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Why is coaching important?  Coaching is important because it can lead it to smoothly functioning organizations; higher productivity and profits. Coaching is a core Agile technique, however the impact of the different coaching techniques has not been thoroughly understood. As a result, practices were driven based on individual style. That is until now.  Recently two Case Western Reserve Scientists, Professors Richard Boyatsis and Antony Jack teamed up to determine how individuals react to different types of coaching.

The study found that people respond better to a coach they find inspiring and who shows compassion for them rather than those they perceived as ordering and judging them.  In the study, students were exposed to both types of coaching then MRIs were used to determine which areas of the brain were active.  Coaching featuring inspiration and compassion led to areas of the brain firing linked to cognition, positive emotions and perception.  All are facets required for effective learning.  The opposite being true in the more negative coaching experiences, the parts of the brain linked to defensive behavior became active.  Being defensive hampers learning.    I highly recommend the YouTube video titled ‘Coaching with Compassion Can ‘Light Up’ Human Thoughts’ at http://bit.ly/dQxRF0

The role of an Agile coach is varied with the primary emphasis being on people skills.  Coaching skills include the ability to promote collaboration and communication, the ability guide without controlling and the ability to help people without being condescending.  This is not a role that features self aggrandizement.  Coaches need to be honest, ethical  and have the ability to detach themselves from the daily fire fight and see the big picture (remember the old joke, it hard to remember that your goal was to drain the swamp when you are up to your butt in alligators).  Coaching is delivering service to the team without stepping out front and taking the lead. Many suggest that it is not important to have technical knowledge of the problem the team is tackling.  I would suggest adding a word, it is not important that the coach have intimate technical knowledge of the problem being addressed. My experience is that without a good base of technical knowledge it easy to lose the respect of the team which will reduce the coach’s effectiveness.    I would suggest that coaching is a critical role to the increasing the performance of ANY team agile or not therefore it is important to do it well!

Another tip to further enrich the coaching experience comes for The Academy of Management Journal in which Dr. Richard D. Cotton published a study that showed that baseball Hall of Famers offered thanks to a wide network of individuals that had provided support and inspiration.  Head coaches were typically not in the group thanked.  The study exposed the need for a broad network of support not directly tied to the management chain to support top performers.

Coaching is critical for any team.  Baseball, football and basketball teams have a wide range of coaches to provide support and advice to players.  Agile teams have a number of roles all of which have some role in coaching. Coaching roles include the coach, the SCRUM master and team members and other peers.  All of these roles must be tapped to develop a broad network of positive coaching which enhances performance.  Increase the effectiveness of your agile teams by providing inspiring and compassionate coaching (one coach can support many teams) but at the same time foster an environment that promotes broad support networks inside and outside the team.  There are numerous mechanisms to help create the environment including social media tools, group lunches, internal conferences and sharing sessions to foster sharing and interaction but the management of the organization must create a culture in which coaching is viewed as a positive.  Coaching is critical to getting the most from your agile teams (or any team).  Standing on the sideline screaming instructions did not work when you first learned football; it is not going to work for highly skilled IT professionals either.


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