Agile Coaching, Mentoring, Facilitating and Training - What is the Difference?

July 11, 2020
9 minute read

Basic Definitions of Coaching, Mentoring, Facilitating and Training

Coaching, mentoring, facilitating and training are common ways of working to help people become more effective.

  1. Coaching: Working with individuals to support them to use their own personal resources (knowledge, character, wisdom) to achieve their own goals. Generally coaching does not require subject matter expertise although certain types of coach do mentoring as well.
  2. Facilitation: Working with groups to support them to use their own collective resources to achieve their collective goals. Generally facilitation does not require subject matter expertise.
  3. Mentoring: Working with individuals to support them with the mentor’s personal resources to achieve their own goals. Generally mentoring _does_ require subject matter expertise and includes a transfer of knowledge and/or skill.
  4. Training: Working with groups to support them with the teacher’s personal resource to achieve their collective (or individual) goals. Generally training _does_ require subject matter expertise and includes a transfer of knowledge and/or skill.

Each of these activities has no universally agreed standard body of knowledge (any more than Scrum does e.g. Scrum Guide vs. ScrumBOK) partly because of the over-use of the words (e.g. athletic coaching vs. life coaching vs. Agile coaching). However, I would point out that the body of knowledge for each of them is extensive. Each of them is an independent discipline with important history, theory, practice and meta-theory (sometimes called criticism)*. It is rare for someone to be effective in one of these disciplines with _only_ practice and no awareness of history, theory or meta-theory.

The Similarities between Coaching, Mentoring, Facilitating and Training

Let’s call a person doing Agile coaching, facilitation, mentoring or training a “professional servant” rather than repeating the whole list…

A professional servant does the following:

  • Creates an environment (or a meta-environment) to allow others to make progress (e.g. psychological safety).
    A professional servant creates a good environment using numerous techniques.  Start with managing our own internal state.  How we present ourselves, or the “stance” we take is fundamental to these activities.  We must exude from our own internal state the environment we wish to create.  If we are anxious and critical, others will be more likely to also feel that way.  If we are calm and non-judgemental, then, likewise, others will be more likely to also behave that way.  Meditation, therapy, prayer, or certain physical activities are all potential places to start if you struggle with your own inner calm.
  • creates a working agreement where (hopefully) the people they are working with have freedom of choice in the agreement including the ability to exit the agreement
  • maintains a certain level of confidentiality, particularly around intermediate “results”
  • accepts the role as being a service
  • avoids certain types of judgement, particularly beyond the context of the working agreements, and particularly about the “worth” of the people they are working with
  • is “professional” enough to refuse work under circumstances which would undermine the effectiveness/integrity of the relationship.

The most fundamental similarity is the belief in the agency of individual humans to improve themselves.  Psychology, cognitive science, and sociology underlie all these types of work.

There is some overlap in, for example, techniques and theory. Professional servants use powerful questions in all four types of relationships. An understanding of cognitive biases and logical fallacies makes a huge difference for all four types of relationships.

The Differences between Coaching, Mentoring, Facilitating and Training

There are too many differences to list comprehensively, but certainly the definitions above highlight some important situational differences. Examples of some additional differences:

  • Montessori and Paulo Friere are historically important for trainers, but not particularly relevant to the other relationships
  • conflict resolution techniques are particularly important for facilitators, but not as relevant to the other relationships
  • theories such as Kegan’s on the stages of adult development are important for coaches, but not as relevant to the other relationships
  • performance measurement is important for mentors, but not as relevant to the other relationships.

There are some qualitative and common differences between these that may not be inherent to the formal definitions, but are seen in real application of these types of work.

Most coaches, facilitators and trainers establish formal working relationships with clear agreements and constraints.  For example, a trainer might set basic classroom expectations.  A facilitator may set a meeting agenda.  A coach creates a formal coaching agreement with each individual being coached. On the other hand, mentorship relationships are often informal and evolve from another relationship between two people (e.g. long-time friends, professional associates, manager and employee).

* I learned about the four aspects of a discipline (history, theory, practice, criticism) many years ago from my father, Garry Berteig.  I’m not sure of the original source.  Consider movie-making: there is a history and a practice that most people are easily aware of.  Less common, people are aware of the theory behind movie story-structure (for example), and how formal movie criticism is done.

Original Article – Mentoring, Coaching and Training – What is the Difference (Jun. 2009)

Over the years working with clients, I’ve discovered that there is often confusion about what are the differences between mentoring, coaching and training.  We all know that these are ways for an expert or experienced individual to help people do something more effectively.  That’s the similarity.  But the differences…


Mentoring is generally an informal relationship between two people.  A mentor will do many of the same things as a coach or even someone who is a trainer, but there is no formal obligation on the part of either party.  A mentoring relationship often develops gradually from a friendship or a professional association, intensifies as the mentor discovers he has valuable insight and experience to share, and as the person being mentored discovers his desire to learn from the mentor.  The two people will at some point recognize the special nature of their relationship, but may not name it.  And as life circumstances change, the relationship will gradually de-intensify.  It will often turn into a friendship of peers.


In working on this article, I read a number of other articles about the differences between coaching and mentoring.  All of them talk about how a coach does not provide solutions or answers.  I beg to differ.  Think of an athletic coach.  An athletic coach definitely does not simply ask the athlete questions and help them bring out their own solutions to problems.  An athletic coach helps point out problems, makes very definite suggestions, and sometimes even intervenes physically to help the athlete do the right thing.  So what is coaching and Agile coaching?  The main difference is in terms of formality.

A coach is a coach from the start of the relationship with the person being coached.  The person being coached has a specific goal to achieve.  It can be long term or short term, but it is specific.  The coach is there to help that person meet their goal.  Once the goal is met, the relationship is re-evaluated.

Here are some of the ways that coaching can happen (actually, mentors do these things too):

  • The Socratic Coach – asks lots of probing questions.
  • The Hands-On Coach – shows people a way to solve a problem, but leaves it to the individual to mimic or do something different.
  • The Intervention Coach – mostly observes and at key moments intervenes to help an individual choose a specific path of action.
  • The Guiding Coach – provides constant (usually gentle) reminders to help an individual keep withing a specific path of action (guide rails).


Classroom training is the type of training we most often think of, but it is not the only kind.  There is also on-the-job training and of course all sorts of e-learning methods of training.  Training is very formal, should have well-defined learning objectives, and is often relatively brief as compared to coaching or mentoring.

Training can also include many of the types of interaction that are found in a coaching environment, but there is a very strong focus on the trainer being a subject matter expert.  The trainer has extensive experience or knowledge in the subject that is being delivered in the training.  It is expected that the participants in the training learn from the trainer – there is knowledge transfer.  How this happens can be very flexible, of course, and good training is never just a speaker standing at the front of the room and lecturing for the whole time.  Discussion, simulations, case studies, and other forms of interaction are critical for an effective training experience.


Some other links that discuss Agile coaching:

Workplace Coaching and Mentoring – Some Key Differences to Maximize Personal Development

Agile Coaching is Not Mentoring, Training or Counselling

What are the Similarities and Differences Between Coaching and Other Things?

Are You Coaching Mentoring or Training Your New Employees?  Distinctions New Managers Need to Know.


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