Mt Kilamajaro

It you don’t walk you won’t see the world.


I was recently asked if agile coaches needed to exhibit flexibility. Unfortunately, the answer which should be ‘of course’ had to be, “it depends” because the word coach in agile circles is used indiscriminately. Organizations have many roles that have coaching somewhere on their job description or work order. The goal of the act of coach is straightforward, to MAKE A DIFFERENCE in someone’s or some group’s life. The broadness of the goal means that anyone using any set of techniques can jot coach down on their resume in good conscious. The problem is that the expectations of the approach will differ.

At one end of the spectrum of the coaching, perspective is influenced by negative and sometimes abusive athletic coaches. The goal of the majority of athletic coaches in high school and university (in the US at least) is to win so they can renew their contracts rather than making a difference in the child’s life outside of sport (there are exceptions). I can still remember spit flying out of my baseball coach’s mouth as he screamed at me when I missed a fly ball when I was six. I also remember the time a coach told my daughter’s soccer team to cheat because when the high school referee was not watching – he is still a banker in his day job (I do not do business with that bank). The goal for this type of coaching is different than to goal of instilling an agile mindset or building decision-making capabilities. The techniques at this end of the coaching spectrum tend to be more specific, direct, and authoritarian. This type of coaching does not fit well with an agile mindset. In this scenario, flexibility is often misinterpreted as passive or laissez-faire behavior.
Closer to the other end of the spectrum, at least on a goal level, is life coaching. Allan Kelly calls this type of coaching non-directive. According to Tony Robbins, “a life coach is someone who helps you identify your goals and develop an actionable plan to achieve them.” Life coaching focuses on the individual Techniques in this form of coaching tend to be far more introspective, nurturing, and collaborative between the coach and coachee. This approach is a much tighter fit with the idea of an agile mindset.
Most agile coaches help teams, teams of teams, and organizations rather than specific individuals. Changing behavior in these scenarios requires some combination of:
  1. Trying new behaviors and getting feedback,
  2. Building and trying new skills,
  3. Participating in training,
  4. Enhancing relationships with the right people
  5. Seeking out mentors to grow the whole person, and
  6. Accepting input from stakeholders on goals and behaviors.
Agile coaches need to collaborate with those they are coaching to establish a clear understanding of the outcome they seek (note – this is complex if someone else is hiring the coach, the goal might inflicted on the person you are coaching). Collaborating to establish a clear definition of success is more akin to life coaching than athletic coaching. Developing and delivering training (for example teaching a team test-driven development techniques) shades toward the more directive form of coaching (shades is an important part of that phrase). In all active coaching engagements, progress and how that progress is being made (because the journey does matter) has to be continuously being evaluated. As teams work to deliver value they encounter situations that are often mundane and but occasionally are unique. Context requires that the coach be flexible to achieve the goals they have agreed to with their clients.
Next: Is Coaching A Team Different Than Coach A Transformation?