Being an Agile Coach – What does it take?

At work, my role is that of an “Agile Coach”.

Now I have been vaguely aware of what it means to be a coach but recently I have invested some time in reading more about the skills and values a coach should espouse (better late than never, right?).

Sharing what I was able to gather so far – some of these I practice with some degree of success, while for others, I have a long way to go.

  • Empathy – The first step for a coach towards connecting with a team is to understand their situation, their strengths, and their challenges. Listening skills are the key to develop such empathy – as I read somewhere, listening for understanding and not for replying.
  • Respect – As an Agile Coach, one may have more experience, exposure, knowledge in some of the Agile practices, etc but the team knows more about the work they do, their current processes, the business, the products. And a coach who acknowledges that will be able to also appreciate that the solutions will come from the team, with him/her simply helping them find their way.
  • Integrity – As a coach, the only agenda should be to help the team build its capabilities and help them discover how to improve the way they work. The coach doesn’t have an agenda of his/her own and doesn’t guide the team in directions that suit him/her rather than the team. The coach is not “selling” the currently popular ideas or fads to the team but helping them find what works best for them.
  • Courage – As a coach, there will always be situations where one needs to help a team face hard truths. It won’t win the coach any popularity contests but if done right, with no finger pointing, it can only benefit the team.
  • Knowledge – Knowledge about the subject, knowledge of coaching skills, tools and techniques to help the teams – all of these are crucial to being an effective coach. For this, the coach should be open to learning – from peers, from books, from conferences, et al. Having an opinion is important, but being opinionated just stops one from learning.
  • Cares about people – I think without genuinely caring about people, it’s a pretty big ask to “help”, “enable” and “empower” people. A coach may care more about the people than about the business. I read something very nicely put recently “If you take care of your people, your people will take care of your customers and your business will take care of itself (JW Marriott)”.
  • Creating independence – Asking empowering, leading questions is considered a pretty important coaching skill – to help the team discover solutions. A note of caution though – I tried it (a little incessantly, I admit) on a friend and he wanted to punch me in about 5 minutes. So it’s trickier than it sounds :).

So these are the ones I am working on developing and improving upon for now.

Not easy to do but hopefully it will take me closer to being a real coach rather than just being a coach shaped object (idea borrowed from “bike shaped object”).