At a coaching conference a few years ago, I agreed to be coached in a public demo by a very well known coach and author. My mind was clear on what we were going to talk about and I was really looking forward to the experience.
The coach didn’t do much in the demo, other than ask me why questions–which is a practice that often leaves the coach in me cold. (My coaching bias is against coaching questions that start with why because they force the client to look backwards instead of guiding the action forward.)
Over the ten or 15 minutes of the demo, this well known coach got me to look at an issue I was facing from about 5 different sides.
He was quiet and focused on drilling deeper into the issue, and encouraged me to look under the surface with every “Why?”.
Before too long, I had come to a realization about what was really going on with me. Then he shifted into action mode, and we made a plan for how I woul address the issue.
In the group debrief, this coach unpacked that he was using a specific coaching technique called The 5 Whys. I was shocked.
Not only was this high profile coach using why questions…on purpose…but it worked!
I thought to myself “There is NO WAY I’m ready to ask Why questions in my coaching the way he did. NO WAY. I can never make them work.”
But I was missing his key strategy: he never let me lapse back into talking about my childhood or some kind of baggage I was bringing into the coaching. He only let me explore connections between things that were happening NOW.
It was all cause-and-effect. And root causes are powerful. Finding and addressing the root cause of a particular situation or instance is probably the thing that coaching does best.
But you can’t address a root cause if you don’t know what it is. So how do you identify what’s really going on?
The 5 Whys is a great coaching strategy. Researching The 5 Whys uncovers roots in the Toyota Motor Company’s Continuous Improvement Culture and the start up world. But the lessons apply to all of us.
Take any key issue, for example a church who’s late service always starts 2–5 minutes late. Names and details have been omitted/changed to protect the innocent, but this is a real coaching issue from my practice a few years ago.
Start with why questions, looking for cause and effect.
Issue: Worship starts 2–5 minutes late every week.
– 1st Why: Attendees come into the worship area slowly.
– 2nd Why: They are in conversation in the outer area.
– 3rd Why: Groups get congested in the coffee area and people bump into their friends.
– 4th Why: The coffee area is too crowded, because the urns are in a corner and there is additional furniture taking up useful space.
– 5th Why: The orginal thinking was that people might sit down and have a conversation, but no one does.
So this series of Whys has gotten to the root issue that the sitting area is not being used for it’s intended purpose. And that issue had NOTHING to do with anything going on in worship.
The cause-and-effect exploration got beneath the obvious issues, and nailed what was actually going on.
Here’s a great video from Eric Ries (author of The Lean Start Up about the process behind the 5 whys. It’s a little more process or product development oriented than the coaching that CoachNet-trained coaches do, but I think you’ll see how digging beneath the surface can be very powerful.
So how do you dig beneath the surface to the key issue in your coaching? I’d love it if you shared your knowledge in the comments.
Tomorrow on the blog, I’ll walk you through a twist on the 5 Whys that takes you down a different path to explore the cause-and-effect of presenting issues and key issues.