Renee Troughton is someone that I don’t follow nearly enough. But when one of her articles crosses my path, it nearly always resonates nicely with my own experience or helps define a concept or notion that I’ve been struggling with.
Renee published - What do people want agile coaches to do? on May 7th.
I’ve found that striking the right balance (or stance) in my own agile coaching journey is a constant exercise of self-awareness, situational-awareness, and leveraging all my years of experience. It’s really, really hard.
Here’s a snippet from Renee’s article that explains the dilemma from her perspective –
I have had a lot of feedback in the past that I tend to be different from other coaches. I’ve even seen people refer to coaches as two different types, often not in good terms. One commentator referred to the schism as “fluffy agile sprinkles coaches” who are all oriented around mindset and “delivery coaches” who are all oriented around practices and techniques. To this commentator, the middle ground of coaches who are both and have the expertise to know when to use one approach over the other is a dark art that few know well.
I like to think that I strike the right balance between sprinkles and delivery, but I know that I often make mistakes. Usually, I “lean towards” delivery over fluffy. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a fluffy side. I do.
And I’m actually trying to lean into it more and more.
I pulled some of the specific client requests of their coaches from Renee’s article below and then responded to them. I’m not defending or challenging them, as they stand completely on their own.
I’m simply reacting…
First set of requests
I need someone who is pragmatic and flexible. I don’t need a purist answer, I need something that will work for my situation given where people are at right now in their learning journey.
I need my coach to recognize what I have done right. I’ve been working for many years and experienced many successes, all of me doesn’t need “fixing”
I need a coach to know that it is a journey and that I have other things that I need to focus on which may mean my journey is slower than they would like
I want someone who will understand my organization and how things work in my area (the system I work in) before giving me advice
I think this is a fair request. Coaches need to be situationally aware and endeavor to (mostly) meet their clients where they are. Yes, we want to occasionally push them but most of the time we need to be present in their reality.
Another thing that I try to remind myself of often is recognizing the client’s strengths, past successes, and progress in their agile journey. We need to connect to their capabilities and potential, meet them there, and then help them to improve.
In many ways, I think this stance is one that a good personal trainer adopts. They want to inspire you, but at the same time, they need to acknowledge and accept where you are right now and what you’re capable of doing.
Second set of requests
I need someone who will help push along continuous improvements, which means owning them. I know some of my people need to do this, but there are so many issues I could really use more help.
I don’t care whether it is Agile solutions or something else, I want my coach to help us with whatever solution that will resolve the problem
These I want to pushback on to some degree.
While I get the “help me” aspect of these requests, coaches need to look at the short-term impact AND the longer-term aspect of “helping” their clients.
I know it’s an overused metaphor, but I think both types of coaches should be trying to teach their clients to fish rather than fishing for them. It’s a really dangerous posture for us to do everything for our clients.
Once we leave, and no engagement is forever, it’s not sustainable. Ultimately, one of my measures for my own agile coaching performance is the “stickiness” of my coaching. In other words, how well does the agile health of my client’s ecosystem/culture survive my absence?
If it doesn’t, then I too have failed…
Third set of requests
I don’t want to be “coached” to get to answers all the time, sometimes I just need to know things that I don’t know which means sometimes I need advice or training
I need options and examples of what has worked elsewhere and what are the pro’s and cons so that I can make an informed decision
I need to be shown what good looks like which means sometimes I need a coach to be a “player” in the system
I particularly resonate with the last request. It’s often really hard for coachees to figure out what we’re talking about as far as the goal. It we can model something for them, it makes it much clearer as to what we’re saying.
We can do that by showing them how to do something. Or modelling the behavior we’re recommending they assume. But
I also like the notion of options or sharing our experience in such a way that its not telling them what to do. But instead it’s sharing what we’ve learned and giving them the choice as to which way to go. Another part of this is sharing risk. For example, saying –
You can take that option, but I’ve only seen it work 1 out of 20 times that I’ve tried it before. Perhaps your context will be the second time.
One of the more important stances we can take as coaches is one of sharing our experience. This would include our successes, learnings, and (Gulp!) our failures with our clients.
In addition to helping them with ideas, it helps to connect us as being more genuine and real.
A final set of requests
I need someone who will give me 1:1 time and tell me the hard truths, giving me a perspective that others wouldn’t ordinarily feel comfortable to do so. Note: this was said by people who actively wanted a coach rather than being given a coach, it is my experience that people who are given a coach don’t want this and you need to build trust and support before someone will give permission in this scenario.
I need someone who focuses on the big picture, I don’t want everything to be about “Is my stand up going longer than fifteen minutes”, I want them to be looking at whether we are delivering faster, with better outcomes and sustainability.
I need someone who will help me to widen my toolkit so I am better at solving problems more effectively, this could be either practical techniques or mindset/personal techniques
This is one of the harder areas for many agile coaches because it requires you to shift to more of a mentoring and teaching stance.
And this isn’t with esoteric tools or techniques. You clients are looking for you to mentor them from a position of direct experience.
I wrote an article a few years ago that talked about the need for agile coaches walking in the shoes of those they coach. I think that sums up my reaction to this request.
I want to circle back around to this comment:
One commentator referred to the schism as “fluffy agile sprinkles coaches” who are all oriented around mindset and “delivery coaches” who are all oriented around practices and techniques.
I really like the terminology and the distance between the two positions. So, in the end, every agile coach has a decision to make.
Will you be a FLUFFY coach or a DELIVERY coach? Or somewhere in between?
I also want to again thank Renee for writing this article. She does a great job of making me think and I truly appreciate that.
Stay agile my friends,