That’s NOT Agile Coaching

I was recently reading an article on “Maintaining a sustainable agile transformation” that listed what it referred to as the “biggest  challenges organizations face during an agile transformation”.

One of these challenges that I found interesting was described as “Coaching becoming and end in itself”.  While I agree with the intent of the challenge, it identifies a continuing misconception of what is coaching.  In my opinion what was being described as coaching sounded more like the work of a consultant and or methodologist.

In my experience during the course of a lean-agile transformation teams often need training on lean and agile values, principles and practices and if they see the value in them, then they can benefit from coaching.  Once they ask the question how can we get to an envisioned lean-agile target state? (one of many to be set), the environment is fertile for coaching.

Coaching is not training and not consulting.   In my experience a context in which coaching can occur effectively requires these key characteristics.

1. There is someone who wants help addressing a change they would like to make (includes teams).

2. The person or persons involved in the context of the change are actually open to learning and change (they have a “Growth Mindset“)

Then there is the person doing the coaching

  • Do they believe that those they are coaching can solve the challenge they are being coached on?
  • Are they good at asking relevant, probing open questions?  A coach helps those being coached to reframe their perceived challenge so that they may ask better questions to bring better understanding and the ability to identify a possible solution that can be tested.  (Sound like the Improvement Kata?  it is 🙂 )
  • Is the person claiming to be a coach an outstanding listener. Coaching is 10% speaking and 90% listening

If the person you’re considering for coaching in your organization doesn’t demonstrate the characteristics I’ve mentioned above, you might want to look elsewhere or for an alternative role for them.  This doesn’t mean that someone who is capable of being a coach can’t also have consulting and training skills, but they do need to know the difference and when it is appropriate to apply each.

Telling someone how to solve their challenges is the realm of consulting, teaching or bad management and not that useful if you’re trying to build a learning organization.

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About Mike DePaoli

Mike DePaoli has been contributing to the IT community for over two decades and practicing agile and lean approaches to software development since 1996 in roles from programmer to CTO. His evolved approach to crafting successful lean-agile software development organizations was forged by the meaningful challenges he undertook at prior employers and as an Agile Coach at companies such as eBay, Adobe Systems, AOL, NetApp, Disney, Boeing, EMC, and Trizetto. Mike’s area of expertise is helping organizations craft strategic change initiatives that educate on and establish agile and lean values, principles and practices at every tier of the organization. Mike applies systematic thinking with a multi-discipline approach to his work. Mike is a Certified SAFe Agilist, Certified Scrum Professional, Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO). He is a highly-regarded speaker in the Agile community having spoken at Agile conferences in North America, South America and Europe. He is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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