47am

Oh, listening. That’s a very basic thing that a lot of people tend to forget nowadays, andit’s especially important for coaches to have the ability to do this and not be tempted to take over a conversation or a coaching session.

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