The Dark Side of Technical Coaching

Even good ideas have their downside, that's why in this last session of the Technical Coaching circuit, José Enrique Rodríguez Huerta, MD and Technical Coach at Codurance Spain, talks about the good, bad and unpleasant or difficult aspects of a Technical Coaching engagement, focusing on the latter to learn how to avoid them. This meetup closes this series where we have addressed topics such as feedback, culture and adoption to change. If you want to review the rest of the sessions of this track you can do it here.

The good

Technical Coaching can be beneficial at both the individual and group level. Here are some of the key benefits:

  • On an individual level, joining a project as a technical coach is an way to learn and develop your skills.  As José says; "teaching others is the best way to learn".
    Technical Coaching is an excellent tool for creating communities and connections.
  • People are willing to share their passion and expertise, help each other and create a sense of purpose through a network of professionals who want to learn continuously.
  • For an organisation, it is not just about improving the skills of its teams, but creating a culture of excellence, a learning and growth mindset.

The bad

José explains that Technical Coaching involves a cultural change (especially in a large company) and because of this, it is often seen as a response to improving only a team's competencies, leading to the belief that it does not deliver the desired results:

  • For an organisation, it is not just about improving the skills of its teams, but creating a culture of excellence, a learning and growth mindset.
  • Delivery and learning are conflicting objectives; to upskill and improve competencies, initially, deliveries may slow down.  This can lead to tension because people are expected to learn, but at the same time to deliver quickly.
  • Some team members will be 'early adopters' but the context in which they find themselves does not change as quickly.  This will often lead to them becoming frustrated. If they do not see changes and improvements in their workplace and teams, then they may leave because they are more mature and their skills have become more marketable.
  • Without focus and a method, Technical Coaching is not a great solution. You need to follow a structured process so that, for example, you can demonstrate progress and link it to ROI.
  • Technical Coaching can be seen as a thankless task simply because it is people based and without their buy-in and commitment, it won't be successful. You can provide the tools, but it is the people involved who have to respond. If it goes well the team did it, if it goes wrong it is the coach's responsibility.

The ugly

Anti-patterns of Technical Coaching. José looked at the frequent anti-patterns that are not necessarily inherent to coaching but to how people approach it or how difficult it is to balance the process.

  • Expert syndrome. Lack of humility. Starting a coaching project thinking you know more than anyone else, failing to recognise that you don't have all the context, and that you must also learn through this process to be successful.
  • The one-size-fits-all approach. Having fixed ideas (Agile is necessary or Agile is useless) or preference for certain tools (TDD, DDD, cloud, etc) and trying to apply them everywhere, even if they are out of context.  
  • 'Too soft, too hard' approach. Being too strict on results can lead to frustration and, conversely, not caring too much about a structure can lead to missing the target.
  • The micromanager. Constantly telling the team what to do without leaving room for creativity, autonomy and experimentation. It often happens because you focus too much on results.
  • Lack of follow through. You need to be able to organise a project and work through all of it's stages: managing expectations, executing, planning and delivering results.
  • Shifting the burden. Applying quick fixes which are not necessarily the most durable solution because that would require more effort and time.

Imposter syndrome. As a technical coach, you can sometimes suffer from imposter syndrome and think you aren't good enough to lead people or a project. It's better to approach the engagement as an experiment, leaving the door open to creativity and with the knowledge that not everything will work out. There is no way to know everything, but you can have a solid foundation and work on your ability to learn and adapt quickly.

Soft skills aren't soft. Most technical coaches lack the tools to deal with team-specific issues such as facilitation, feedback, public speaking and conflict management. Collaborative and motivational strategies are often necessary for the project in order to generate positive results and bring about the change that is needed.

Burn out. Technical Coaching can cause burnout due to the constant pressure to improve and demonstrate your skills as a coach. The company expects you to provide value from the start, but you also have to familiarise yourself with the context, situation and people. The key is to learn to manage expectations, create a structure that shows short-term results, and learn to listen to the team to understand the big picture. The more information you have, the better you will be able to focus your approach.


Throughout this 9-episode track we have delved into the key aspects of Technical Coaching engagement. The road is long and there is a lot to learn, but having a solid knowledge base and being aware that the process takes time will allow you to approach projects with greater openness and confidence.

As José has reminded us, on numerous occasions, the key to success is in constant adaptation and continuous learning.

Being pragmatic about our tasks and goals, along with sharing empathy with the people you are coaching, will allow you to address their needs because ultimately, a team that shares the same values, works collaboratively and is aligned with the same objectives, promotes motivation and a sense of belonging among its members and, ultimately, helps the organisation to grow and achieve better results.

"Excellence is a journey and not a destination".

- José Enrique Rodríguez Huerta, MD & Technical Coach at Codurance Spain

This was the final session in the Technical Coaching circuit.  You can find previous episodes in our youtube playlist.  You can also access Rodríguez's miro board or register for future Codurance events here.