Are Agile Coaches Really Coaches?

The Agile Community has adopted the concept of “Coaching” in guiding teams to become Agile.  What is Coaching? Do Agile teams really need Coaching?

There is some difference of opinion on what coaching means.  For the purpose of this discussion we’ll use this definition:

  • Sports Team Coach:  Sports team coaches have skin in the game, they are part of the team, they are responsible for the outcome.  Sports team coaches are responsible for creating a team that works together.  There is always a team coach, they constantly make decisions to maximize the team results. 
  • Life Coach/Executive Coach:  Helps people unleash the talents they already have inside them.   Life Coaches do not have skin in the game, the person being coached is responsible for their own outcome. I think of a coach like Yoda.  
  • Mentor:  Has specific knowledge to teach. I think of a mentor like Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid.

With these definitions, are Agile Coaches actually Coaches?  And are they more like Sports Team Coaches are Life Coaches?  The Agile Community favors the Life Coaching model, but I wonder if we would do better with a Sports Team Coach or a Mentor.

Mentor and Sports Team Coach New Teams.  There is a maturity model in Agile, borrowed from Martial Arts, called Shu, Ha, Ri.  The idea is that in Shu you are following the rules in order to learn, in Ha you expand your toolbox, and in Ri the structure falls away and you invent your own rules.  

When teams are just learning, they lack knowledge of how to operate in an Agile way.  They need a mentor.

When teams get past Shu, they might consult an Agile Coach in order to expand their toolbox or solve specific challenges.  Beyond that, once teams are up and running, embracing learning, and into continuous improvement, they no longer need a Mentor.

New teams also need help jelling as a team.  A coach can really help the team learn to work together by teaching the team how to deal with conflict building decision-making frameworks.

Sports Team Coach & Mentor Dysfunctional Teams.  Sometimes a dysfunctional relationship. Dysfunction can be caused by many things, including policy, structure, history and specific personalities.  An Agile Coach needs to diagnose the root issue and apply coaching and mentoring appropriately.

For example, if the issue is a team that is carrying history and personality issues, they probably need coaching.  The coach can bring the underlying issues to light, and help the team gain awareness about their dysfunction.

Other times dysfunction is simply caused by structure and policy.  If the team had unclear or conflicting priorities, this can cause endless arguments and blame.  No amount of coaching will fix this, the team needs a mechanism to prioritize. There specific techniques for prioritization that can be taught.

Life/Executive Coach Leaders.  A successful Agile Transformation fundamentally changes the way leaders lead.  There isn’t specific knowledge to teach here, leaders don’t need a mentor. They need a coach.  Becoming a servant leader requires the peeling away years of coercive leadership tactics. Leaders need someone to challenge their thinking and help them apply servant leadership to their specific issues.  

What type of Coaching do you use? How has it turned out?

Related posts:  Agile Coaching Competencies . Agile Consultants vs Agile Coaches