A few weeks ago long before the sun came up this morning I heard three phrases uttered by the same person in a five-minute block of time. I added my thoughts as I recall them in parentheses after each statement.  The three statements were:

“We only hire the best and brightest minds.” (Great, most teams get excited to work with

other smart people.)

Followed a minute or two later by:

“People are our greatest assets.” (I have heard this before, this conversation is not going to end well).

And to complete the hat trick (ice hockey term) a few minutes later,

“Team leaders and Scrum Masters will tell team members what to do.” (What…?)

I had been nearly lulled to sleep by oratory that included the first two statements. I have heard those comments so often that I tune out. The final statement caught me off guard. Even if the first two statements were only chaff tossed to the wind to throw people off course, the final statement was just too incongruous. I briefly considered that I might have nodded off and was dreaming (it was the second hour of a call beginning at 3 AM). I, of course, hadn’t. In a private conversation after the call combined with a third espresso, I probed at the relationship between the three statements. They explained that just because people were smart and had great problem-solving capabilities did not mean they had an understanding of the business or knew how to work with the organization’s tools and processes. Someone had to make sure the work was done and done well. In their mind, the three statements went together like fish and chips. 

I recounted the conversation to another agile guide/coach who joined in the parade of silly statements by telling me that I should have told them in no uncertain terms why they were wrong.

Both scenarios offer a myriad of coaching opportunities. None of those opportunities start with telling the person you are trying to coach that they are bonkers. This is true even though both sets of statements are like nails on a chalkboard to my ears. As guides and coaches, we make an impact through influence without positional power. That influence is often best applied by helping the people we are coaching discover an answer for themselves. Techniques like Socratic Questioning is just one approach.  What rarely works is to play amateur psychoanalyst or to tell someone they are wrong. For the former, most of us are not qualified (this prohibition is part of the new Agile Coaches Code of Ethics) and the later just shuts people down which does not facilitate change.

Note – I can construct some very extreme scenarios that as a coach would require absolute negation, but they are so extreme as to not be probable in a civilized workplace.