I strongly believe that coaches are not managers or Scrum Masters. Coaches are a unique mixture of attributes, including being a listener, a learner, a mediator and an evangelist. A deficit in any these attributes will reduce a coach’s effectiveness.
A good coach is a listener. A coach listens by making a conscious effort to hear not only the words that the other person is saying but, more importantly, trying to understand the complete message being sent. A coach listens to obtain information, to understand and to learn.
A good coach is a learner. There are two related reasons that being a learner is important. Agile is continually evolving, therefore the value of what you know now will erode quickly. Secondly, a coach is much like a honey bee, transferring ideas and techniques from one project or organization to another. A coach must actively seek out and learn new techniques and concepts to pollinate new teams and organizations. Without the ability to continually learn, the utility a coach can provide will also erode.
A good coach is a mediator. Conflict that leads to decisions is part and parcel of team life. Sometimes these decisions and interactions are hard. A coach plays the role of a mediator who facilitates negotiation to help team members reach a mutually satisfactory solution to their problems, without compulsion. Coaches that can’t mediate tend to revert to management compulsion, which will not only reduce the effectiveness of the coach, but may also injure the team.
A good coach has to be an evangelist. Lean and Agile focus on only doing the work that delivers business value. Helping a team or an organization embrace Agile techniques effectively means personally embracing and helping the organization embrace the underlying philosophy of Agile. A coach needs believe in the philosophy so that they can champion and shepherd the journey along the “new way.” Not being willing to evangelize for the underlying philosophies of Agile will lead to crappy Agile.
Each of the attributes of a good coach – listening, learning, mediation and evangelism – are all required. Deficits in any will hurt the coaches ability to coach and will reduce the effectiveness of the team. The attributes that good coaches acquire and foster will increase the ability of teams and organizations ability to deliver value.