Experiment with different team coaching styles

Helping Heuristics is a tool for team members to gain insights into feedback and collaboration practices.

Heuristics are shortcuts that help us identify what’s important. They allow us to develop deeper insights into our mental patterns and make decisions quickly.

By experiencing a series of short interactions, participants reveal rules of thumb for productive coaching and helping team members.

This exercise was developed by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless (Liberating Structures).

What Is ‘Helping Heuristics’

Invite participants to experiment with different coaching styles.

Ask them to act, react, or observe four different patterns of interaction. And to reflect on how they usually provide help–as well as how they’d like others to help them.

Participants will play three different roles: client, coach, and observer. After going through the four coaching styles, the team will reflect on what they observed and what worked best for each participant.

Practice Different Coaching Styles

  • Form groups of three.
  • Participants will seat on a chair facing each other–no table needed.
  • Each person will play a role: Observer, Coach, and Client.
  • The client will share a problem and ask for help. The coach will experiment with four different helping styles–one-at-a-time. The observer will not engage but actively capture the dynamic to provide feedback at the end of the exercise.
  • Alternatively, people can rotate roles for each round.

Round 1 –“Quiet Presence”

The client shares a problem and the type of help s/he needs (1-2 minutes).

The coach will focus on active listening by offering a ‘quiet presence.’ (2 minutes)

The coach will not interrupt other than asking questions like “What else?” or “What happened next?

Round 2 — “Guided Discovery”

The client shares a problem and the type of help s/he needs (1-2 minutes).

The coach will use a ‘guided discovery’ approach by encouraging the client to share a story that could help better understand the challenge s/he is facing. (2 minutes)

Use open questions to help the client connect to personal experiences. Use the following as guidance:

“Please tell a story about a time when you worked on a similar challenge and were able to overcome it.”

“What is the story, and what made success possible?”

“Please tell a story about someone you know facing a similar challenge. How did they fail to overcome it? What worked and why?

Round 3 –“Loving Provocation”

The client shares a problem and the type of help s/he needs (1-2 minutes).

The coach will use a ‘Loving Provocation’ to provide constructive feedback and help the client solve the challenge (2 minutes).

The coach interjects advice, accepting and blocking as needed when s/he sees something that the client is missing. The coach can use questions to provoke reflection as well.

Round 4 — “Process Mindfulness”

  • The coaching-style for the fourth round is “Process Mindfulness:” the client and coach engage in a dialogue. They both accept all offers from each other.


  • Review each coaching style. Start by addressing the difficulty of active listening (quiet presence); it’s usually the hardest one.
  • Ask coaches to reflect on their own journey? How did they adapt to each round? How did the interaction change on each coaching style? Which helped the client the most? Why? Which one was the hardest for the coach? Why?
  • Invite clients to reflect on their experience. What worked? What didn’t work? Which styled helped them better understand their challenge? Which helped them identify better possibilities or solutions?
  • Ask the observer to provide feedback to both the client and the coach. What worked? What didn’t work? How easy (or not) was for the coach to stick to each coaching style?
  • Reflect on the observer role. How can the team benefit by having an ‘observer’ in upcoming meetings?
  • Lastly, reflect on the progression. In the future, does applying the different coaching styles help? Or shall they choose one in particular?

Facilitation Tips

Encourage people to change roles in each round.

Do not ignore status differences, the setting, body language, or other signals.

Encourage the team to identify which coaching style might work best? Some people might prefer one to another. Inquiry about which situations could benefit from each coaching style.

This exercise is a variation of Triad Feedback.


This method is one of the several Liberating Structures developed by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless. Inspired by professor Edgar Schein.

Additional Reading

What Are Liberating Structures? How Can They Facilitate Change?