What Is Agile Coaching?

First, let me clarify what agile coaching is for me.

I care for agility and not capital “A” agile. Meaning, I focus on how the client can move quickly and easily. How can the client morph and optimize for (whatever they want to optimize for)? How can I help the client know what they should or need to optimize for?

For example, most organizations are structured to be optimized for stability, compliance, and economy of scale by being morphed into a functional organization (HR, Finance, IT, etc…). Whereas, nowadays they want to be optimized for learning (from the market), knowledge sharing (internally) and upskilling. This new focus forces organizations and leaders to think and experiment with different organizational structures.

Coaching Means Mirroring

Secondly, coaching for me means acting like a GPS for my client. For example; when you open Google Maps on your mobile phone what would it do?

GPS first shows where you are. GPS shows where you are with respect to the surrounding landscape. Then the GPS allows you to enter the destination. GPS does not decide where you should go. It allows you to choose where you want to go. Once the destination is entered, it shows possible ways to reach there using different means of transport. GPS does not decide the mean of transport or assume that you want to choose the fastest route.

It allows you to choose what you are ready for. There is no bias in one way or the other. There is a default recommendation though, called “best route”; however, the client chooses the route and the means. Lastly, GPS keeps showing if the client is on track or not. If not, GPS adapts the route to the destination. Throughout the journey, the outcome, duration, the route was chosen and turns taken are all owned by you. Not GPS; however, GPS keeps reflecting your decisions back to you.

Replace the word “GPS” in the above para with the “coach”. That’s what a coach does. Well, at least that’s what I believe a coach should do. Let’s read it again with the word “coach”.

Coach first shows where you are. Coach shows where you are with respect to the surrounding landscape (the context). Then the Coach allows you to enter the destination (outcomes you want to achieve). The coach does not decide where you should go. It allows you to choose where you want to go. Once the destination is entered, it shows possible ways to reach there using different means of transport (frameworks, models, changes, techniques).

Coach does not decide the mean of transport or assume that you want to choose the fastest route. It allows you to choose what you are ready for. There is no bias in one way or the other. There is a default recommendation though, called “best route”; however, the client chooses the route and the means. Lastly, Coach keeps showing if the client is on track or not. If not, Coach adapts the route to the destination. Throughout the journey, the outcome, duration, the route was chosen and turns taken are all owned by you. Not the coach; however, the coach keeps reflecting on your decisions back to you.

Consciousness

Lastly, let’s look at consciousness. Consciousness is being aware of and responsive to one’s surroundings. Coaches are responsible for bringing in more consciousness and awareness of what’s going on within the person’s heart, mind, body, and soul. Help her realize, reflect and respond to what she might find.

I have seen that this simple (yet hard) skill of creating a safe space, holding it for individuals to express and explore has had a tremendous impact not only on self but on everything around the person (including me). In agile coaching, I believe, it is the fundamental responsibility of a coach to be aware of himself/herself first. Only then can you serve your client well enough.

Conscious Agile Coaching

How does all of this translate into reality?

Following is the mental template, I follow when trying to coach my client in an agile context:

Help the Client Form a Guiding Coalition

Who is looking at the GPS? Who is this transformation for? Who is asking for it? Who all will impact? Who all are needed to make it successful?

Help the Client Understand Where They Are

Where do they think they are? Which dimensions matter? Which dimensions do they care for? Which dimensions market, customers, leaders, and employees care for? What do they see around them from where they are? What are you currently optimized for? How does the workflow through the organization? Where are the current bottlenecks? What are the real issues “now”? What’s are the root causes of those issues?

Help the Client Figure out Where They Want to Go

What do they dream of? Where would they like to see themselves? Where does the market, customers, leaders, and employees want you to be? Whats does a win-win-win situation look like? What do you want to optimize for? How would you know if you are successful or not? How would you measure, smell, know if you are on track? How would you like the work to flow? How would it look if the identified root causes are not just solved but dissolved forever?

Help the Client See Different Pathways to Reach the Destination

What are the immediate “+1” actions that you can take? What are those hypotheses that you want to validate internally and externally? In what order do you want to validate your hypotheses? What experiments are willing to run? What levers would you apply and in which order? How would you sustain the new shape you would morph into? What are the intermediate shapes and structures you would have to morph into before you reach the final one (more like turns and tolls you would pay along the road when looking at a GPS)?

Help the Client Make an Informed Choice of Which Path They Want to Explore

What do you say “No” to if you say “Yes” to this transformation journey? How would you communicate “WHY” we are changing? What options will you provide to someone who is not ready yet? What support will you provide to someone who is ready? What support is needed from all stakeholders? Are they ready? What do they need to be ready and feel safe to embark on the journey?

Help the Client Navigate the Path Without Getting Attached to the Path nor to the Destination

What’s your governance plan? Which hypothesis do you want to validate first? What if the hypothesis pass? What if the hypothesis fails? What if your experiments fail? How would you capture learnings? What would you measure? What do you really care about? What do want really want to optimize for? What did you say you wanted to optimize for?

Help the Client to See the Human First

This journey is all about “transforming”. Transforming means “making a marked change in form, nature or appearance”. Marked change requires marked effort. How is the journey for you as a person? How far are you been pushed out of your comfort zone? How far are others getting pushed out of their comfort zone? How would you share your personal feelings with others? What do you need to feel safe and fully supported? What would others need to feel safe and fully supported? How would you like to recognize your courage and efforts? How would you recognize their courage and effort?

Pro Tips for Agile Coaches

  1. Don’t care about capital-A agile. Care about the human and the purpose of the transformation.
  2. Don’t go with an intention to implement or conforming to a framework, Scrum, Kanban, SAFe, LeSS or whatever.
  3. Don’t focus on roles and team structure. Focus on how work is getting done and how it flows. Don’t ask “who is your PO?” Ask “who all do you need to interact with? How do you interact with business?”
  4. Don’t go with the intention to solve anything nor spot any specific problems. Just dance at the moment with the client. Just help them reflect on where they are where they intend to go. Without any of your personal bias.
  5. Don’t own the transformation as a coach. Help the client own it.
  6. Don’t fill in space and time. Don’t talk too much. Step back. Be comfortable with silence. Create a vacuum. The client will fill in the vacuum.
  7. Someone told me that the best way to empower is to ask an open-ended question. Help leaders learn the art of asking powerful open-ended questions. Help them talk less and be comfortable with silence. Help them be vulnerable and not go the team with solutions.
  8. Reflect on your journey at least every month to see what has changed, what has not changed and captured your learning.

Be a coach first, agile next. Be conscious of yourself first and only then can you help bring more consciousness to others.

What are your views? What mental models do you follow when coaching in an agile context? Is there anything you like in my article? Is there anything you disagree with? Do you have any advice for me? Is there anything I need to change in my approach? I would love to hear from you and learn.

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