How Solving a Jigsaw with Toddlers Teaches Me Coaching

How Solving a Jigsaw with Toddlers Teaches Me Coaching

2018, Sep 06    

Today I got the feeling that playing and working with children gives you a good opportunity to grow as a coach. When I played with my two-year old, it reminded me of how it feels to coach people in actual business.

While solving that jigsaw with my son, I got the vibe that there is a lot of similarity between helping a kid to solve the puzzle and how you help others to grow as an Agile Coach. In any case, both tasks share the same goal: Help someone solve a tough situation while growing their abilities.

When playing with my, I son usually ask him which part we’re going to start with. It is his choice where we start and when he wants my help. If he’s fine with trying it on his own, I won’t interfere. You know, like it is with coaching a team: No coaching without a mandate by the coachee.

Further down the road I observe myself to switch coaching focus frequently:

Acting as a coach in the beginning when asking which kind of game, we are going to play today and, by that asking which skills we are going to work on. Being a mentor when it comes to assembling the jigsaw. Even when I see the solution, its not my job to present the solution, but to show how you can get there and let the kid experiment, try and fail in a safe environment. Sometimes I have to be a facilitator: Rearrange the working environment (aka the table or floor) so that he sees all the parts and makes better decisions. Switching back to__ a strong pure coaching focus__ by asking how we are going to proceed and always being focussed on what he can do and what steps my coachee (aka kid) thinks advance him.

Of course, there’s a difference to coaching an adult in his or her workplace. Toddlers of that age are not able to reflect on their self on such a high level as adults are. Thus, you can’t expect them to grow a deep and reflected understanding, but you can easily see how they are growing “on the job”. The first time we do a jigsaw I am heavily in the role of a mentor and teacher, even a helping hand from time to time. The more often we did jigsaws together, the more I found my self shifting away from the teaching to the coaching focus. By the third or forth time we are doing (the same) jigsaw I am not required any more. I’m lingering in the background, making sure no one gets hurt, and to be there in case my kid asks for my help in situations. The rest of the time I provide encouragement and suggestions for improvement.

I see a great parallel between doing this with my kids as well as working with adults. Both are human beings with roughly the same requirements on growing and learning. Naturally, there’s a difference in the level of skills.

What to learn from kids

There are a few things you will notice when observing yourself playing with a kid. These are often overlooked when working with adults:

  1. You must be listening to and watching your coachees when working with them. Notice when their concentration wanes and they need a break. Probe how they react to different suggestions.
  2. Switch your coaching focus according to the situation at hand. Be a mentor when there’s a need to teach. Be a facilitator when its time for your coachee to decide. Be an expert when asked for specific knowledge (e.g. Why does the police car have a dog in it?). Don’t mix it up – it will taint your results.
  3. The coachee leads! Following your own agenda in a coaching session results in dissatisfaction on both sides. Your job is to support, provide and guide.

Children are less biased towards being successful and reflect their emotions more visibly than adults. It can be very rewarding to try coaching a kid. Try it if you get the chance!