Is There a Difference Between Coaching and Training?

Today I had a very interesting and unique opportunity. I went through my agile project management training materials with a single individual instead of a class. Was it training, or was it coaching?


The materials are from my ScrumMaster certification course. They are meant to be delivered to a group of 5 to 20 people in a training seminar setting. Many of the exercises are pair or small group exercises, including three very critical exercises. They are built as a presentation deck (in OpenOffice.org). So of course, I normally use a projector as I’m conducting the course.

Today however, due to low enrollments in a course I had originally scheduled for today and tomorrow, I made alternative arrangements with the few registered participants. One of those participants has accepted a one-on-one training engagement in lieu of the classroom environment.

When I arrived at the office to deliver this course, and after this individual and I did brief introductions, I made a very substantial disclaimer:

1. I’ve never delivered these materials to just a single individual so I don’t know how well they will work
2. Much of the benefit of the course comes from the exercises and most of them we will not be able to do without more people
3. One possible advantage will be an ability to go in-depth on questions specific to this person’s concerns

As it turns out, I needn’t have been too worried. The course has been delivered numerous times and refined over the past eight months to the point where it is quite effective. There are very few typos or other errors in the materials. The content is very focused to the target audience: potential agile project managers/ScrumMasters/process facilitators. So, much to my surprise, the course went along with it’s normal very good timing. Of course, we spent a little less time on the exercises (although we still reviewed them), and we spent more time than normal on open discussion. But at the end of the day, I was exactly at the end of the first day’s materials.

This got me to thinking: what difference is there between coaching and training? My training materials work very well in this one-on-one environment. They are a very compressed way of communicating a great deal of information in a way that ensures good comprehension. In fact, in many ways, the one-on-one format is more effective than a class format since I am able to have a very good feeling for the receptivity, comprehension and needs of my “apprentice”… much more so than I am able in a class setting.

My experience coaching is usually a combination of team coaching and one-on-one coaching with a designated “apprentice”. This combination is effective for getting a team going with agile and making sure that early stages of team development go relatively smoothly. However, the majority of my high-impact work with the team is in the initial training and in the few other critical points that occur over the course of 8 to 12 weeks. Much of my coaching time is just being there as a safety net while the team and the process facilitator try out the new practices I’ve introduce to them. As a result, I’ve recently decided that I will avoid full-time coaching engagements. Instead, I prefer an approach that gives the team and the process facilitator much more time on their own.

So again, this starts to look a little like training: I do an initial 3 or 4 days of high intensity training to get a team going then do a bit of facilitation and “spot” training on specific topics as the need arises.

Conclusions? Well, first of all, I really enjoy working one-on-one, and I also really enjoy the classroom type training. Both seem to me to be very effective and that makes me feel good :-) The distinction between the two approaches is now very blurred for me and I feel that I can offer my clients a more nuanced approach along a spectrum that I wasn’t really aware of before. To me that means being more flexible, more agile :-) and hopefully, more valuable.


P.S. I tried to keep the blatant self-promotion to a minimum, but please be aware that some of the links up there are to my business site where I hope you will find something you would like to have me do for you :-)

Try out our Virtual Scrum Coach with the Scrum Team Assessment tool - just $500 for a team to get targeted advice and great how-to information

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