Handholding – Is it an Art or is there a Mechanism?

After a week of travelling around Karnataka and Goa, I am back with my next article on coaching conversations. Continuing from the previous topic of Direct Coaching, it’s now time for us to look at the next topic. So, in today’s article I have pulled up hand holding earlier as I find this topic very fascinating aspect in my days’ work as a coach. 

Most of us think that once the training is done, the next major activity is that of Hand holding. But I personally feel that hand holding is an integral part of training itself.  As a coach while we are training we are demonstrating certain aspects which may be either soft skills or techniques which is nothing but the 1st step to hand holding. Then why have I separated it? I separated it more for easy reading more than anything else. 

What does Hand holding mean?  

Hand holding traditionally means showing someone how to do a particular task by actually, demonstrating it. In most industries and domains other than software it started as an apprenticeship model, where a senior would hand hold a newbie and teach him the tricks of the trade. 

Hand holding usually followed a certain cycle between the expert and the newbie. 

  1. The newbie and expert paired up and the expert led the show while simultaneously explaining the method or his thought process or a practice to the newbie. The expert engaged the newbie in conversations so as to ensure that the newbie has grasped the knowledge.  
  2. The next step was both the newbie and expert would together do the work, where the newbie would do the simple tasks on his own and the complex was done by the expert. Here again the expert would discuss his approach and sometimes may solicit opinions of the newbie too.
  3. The 3rd step was that the newbie would 1st explain what he plans to do or how he approaches the problem to the expert and based on that discussion they would come to an agreement and the expert would overlook the newbie to complete the tasks. 
  4. Finally, after years or months of practices depending on the domain, the newbie would finally start doing on his own. But the expert would still be his buddy, to whom the newbie could approach anytime for feedback, learning or any other help needed. 

When I started my careers in computers, those were the days of pseudo-codes and flowcharts and a very good friend named Renji Panicker who handheld me to learn the art of programming and software development. 

But, in today’s software world, many organisations are focusing on delivering value to customer at a faster pace, almost instantaneously. While this is good for the customer and the organisation alike, the teams and members working on these products or services find themselves in a tricky situation to be high performing all the time and adds complexity to hand holding for anyone to do justice. 

Many members don’t have the time to master the craft of software development. There is a race to deliver, rather than focus purely on the craft alone. Also, today’s software systems have grown so complex that keeping track of all the moving parts is a project management nightmare. 

For a coach who is on an engagement hand holding becomes even more challenging because of a couple of reasons like: want of time, developing relationships, expert knowledge either technically or in that particular domain etc.

My Approach to Hand holding:

1. Personal working relationship building: 

If you want to be successful in hand holding, my 1st approach and focus is on developing a working relationship with the people. I believe that this is fundamental if you want to impact change. 

So right from my training I start to build my relationship bridges with the people I am going to work. One of the initial actions I take before I start some serious hand holding session is to have conversations which will help me understand the human being behind the role. Also, I ensure and keep in mind is to demonstrate that I respect their views and their thoughts, though I may disagree with their actions. 

So, overall in a day of 8 hours of job, I spend a considerable time say may be 1/3rd of it building working relationships. I do these over coffee breaks, lunch breaks and any other 1 on 1 time I get. While I am at this, I ensure that my full focus and concentration is with the person I am with.  

Most of us assume that building working relationships I a one-time activity, but if you are hand holding someone, then this is almost a daily affair. It’s an art one has to cultivate to be able to impact the other during hand holding. 

Invest time in figuring out your key stakeholders (key decision players who have a large footprint for impact) along with those whom I call promoters (who are aligned and see the benefits of the change you are inducing) and also create a plan on your detractors (who disagree with the change and may be not accepting it either due to fear of change or may genuinely believe it is hard) as well to make them your promoters. 

A working agreement created at the start with key stakeholders and promoters, help me to work in an environment that enables to bring out the best in both of us. Also, it helps to demarcate boundaries which helps us to focus on the job at hand. 

2. Keep abreast of technical things happening in the world and also learn the domain 

On a personal front, I put in effort to understand the domain and the technology stack well in advance and continue to have conversations around this to understand it as much as possible. If need be I put in extra time googling about the latest either in the domain or technology stack. and I never fear saying that I don’t know if I really have no clue if they are explaining me something. 

When it comes to technology coaching, I focus on aspects of clean code or refactoring techniques or aspects of Test Driven Development. I find being aware of these techniques helps me to convey to my teams and members the art of software craftsmanship to some extent, by mostly pairing. I have found pairing as the easiest way to demonstrate a concept and this is usually a slow process as it one on one basis many times. Sometimes I do follow crowd pairing techniques but it becomes difficult if the team size is larger than 5. 

But am I fully successful? No of course not. Why, because the answer is simple. After the initial hand holding, it’s up to the individual to continue on that journey forward. As a coach I can once a while help, but it mostly is a one man’s journey of self-discovery.

3. Facilitating

The most crucial aspect of hand holding to be successful is facilitating. This is an Art and a topic by itself. For me as a Coach I focus on two aspects which makes it easy for facilitating:

A. Having Powerful Conversations: 

Conversations lead to powerful facilitation for success. As a Coach I have to employ many a techniques to achieve it. But most often, I find Leading Questions a powerful way as it helps one for me to deliver the intent without lecturing and two it helps the other person to discover the solution on his own, but by me leading him to it. 

This makes handholding simple. But this I have learnt a hard way and am sure many coaches would agree that this has been one of their hard journeys too.

B. Art of Listening: 

Many a times as a Coach time dwells on our mind to make that impact of change for an individual or a team or an organization. This thus leads us an activity trap wherein we are more interested in delivering results than focusing analysing on real root cause issues. This is where the Art of Listening helps.  

I have got insights in depth of various issues just by giving my 100% when I am with another human being who is explaining me something. When I Say 100% I totally ignore any interruptions that come along the way.  

Also, if you want your detractors to become your promoters, listen to them and understand from their view why change may not work. This may actually give you insights and alter your approach towards making a lasting impact.

C. Flexibility in approach: 

One more thing to remember is that as a coach who is handholding should have an open mind and should have an approach that is flexible. Make sure that your ego does not come in between when trying to preach or train someone technically or on the change. Make sure it’s the intent that matters and not the approach that produces the result always!

D. Humour: 

It’s a critical ingredient for handholding? How? It creates and environment of fun and openness that aids in high degree of knowledge transfer. Simple isn’t it?

E. Confidence and Respect – The thin line 

As a coach I am expected to be confident of the knowledge I bring to the table, but it can’t be the driving force to make that change. I need to respect the knowledge and view of the other person as well and have to think in mechanisms to alter his views. Easy said than done. There is no magic portion that one can administer to learn this. But it’s simple to follow as I remember ther thin line between the two.