Coaching is an effective tool that you can use to reinforce the strengths of your software development team while also helping them learn new skills and receive feedback on their performance. Coaching also significantly improves retention in a business context, as developers recognize the company's interest in their well-being and professional growth.
We know this because that's what we're all about at Stateside. In our passion for building premium software development resources, we've made coaching an integral part of our culture. This way, we can ensure our clients always get to work with development teams that are in top form and prepared to tackle anything that comes their way.
Keep reading as we explore how to coach software developers through practical tips and strategies that you can use to integrate developer coaching into your organization.
Schedule regular coaching sessions
You shouldn't expect developers to come to you for coaching. Instead, be proactive and work with your team to schedule sessions appropriately to avoid interfering with their regular tasks and work-life balance. It is common for companies to host at least four major coaching sessions per year, with a few others sprinkled here and there.
Also, remember that holding a regular schedule means keeping tabs on progress and results. Identifying action items at the end of each session, such as reading documentation, completing a certification, or just thinking about new courses to take, is always helpful. Small rewards for completion are welcome (a.k.a. badges, congratulation announcements, etc.) However, be careful of treating this like "homework": your goal is to help developers find motivation for self-improvement, not to become a micromanaging tutor.
Finally, remember that no developer is ever too experienced for coaching. Regardless of skill level or area of expertise, every engineer on your team can learn from their peers.
Always coach with empathy
Contrary to what most people would think, developer coaching rarely involves talking about specific software bugs or going deep into particular technologies. Instead, good coaching revolves around empathy. For example, at Stateside, our coaches know that their job is to listen, understand, support, and guide the engineers under their wing — they know that coaching goes beyond just "teaching."
A big part of this is sincerity. If a software engineer has ever coached you, then you know how easy it is to tell when the coach cares about what they are doing. The session flows the right way. That's why coaching someone from a thoughtless and inattentive standpoint is just foolish and might do more harm than good.
Everyone can learn to coach with empathy or at least improve with practice. It all starts with putting yourself in their shoes. As a coach, you're more experienced and have been where they are now. Use what you have learned to connect with them, make suggestions, and point them in the right direction. Stay away from dictating and let them make their own decisions.
In the end, the key to a person's personal and professional development is self-awareness and introspection. You can encourage this by asking them questions that make them consider what they are good at, where they want to improve, and what they see themselves doing. You'll be fit to coach if you have the aptitude, patience, and willingness to help.
Consider personal learning interests
While your company may already have a standardized training procedure, it is easy to see how a one-size-fits-all approach can overlook personal interests with many potentials. In a field as complex as software development, we must strive to put the engineer's professional development into their own hands.
One of the best parts about coaching is that it gives you the headroom to create training plans that account for every dev's learning interests. Developers should be asked what they want to learn and using this information, a coach business leader can formulate individual learning plans. Developers can then enhance these plans to document and communicate what they hope to accomplish or learn and accompany their goals with milestones that define success.
The reasoning behind this is simple: people will naturally find motivation for self-improvement related to something they are naturally interested in. What's more, you're giving your team a chance to develop skills that might be rare and that will become useful along the road.
Keep integrity above everything else
Finally, we must recognize that coaching is only valuable with integrity. Both the coach and the coachee need to be honest about the way they want to teach and the way they want to learn. Otherwise, a disconnect is entirely possible, which any party can consider disrespectful. Once we lose respect, there's no point in coaching anymore.
Integrity is as simple as keeping things transparent and human. Don't pretend to know stuff you don't, don't undermine anyone for any reason, acknowledge your strengths and limitations, follow through on any promises, suggest rather than dictate, and so on. When it comes to teaching colleagues, humility goes a long way. Make sure no one on your team underestimates its value.
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com