Curated by: Sergio A. Martínez

It’s no secret that bringing out the best in everyone on a software development team is essential for success. The cumulative experience of each developer is what leads to true innovation, but for these solutions to be realized, everyone must feel comfortable expressing themselves and building up on the ideas of others. Furthermore, encouraging collaboration and creative thinking help foster a proactive environment where people don’t just follow instructions but strive to come up with better and more efficient alternatives, and if done right, brings out the best in every team member, which will ultimately result in an excellent end product that surpasses expectations.

“Asking the right questions in order to think the right answers”, a peek into the culture of coaching we have at Scio.

However, teamwork in software development is no easy task. Making sure that every person’s talents and skill sets are being fully applied is extremely important for the success of any project, and creating a workplace that encourages cooperation, respect, and trust between all members of the team is key. After all, the outcome of any software development team largely depends on each individual’s commitment, so it’s important for managers, mentors, and colleagues alike to foster an environment of support and to learn to give every individual the space needed to thrive in their role. 

The importance of coaching in this context cannot be overstated. Software development is all about providing learning and guidance to help developers build amazing stuff. Therefore having good coaches who not only take the time to develop strong relationships with those they are working with but who also understand their skills and objectives and offer support that can help them improve, can truly make a difference. This is why coaching has become increasingly prevalent over the last decade in software development: companies are realizing the advantages of investing in their staff to help them reach their goals and develop their skills. 

This is not only a matter of opinion; studies have shown that coaching can immensely benefit both managers and employees alike by helping them become more effective communicators, stay organized, and explore new ideas. With proper coaching support, teams are better equipped to discover how to solve problems quickly and efficiently, which leads to happier clients and an overall improved workplace experience. It’s easy to understand why so many companies are putting such emphasis on coaching as part of their development strategy.

To go deeper into this subject, we spoke with Yamila Solari, Coaching Leader and Co-Founder of Scio to talk about the philosophy and approach to coaching in a software development environment. What effects it can have on a team, and why Scio puts so much emphasis on coaching, communication, and collaboration when seeking to reach a positive outcome. 

Coaching as a building block of success

“Asking the right questions in order to think the right answers”, a peek into the culture of coaching we have at Scio.

Building a corporate culture that understands the value of coaching can be vitally important for any software development organization, as it keeps teams energized and focused on the project at hand. To accomplish this, creating an atmosphere of open dialogue without judgment can help foster collaboration within the organization. With these basic premises in place, any leader should be able to build a strong relationship between team members that translates into successful projects and an overall better corporate environment. However, this is always easier said than done, so how does an organization like Scio implement coaching as part of the building blocks of its culture? 

Coaching is not simply about ‘pouring’ knowledge and hoping everyone absorbs it. It’s about asking the right questions to encourage thinking of the right answers”, she says. “For example, if you observe how Carlos Estrada [Lead Application Developer that started in Scio 10 years ago in our training program] interacts with junior developers when they ask them technical questions, you will see that he does not give them a straight answer right away. Instead, he asks about their thinking processes, about the solutions they had already tried, and the options they see to do things differently to get better results, and on. This is the basis of our coaching philosophy today; we don’t want to be just managers or directors who decide every single thing that happens during development, but people who encourage you to grow and learn on your own.

After all, one of the most important things you can do as a manager of a software development team is to focus on team members’ growth and progress instead of pure micromanaging, allowing a degree of freedom over how they choose to approach each task. This promotes a sense of growth and autonomy that ensures everyone is on board when working towards creating a successful output. Building a successful culture in a software development company requires open communication and feedback from all levels of the organization. 

Most Seniors at Scio have taken these courses (Effective Communication, Coaching Skills, and other Leadership courses) and participated in our Sensei-Creati program, and as a result, the way they build relationships and help others, has changed. Now, when someone goes to them for help, they have lots of new ways to approach problems and encourage others to learn. And in the follow-up sessions with the Sensei at Scio, we talk a lot about how powerful it is to accompany someone on their growth and see how they achieve their own success. Of course, with very Junior developers, it’s a good idea to give them all the knowledge you can, but the idea is to help them apply it the best way possible.” 

In other words, Mid-level and Senior members of a development team have the unique opportunity to help their more Junior colleagues to build their own paths because sharing knowledge and experience benefits everyone involved: Junior developers can quickly increase their skill set, while senior developers can help foster an environment capable of turning out future experts. Moreover, team collaboration ensures any hurdle is spotted early on, thus improving overall efficiency and code quality in the long run. On paper, it’s a win-win for everybody, but these kinds of dynamics cannot happen by themselves; a key element must be present in everyone involved for coaching and knowledge sharing to be as effective as it is at Scio.

Growth Mindset

None of these efforts would stick if the people at Scio didn’t embrace the possibility of continuous improvement at every opportunity. After all, we have talked on this blog before about how growth mindsets are a core aspect of the culture that we have built over the years, and how important it is to ensure that every project we collaborate with has the necessary components to ensure success. 

Of course, coaching plays a vital role in this mindset, providing team members with an opportunity to communicate their ideas and goals productively, and giving them the necessary tools to act on them. This process encourages each individual to examine their personal strengths and weaknesses and develop effective strategies to reach their goals, so for team members who excel in certain areas, coaching can give them the guidance they need to elevate those skills and make significant contributions to the development process. Conversely, for those with less experience or knowledge, coaching offers the means to improve technical capabilities or collaboration skills. A successful coaching program will ultimately provide a development team with perspective on how its various parts work together as a whole, allowing for improved collaboration and stronger results.

We all have two mentalities: a ‘fixed’ and a ‘growth’ one, and we bounce between them all the time. However, certain people are more attuned to one over the other, and Scio looks for individuals more inclined to grow. These people know that we are all born with certain talents and skills, but that’s not the end of it; they believe that with enough effort, practice, and hard work, they can develop any ability necessary”, she says. “And this is a constant process. In certain circumstances, it’s easy to get stuck in a fixed mindset, thinking ‘I’m not as smart as they think I am. I’m going to screw this up’, or things like that. So our Apprenticeship and Sensei-Creati programs try to teach the people here to recognize these situations and understand that there’s always room for improvement. We are a work in progress.

In all, software development involves feeling comfortable with a never-ending learning curve. With ever-changing trends in technology, software developers must continuously invest in their skills, pushing themselves to learn more and stay ahead of the curve. However, it’s also important for developers to not only understand coding techniques but also have knowledge of collaboration and communication approaches so that they can develop efficient and beneficial dynamics that efficiently serve a project’s needs. Software development is for organized individuals who take initiative and responsibility for their own learning while understanding the value of relying on others as part of a team.

A few years back, when we were starting with the idea of coaching, our technical people gave more importance to technical skills, of course, but I think that, as a result of a more globalized perspective and realizing how things really work, they realized we had to put more effort into learning and teaching what are called soft skills”, she said. “These types of skills are for everyone, and the Scio Leadership Program was created to develop these skills in our people. These soft skills are a frequent topic when I have check-ins with the teams, because of the importance of communication and language when collaboration is at the heart of everything we do.

The reality is that soft skills are a type of ability that is often overlooked but never understated – Nearshore development teams need just as many soft skills to work together effectively as they do technical abilities. Communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, leadership, and collaboration, all of which take these teams beyond the simple act of coding, can make or break a project, allowing them to work together and stay ahead of any challenge. 

So, as Nearshore development continues to grow in popularity, honing these soft skills is essential for a well-oiled team that produces quality results. And taking into consideration how vital are these intangible traits for the successful completion of projects, it makes it clear that any Nearshore development team should prioritize having members who possess soft skills.

Language is everything

“Asking the right questions in order to think the right answers”, a peek into the culture of coaching we have at Scio.

So, at this point, it is pretty clear that the development of successful software requires more than just coding and design – it requires the element of human connection that only open communication can offer in a Nearshore development organization like Scio. And using the right language is a big part of that; when everyone understands not only the specifications of coding and design but how to communicate issues, feedback, and read each other to make sure nothing is misunderstood, the process flows smoothly and efficiently, leading to a better outcome. 

However, beyond the rules of language, you might expect, like no snark, condescension, or put-downs, using the appropriate words in the proper situation can ensure interest in the growth process, and builds on collective knowledge to help solve any problems that arise. Good communication starts with clear and carefully chosen language, and everyone in a good team takes the time to consider how their words are received when it needs to be used in the workplace.

When it comes to helping people to grow, language is incredibly important. In the beginning, it was very difficult for me because I didn’t pay as much attention to what I was saying, but now we all understand what a difference it makes to choose the correct words”, she says. “When it comes to coaching, feedback, and encouragement, language is even more important; for example, if kids solve a math problem creatively, it’s easy for an adult to use that as a qualifier, ‘Oh, how creative you are for math!”, which shapes how they regard themselves and points them toward a fixed mindset where they may think they are creative but only for that specific area of life.  But if you say, “Oh, your thinking process while solving that math problem was very creative, I can see you worked hard!’, then the emphasis is in the process, not in the ability. Iit ceases to be something they *are*, and starts becoming something they can *work on and develop*. This is a really basic example, but assertive communication that emphasizes this belief on the capacity we all have to grow is one of the foundations of coaching.

Taking this to a software development context, the proper use of language is paramount in providing effective and appreciated feedback. Taking the time to deeply consider how best to phrase criticism or provide praise can make all the difference in successfully encouraging progress. And that same attention needs to be applied when receiving feedback as well; paying close attention and absorbing criticism constructively to come away with meaningful dialogue and better learn from mistakes is how we improve our skills. In consequence, employing strategic and appropriate language can go a long way towards productive collaboration, and making clear how each member has their responsibility in the project, holding themselves accountable for making sure tasks are being completed as expected and deadlines are being met, plays an important role by helping to identify areas that need improvement. This ensures that problems are addressed properly so they can be prevented from reoccurring in future projects; if feedback and responsibility are two pieces of the puzzle that remain elusive, it could spell disaster for a software development project.

A more horizontal hierarchy also helps. I’d argue that the principles of SCRUM and the Agile methodologies don’t work as well in organizations with a high hierarchy. One of the core tenets of the Agile Manifesto is ‘Individuals and interactions over processes and tools’; communication and interpersonal relationships are vital for Agile work, and without them, a project can easily fail. That’s why we remark so much on its importance to everyone who joins Scio, and we try and encourage everyone to not only have a voice but also allow voices during the development process. It’s psychological safety, which results in high-performing teams that are not afraid to speak up and correct course if something is not working. That’s a level of maturity that we appreciate at Scio.

Final words

Good software development relies on the hard work and dedication of a well-organized team. And the most successful projects come from teams that have received both instruction and coaching to develop their skills, both hard and soft, enabling them to arrive at unique software solutions. This makes it essential for team members to keep growing and learning, ensuring progress and a result that reflects everyone’s talents and expertise. Without proper mentorship in place to guide growth, knowledge won’t be passed over correctly, which is a net loss for any serious software company. It’s through the combination of teaching with encouragement that you create a well-educated environment where collaboration is top-notch, producing amazing results every time.

In this sense, having skilled software developers with a deep understanding of the industry is key, but even more important is having experienced coaches who can teach those developers how to achieve their potential. Coaches don’t just provide technical guidance; they also encourage collaboration among team members and foster an environment of continuous learning and growth. A good coach provides a structure that helps guide software-development projects in the right direction while also allowing team members to take risks and explore new ideas. In short, if you want a software development process to be successful, you need coaches who can help nurture an atmosphere of creativity and continual improvement. A positive outcome for everyone, not only the end product or the client, can be guaranteed with this approach.