In a previous article we discussed what the logical levels are. In this article, we’re going to show how we can assist someone at each level. If you haven’t read that article first then we suggest you do that now.

Neurological levels with roles

There are a variety of roles that we might hold as we assist someone. The role we hold will be dependent on where the client is in that moment.

What we generally call “Agile coaching” is really focused on the bottom three, and sometimes the fourth, and so the roles we’re most concerned about are caretaker, guide, coach, teacher, and sometimes the mentor. A professional coach will help with all of those and may also focus on sponsor and awakener.

See also: this video of Robert Dilts explaining the roles in the context of therapy.

Let’s look at how the bottom levels map to the things we do as an agile coach.

Environment (Caretaker / Guide)

At the level of environment, there are two roles that we can hold.

  1. The caretaker focuses on the environment itself and provides provides a safe and supporting environment. They ensure that what is needed, is available.
  2. The guide focuses on the person and directs them along the path from present status to the future desired state.

Preparing for an event or activity is an act of caretaking. We are creating environment that will support change or learning. We’re creating the space within which things will happen and are preparing all the things that the participants might need. If this is an in person event, then the caretaker might ensure there is a room booked and markers and stickies available.

The layout of the space will prime people’s behaviours in that space.

“If someone enters a room that is set up with a blackboard at the front of the room, and chairs arranged facing the front of the room in ‘theatre style’, he or she is likely to interpret it as a context for a presentation, and be prepared to sit passively and listen. If that person enters a room win which a small group of chairs is arranged facing teach out in a ‘round table’ format, he or she will most likely interpret it as a context for discussion and be ready to be more proactive and participative”
– From Coach To Awakener1

Actively facilitating that event or activity is the job of the guide. The guide is providing structure without injecting their own opinions or bias. If the guide is facilitating story mapping exercises, for example, they will establish the rules for story mapping and hold the attendees to those, but will remain impartial with regards to the actual content being created. The guide is facilitating, not participating.

A common thing that the guide will do is facilitating mapping sessions where the participants create a representation of some territory or domain. In the agile space, we commonly see this with story or feature mapping, value stream mapping, workflow definition, and even retrospectives. Any exercises where we attempt to visualize the problem space and the relationships between items so that we can then work with them.

If you haven’t seen Tom Wujec’s TED talk on How to Make Toast then go check that out now. This is an excellent discussion of mapping and the value we can get from that.

Behaviours (Coach)

At the level of behaviours, we assist in the role of coach. We help someone achieve a specific behaviour by drawing out and strengthening abilities through observation and feedback.

We might do goal setting or establishing desired outcomes. “In what ways do you want to get better?”

We’re helping the client identify how they want to improve so that we can help them get there.

We certainly observe and provide feedback, so that the person we’re coaching can improve. “I noticed that this happened during the standup.”

We also provide suggestions for new behaviours that might give better results.

Skills & Capabilities (Teacher)

At the level of skills & capabilities, we assist as a teacher. Here we are helping people develop cognitive skills and capabilities. We help them develop new strategies and focus on new learnings rather than refinements of past ones.

At this level, we’re working with the skills and capabilities that form our basic competence, one of the key three psychological needs as defined by Self-Determination Theory (the others being autonomy and relatedness).

At this level, we are the teacher, giving the student new concrete skills that will improve their competence. We might be running a formal class or just giving one-on-one training.

These skills also include “softer” skills such as state management, so that they can control themselves better in difficult situations.

Values & Beliefs (Mentor)

In values & beliefs, we use the role of mentor. The mentor guides people to discover unconscious competencies and overcome internal resistance1.

At this level, we might be a role model. “Let me show you how I do it, so that you can try it next time.”

Prioritization techniques fall into this level. How do we effectively prioritize our own time as well as the myriad of things we have to do.

We might help with reframing. Helping our mentee see the problem from a different angle.

Identity (Sponsor) & Purpose (Awakener)

These are normally outside the realm of an agile coach, although if you’re also a professional coach then you may touch on these.

With identity, we act as a sponsor. The sponsor seeks and safeguards potential within others, focusing on the development of identity and core values.1

Lastly, at the level of purpose, we use the role of awakener. The awakener focuses on vision, mission and spirit.1


In order to help others, we must understand their context and take on the role that is most appropriate for helping them in that moment. The logical levels model helps identify where they are now and what helping role is most appropriate in this situation.

  1. Coach to Awakener is an excellent book that goes into far more depth on all of this then I could possibly do. Buy this one.  2 3 4