Zafar Ahmad - Can a coach help SlumpBusting?

What is the background situation/context for your probe?

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, widely regarded as the greatest batsman who ever played the game, scored 9000 runs in 105 test matches he played between 1998-2002 hitting 31 tons at an average run-rate of 57. During the Australian tour of 2003, his scores read 8, 7, 55, 1, 0, 1, 37, 0, 44 totaling 153 runs at an average of 17. The whole world reacted "Yes, that's a slump." Of course, Sachin pulled himself out the slump quickly and went on to play for another 10 years for India scoring 7000 runs in 90 odd tests hitting 20 more centuries.

The term 'Performance slump' is generally associated with Sportspersons. But, doesn't this phenomenon sound familiar in other professions? Haven't we, as software professionals experienced a similar slump in performance in our career which at times was difficult to understand and unexplainable.  The slump is a period of decline or deterioration, during which a person performs below his /her performance levels.

What is (or has been) your hypothesis?

Many times we have read or heard the expression - "Lack of form" associated with a sportsperson but without a pinpoint reason for the same. Experts believe that most of the time slump is caused by psychological factors, which may be triggered by a poor performance. And, the pressure of recovering from that bad performance leads to increased anxiety and reduced confidence. The lack of a support system (from family, friends, coaches or administrative setup) further aggravates the situation and the individual gets caught in the quicksand.  The downtrend continues.

My hypothesis is that the psychological factor is also the key factor for performance slump in other professions including software engineering. It gets triggered by an event either at work or in personal life. At work, it could be a performance appraisal or negative feedback by the manager or recognition of a peer. Sometimes, it is the monotony of job - mundane activities, routine tasks, lack of creativity, absence of accomplishment that reduces the interest in the job and pulls down one's performance.  Regorganization in the company, uncertainty, and insecurity of the job are other significant factors impacting the performance. In personal life,  negative thoughts caused by the vacuum created by the loss of a loved one or dissatisfaction caused by unrealistic expectations for oneself or one's children are factors that may adversly impact the performance. If these triggers are not contained in a timely fashion, the cycle of slump begins and very soon the person finds himself in a spiral dive.

What is the experiment you would like to run (or you have run) and how can this experiment validate or invalidate your hypothesis?

As a team leader,  I have experienced top performers going through a performance slump. Upon probing, I found factors beyond skill and competence to be the cause of the deterioration in theire performance. Usually, I have used one-on-one counseling to help the person in this situation. The counseling spans over 3-4 weeks and focuses on the following basics:

  1. Being aware and mindful about what is going on at present - Getting to stop the  mental time traveling
  2. Staying Positive - It is critical to stop being pitiful and start believing in oneself. Talking to oneself and remembering the WOW moments. 
  3. Having patience - Being patient is critical to slump busting because impatience may lead to pressuring oneself. Pressure, whether self-imposed or coming from the manager, always makes the slumps worse. 
  4. Seeking Help - Many of us have inhibitions to share our problems with others. Seeking counseling from a coach or a shrink is very common in the western world but it is almost a taboo in Indian culture. This inhibition is not helpful.  One should share one's problems, situation, thoughts with others and seek counseling from the manager, peers, friends, and family members.
  5. Taking time out - Work-life imbalance is also a fuel for Slump. Slumps are signs that we are running low on internal fuel and you need to pause and relax.  Taking a short break from work and doing something that one enjoys helps. 
  6. Stopping the blame game - Many times, we accuse our managers to be biased. We take their feedback negatively. We blame the organization and its policy to be unsupportive. All these negative thoughts only push us further in the quicksand.

I have used the above approach informally with several of my team members (direct as well as indirect reportee) and have seen positive results. I have also coached my direct reportee on slumpbusting and some of them have practices it successfully.

Is there a specific skill/technique you would like to learn/explore at this coach camp?

I believe performance slump is a critical but unaddressed challenge in corporate life. I reckon that coaches can play an important role in helping individuals overcome performance slumps. I would like to share my experience with fellow coaches and validate my hypothesis and experiments by hearing their feedback and thoughts. Agile coaches are expected to coach teams on the mindset and happiness quotient. I think it would be a great idea to extend the responsibility matrix of Agile coaches to  include slumpbusting. The approach could be further refined to include measurement of the effort spent and results achieved.

Call for Papers CLOSED
Ended on Jan 25 '20 05:29 AM IST

Interested in attending the Agile Coach Camp on Oct 11th in Bengaluru? Read on...

It's been 12 Years and almost 110 viral Agile Coach Camps since our very first coach camp experiment. This year, Coach Camp co-creator Naresh Jain along with Jutta Eckstein and John Buck will lead participants in this Coach Camp in Bangalore, organized as part of the Agile India 2020 Conference.

Coach Camp Theme

As a coach, you're often the one who needs to drive and sustain change. Yet, how do you do this? What has helped and hindered you doing so and how can you best pass your experience on to other coaches or how can you best learn from other coaches?

This is the theme for this year's coach camp. To tackle this challenge, we invite you to try something new:

  • Currently, we face the following situation: Constantly driving change is getting more and more important for companies to survive in this VUCA world. At the same time, it is (or should be) the core skill of every coach – no matter if you coach individuals, teams, or organisations. However, sometimes it seems every coach has to come up with her own experience on how to drive change successfully.
  • Our hypothesis is that for driving change, every coach uses so-called probes, that are defined by small, safe-to-fail experiments based on hypotheses derived from reflection on the current situation as well as on theory. So, probing allows discovering (based on the hypothesis) what's working and what is not through one or several experiments. This allows to make sense of both the current situation but even more important of the situation we are aiming for. And if we create a knowledge base of our collective wisdom on probes we used (or intend to use) we can learn from each other.
  • Therefore, as an experiment we want to invite this year's coach camp participants to jointly discover, share, create, improve, and finally publish probes that help(ed) driving and sustaining change. As in a typical coach camp, we will use the Open Space format to explore different topics for driving change and we invite you to use probes to focus the discussions on these different topics. We anticipate as a result that the discovered and created probes will provide a foundation for such a knowledge base.

Registering for the Coach Camp

The coach camp is free of charge (financially) yet, for registration we ask you for the following:

  • Please click on the Add Paper button and submit your position paper. In your position paper, you will be asked to share an idea for a probe, consisting of a background situation (context), a hypothesis, and an experiment. This can be a probe you've implemented before, one you've discovered/heard of others implementing it, or you intend to implement. The probe should focus on the coach camp's theme: Driving Change.
  • The discussed probes provide a basis for a free and publicly accessible knowledge base.

Final Note

Please note, we want to invite you to use probes for the discussion and recording of the Open Space sessions. This is by no means an enforcement. We are well aware that there might be situations where probes are not the right means for discussing or/and recording a particular topic - and that is of course fine. After all, using probes for this coach camp is a probe in itself (and we are open to possibly invalidate our hypothesis.)