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CREATE New Thinking with One-on-One Coaching

2 September 2013


Sooner or later comes a time to coach people one-on-one, because you decide as ScrumMaster to have a conversation with a team member about something you see happening or because someone in your team wants to speak with you about a problem.

In my experience as a ScrumMaster, when it happened for the first time, I wasn't ready -- but I used an informal conversation, unaware that I was, only by trusting my gut, using an existing coaching model.

The day after my first one-on-one coaching experience I started studying everything I could find about one-on-one coaching models, and I discovered that I had effectively used the CREATE model.

As stated by David Rock in his book Quiet Leadership, "If you didn't have the CREATE model, you might help people have lots of good ideas, but not necessarily do anything with them."

The first element of the CREATE model is to explore the Current Reality for someone, the reality of their thinking itself. At this point people become aware of their dilemma. They think about and then, if you ask the right question, they have an insight of some kind.

We then move to the second element, Explore Alternative. By this point people have had an insight and want to do something with it, but they aren't sure what. So we throw around different ideas. This stage helps stop people from taking the easiest path when they have an insight and instead find the best option for moving that insight to action.

The third element of the CREATE model is Tap their Energy. People are now energized about doing something, but we know this energy won't last. So we can help people take tangible actions to move their insights from delicate new connections to something more likely to become a part of their thinking.

The CREATE model is helpful in situations where you need to get detailed. Working at a detail level, it's useful to start with the current reality of a situation so you can see the landscape clearly; it's helpful to then explore alternatives for action rather than launching too quickly in the most obvious direction; and once you have set a course, it's a good idea to tap all the energy available. I'm going to focus on how to use the CREATE model to improve people's thinking, rather than finding other ways to use this model.

Let's have a look at each of these elements, with some example questions we could use during one-on-one coaching sessions. I've selected some questions in the different phases, allowing people to have some insights, but the range can be wider (usually six to ten).

The following is not a complete list, but they are questions I like to use and, based on my experience, I can suggest:

Example questions for exploring the Current Reality:

"How important is this issue to you, on a scale of one to ten?"

"How often do you think about this -- how many times each hour, day, or week?"

"How committed to changing this issue are you, on a scale of one to ten?"

"What are your main insights about this issue up to now?"

"On a scale of one to ten, how confident are you that you have all the information you need to act?"

If you can memorize these types of questions, you might find it easier to focus on the person you're speaking to.

Example questions for Exploring Alternatives:

"What are some possible paths we could take from here?"

"How could I best help you from here?"

"How do you think we might move this insight forward?"

"What are some different ways we could tackle this?"

"“Can you see some different angles we could look at this from?"

When you are exploring alternatives, stay light and try out lots of ideas, without being attached to any. Be flexible and open-minded. Listen for people's energy, instead of worrying about what the right answer is.

Example questions for Tapping Their Energy:

"Shall we focus on X and get more detailed on that?"

"What specifically would you do in this situation?"

"How can I best support you to turn this insight into a habit?"

"Do you want to take some kind of specific action around this?"

Notice that the language in these questions in unobtrusive and gentle. We're not saying, "What are you going to do about that?" We want to stretch people, but also be sensitive. A new habit is delicate and fragile creation, and just like a young seedling, it needs a warm and nurturing environment in which to grow.

Using the CREATE model with someone in your team whose thinking is unclear helps them have useful insights, and then commit to undertaking specific actions to bring these insights into reality. However, if we don't follow up, these actions may not have the long-term impact on performance they could have.

Our main job as ScrumMasters revolves around enabling people to use Scrum well. Sometimes this means reinforcing a practice or helping someone see how Scrum solves something they struggle with. Often this means getting into how people feel about their work or their role on the team. Human relationships are the center of the Agile Manifesto. Expect that as you coach people well, they will start to open up and tell you about their whole selves -- their work and their lives.

References and suggested resources

Adkins L. Coaching Agile Teams. Boston: Addison-Wesley. 2010.

Attanasio F. "Coaching Scrum Teams Through Conflict Navigation and Effective Communication Strategies." 2013.

Rock D. Quiet Leadership. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 2007.


Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 5 (10 ratings)


Glen Wang, CSM, 9/2/2013 1:13:52 AM
Some people say GROW: Goal, Reality, Opportunity and Willing.
Francesco Attanasio, CSP,CSM, 9/2/2013 10:51:51 AM
There are a lot of coaching models (GROW is one of them), but what I'd like to highlight by CREATE model is that in our coaching role, we need to:
1)Focus on cochee thinking process, rather than his/her problem.
2) Help apply the cochee neural connections to the problem and help to come up with a solution that works for her/him. When this occurs, the cochee becomes energized.

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