Agile prioritises progress over perfection. This is one of the more fundamental differences in modern workstyles and it does challenge people. Coaches help teams quickly establish new norms where the true value is in discovery, learning and understanding.
Working with different teams and different businesses means coaches have knowledge of common problems. Experienced coaches help teams traverse new terrain quickly because they help people avoid pitfalls or provide quick diagnosis and remedies if something starts to go awry.
One of the core challenges of coaching is that coaches begin a role with the objective being to work themselves out of a job. Along the way, they’re at once part of the team and apart from it – observers but also participants, needing the ability to flex between their various roles as required.
It’s especially challenging when a coach is working with those who aren’t initially receptive to a coach (change can be hard) or believe they don’t need a coach.
Often people are conflicted, appreciating a coach for the advice or insights but at the same time resenting them. The coach is the personification of a need to change, a requirement to uplift systemic, delivery or technical capability or performance.
Even those who have a high degree of optimism or flexibility around change can experience difficulty about some aspect of agile or the amount of change required. In order to ‘be’ agile rather than just ‘do’ agile, you’ve got to be all-in.
Some question the value of a coach on the basis of past experience. Certainly, like everything else in life, some coaches perform better in certain coaching roles.
The expectation for a domain coach – who will work with a leadership team at a strategic level – compares very differently with say a squad coach – who works with small cross-functional teams responsible for delivering better products and services iteratively to customers.
With some of the biggest organisations in Australia (ANZ, nab and Telstra) working to shift at scale from old ways of working to new, finding quality coaches, in the numbers they need, represents a challenge - likewise, getting them to sign on and bring that experience in-house on an ongoing and sustainable basis.
No doubt good coffee and networking help - but that’s a whole other story.
Penelope Barr is Lead, New Ways of Delivering at ANZ