Skip to content

A Coaching Kata

Recently I’ve been thrown into the world of Coding Kata’s. The simplicity and beauty of this intentional practice is what grabbed my attention. Another awesome thing was that people with little to no developer skills AND experienced developers benefit and learn from these simple katas. Its been bothering me for a while that we don’t seem to have an intentional practice as coaches in the agile world. Perhaps we do and I just cant find it on google 🙂

After some thought – I came up with a pattern that you can use as a coach by yourself – or if you’re lucky with some other coaches. This kata should be done at a regular cadence, so once a week, or every 2 weeks etc.

My constraints were:
– needs to be done in an hour or less
– needs to be able to be done alone or with others
– needs some repetition (same thing everytime) and something thats new everytime time

Coaching Kata Outline

Coaching Kata

Warm-Up – 5 minutes

This section can be done by yourself, or by sharing with other coaches (the time will need to be increased depending on number of people sharing).

Intention Feedback Loop
The first time you run this kata this section won’t apply, so just move on to the mini retrospective. After the retrospective you will come up with one intention to do by your next Coaching Kata. That is the intention that you feedback on in this section.

Recall your intention from the previous Coaching Kata and look at your measurements. Now answer the following 3 questions:
– Did you manage to do your intention?
– Was it worthwhile?
– What did you learn?

Personal Growth – 25 minutes

This section is meant to be done by yourself. If you are with a group of coaches – retreat to a quiet space and do this by yourself.

Mini Retrospective
According to Agile Restrospectives by Diana Larsen and Esther Derby, restrospectives should go through 5 phases: Set the stage – Gather Data – Generate Insights – Decide what to do – Close. As this Coaching Kata is structured with a Warm Up to start and an Intentional Practice to close, the Mini Restrospective section will only focus on 3 phases: Gather Data – Generate Insights – Decide what to do. I adapted some exercises from the book for this. Feel free to use your own exercises. Remember that this is a personal retrospective done by yourself, for yourself. (The exercises mentioned below can all be found in the Agile Retrospectives book, unless specified otherwise).

Gather Data – 5 minutes
(a) High Low
Look at your calendar for the last period. Take a piece of paper and create 2 columns, one for High and the other Low. For all the events that happening in the last period, place them in either High (they made you happy) or Low (They made you sad, or were in between).
(b) Mad Sad Glad
(c) Team Radar

Generate Insights – 10 minutes
(a) brainstorm
(b) force Field analysis
(c) 5 whys
(d) fishbone
(e) problem solving tree

Decide What To Do – 10 minutes
Here you need to pick an intention for the following week.

State it like this:
    I intend to ….. so that ….

Now think about how you will know if this intention is working. Think of some way of measuring it. Test your thinking by asking ‘How will I know if my intention is not working?’.
Write your intention and measurements in a notebook, so that at the next Coaching Kata you have a record of it.

Variation: Instead of an intention you could create an experiment with a specified learning outcome. Make sure you have a way to mark this experiment as pass or fail.

Intentional Practice – from 15 – 30 minutes

This section is designed to change. Every time you run a kata – pick a new intentional practice item. I will list a few below, but I’m hoping I will get more ideas from others out there to add over time.

(1) Simple Talk
Pretend that you are having a conversation with a 90 year old – explain what you do as an agile coach to this person using terms and examples that they will understand.
– Instead of a 90 year old, pretend its a 16 year old teenage girl.
– Use only words, like its a phone call.
– Draw and use words
– Only draw 🙂

(2) Powerful Questions Kata
This needs to be done in pairs, but it can be done via Skype or Google Hangout.
Print this list of powerful questions:

    • How can we make this more fun?
    • Can you speak more to that?
    • What do you care about?
    • Can you try it for a week?
    • How does that make you feel?
    • How’s that working for you?
    • What do you need to know?
    • Can you explain that to me?
    • How can you do that better?
    • What does that cost you?
    • What skills can you use?
    • Why do you care?
    • What is another way?
    • What is it we’re not seeing?
    • What might be another perspective?
    • How might someone else see this?
    • How can you contribute more?
    • What’s holding you back?
    • What if…
    • How do you know?
    • I wonder…
    • Who cares about this?
    • I’m curious…
    • What is possible here?

Have one person tell a story of some problem they are currently experiencing, you may only ask powerful questions from the list. Do this for 5 minutes, then switch roles.
After this have a 5 minute debrief, here are some questions to guide you:
– How did it feel being restricted to asking only the questions?
– Did the questions work for the other person?
– What surprised you?

(3) Another point of view kata
Pick a topic you are passionate about, and hold strong opinions on. For example that agile works, or that teams should always have retrospectives. If you’ve been struggling with someone with a different point of view, use that as a topic.

For 10 minutes try to convince yourself of an alternate point of view to your own. Try hard to make the alternate point of view as valid as possible. No sarcasm!

After this have a 5 minute debrief, here are some questions to guide you:
– Did you find any of the arguments compelling?
– How did you feel towards the alternate point of view?
– Did you feel differently towards people with an opposite point of view now?
– How might this change the way you deal with people who don’t agree with you in future?


(4) Feedback model kata
This needs to be done in pairs, but it can be done via Skype or Google Hangout.

Practice giving each other feedback using the feedback model below. Be sure to practice giving both positive and negative feedback.

Step 1:  Describe current behaviour
Describe the behaviour you want to feedback on – positive or negative. Be brief but descriptive.

Step 2: Identify Situations
Describe situations where you have personally observed this behaviour. Be factual.

Step 3:  Describe Impact
Describe the impact and consequences of the behaviour on yourself or others present in the situations about.

Step 4: Identify future behaviour
Suggest some specific actions they can take in the future. Either to continue or to change the behaviour.

For 5 minutes give the other person 1 piece of positive and 1 piece of negative feedback (i.e. something they can improve).

Switch roles, and repeat for another 5 minutes.

After this have a 5 minute debrief, here are some questions to guide you:
– How did it feel to give feedback
– How did it feel to receive feedback
– How likely are you to act on the improvements recommended?
– How do you feel towards the person who gave you feedback now?

(5) Core Mind Kata
Core Mind Kata – do this for 10 to 20 minutes.

Thats it!

Please let me know your thoughts. Try it and add more exercises 🙂

5 thoughts on “A Coaching Kata”

  1. I use such a variety of tools in my coaching/mentoring/pairing/teaching/consulting work that I would find it very difficult to write an article like this one, so thank you for doing this. I would either have no idea where to start or write 50,000 words before getting to the end, because thinking about one practice leads to another, and another, and another….

    I imagine we could do this with any technique we learn from any book. Thoughtful practice. As always.


    1. Haha. Thanks for the comment. As I was writing the post, it got longer and longer because of that exact thing. One practise kept leading to another. I think I was more energised and inspired after writing the post 🙂

  2. Great post.
    As you know we use Kata’s extensively for training our developers.
    We have recently been branching out in using Kata’s for our UX designers and business analysts.
    This however is a great post on extending Kata’s to the even less tangible practice of coaching.
    Well done 🙂

  3. Pingback: The Coaching Manifesto | Growing Agile

  4. Pingback: Integral Model for Agile Coaching | Growing Agile

Comments are closed.