The original post on this topic was one of my more popular posts. As of, August 14th, 2019, it’s received: 

  • On LinkedIn, ~9,500 views, 86 reactions, and 40 comments

  • On my website, ~2,500 views and 18 comments 

What’s particularly noteworthy for me is the number of comments and the overall depth, breadth, and thoughtfulness of them.

Here’s a link to the LinkedIn post - https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6561537228772831232/

And here’s a link to my original blog post - http://rgalen.com/agile-training-news/2019/6/23/the-trap-of-being-an-embedded-agile-coach

As I review the comments and thought about the article and my original intentions, I realized that a follow-up would be helpful.

I want to react to some of the comments, but I also want to clarify some of my intentions in the article. As I think some folks might have misinterpreted them. And this is mostly due to my writing.

That being said, I’m not apologizing for the original article. I think it represented my thinking…and still does. I’d just like to clarify a few things.

For Internal Coaches, External Coaches or Both?

I attended the Agile 2019 conference in Washington, DC right after posting this. I met a young man I know locally here in the Raleigh/Durham area who is a pretty good agile coach. Really good.

He’s an internal agile coach at a company who is really making a great transformation to agile approaches across their entire organization. So, he’s doing a great job and has been there for perhaps 2-3 years.

He took my article VERY personally.

Interpreting it to say that he’d lost (or compromised) his principles and was staying in the job simply because it was “comfortable” and not inspiring or pushing their journey hard enough.

That was clearly not my intention. I think my focus was 80% towards external coaches who were driven by the money. Another example of this thinking on my part can be found in this popular blog post – Agile Coaching – An Awful Truth. This post has been viewed ~16k times on my website and has ~30 comments.

And perhaps 20% of the article was focused towards internal coaches. The warning for internal coaches was more focused towards:

Be self-aware of the blind spot(s) that long tenure can create and take actions to remove/reduce it. For example –

  • Be aware that you ARE being assimilated the longer you stay in an organizational context. Whether you like it or not. And no matter how good you are, the assimilation is happening. I.e., you are slowly losing your independent lens.

  • As you become assimilated, you become more tolerant of the status quo and taking smaller and smaller steps of progress.  

  • Finally, you become a part of the system, which limits your ability to be a disruptive force for good. 

So, the article was for both internal/external (consultative) coaches, but with a strong skew towards the external. And no, I’m not saying you’re a BAD internal coach if you’ve staid in your role for more than 3-months!

The Photo?

The photo I selected was intended more for external coaches. I wanted it to represent the fact that sometimes we let the money (revenue opportunity, bill rates, engagement length) influence our principles and our thinking.

That we stay longer than we should being driven by the dollars and not by the client’s ultimate needs or success. 

It’s an easy trap to fall into and many do fall into it. And, I don’t think this applies much to internal coaches.

My Personal Experience

I’ve seen coaching from both sides as an internal and external coach. I’ve personally experienced the assimilation that can occur and it’s one of the reasons that my external coaching engagement model is not one of embedding myself for too long.

However, when I’m an internal coach, I’ve often had to stay longer and I’ve experienced much of the pro’s and con’s that folks have mentioned in the comments.

But I do want to point out, that I firmly believe we all become assimilated in our cultures and it’s not just a phenomenon for the agile coach. It’s much more general as Chad alludes to below.

I’ve previously shared a story here about it from my own experience at Micrognosis.

Individual replies I’d like to highlight or respond to…

Chad Mullinax – on LinkedIn

I love the fact that Chad saw the problem beyond agile coaching. That is, we ALL get assimilated into a culture the longer we stay. I’m not saying that’s bad, I’m just saying it’s true and there can be potentially negative consequences for that decision.

Chad also gets “bonus points” for using the phrase – Cultural Darwinism. I love that!

Robert Annis – on LinkedIn

I really appreciate that Robert points out the “temporary intent” of some roles. Including that of coach. I think we largely forget that when we convince ourselves of the necessity of longer-term service.

I also like the stance or mindset that – we aren’t all needed all of the time.  AND he also brings up the Hawthorne Effect. Which again, I think is something that applies here and something I missed in the original post. Thanks, Robert.

Jim Morgan – on LinkedIn

Jim challenged me on the time it takes for organizational culture change. That is, if the coach moves on, they will not see the change thru to the end. And I get that. I’m not saying that we as coaches shouldn’t provide longer term coaching for an organization.

The question is, does it need to be the SAME coach for 1-2-3+ years. My argument is no. That the customer (and change efforts) might be better served with a number of coaches.

And perhaps those coaches can come and go. For example, work with the client for a quarter. Then move on for a quarter and potentially come back for a revisit. And not work full-time, but only work part-time.

Jason Weschler – on LinkedIn

Jason rightly points out that this is a deep and context-based conversation. One that needs a lot more time.

I wholeheartedly agree. It’s really hard to have meaningful discussion via short reply snippets.

Michael Küsters – on LinkedIn

I have to give Michael Kusters a shout out for his patience and respect in responding to Sead Alispahic. Sead took a strong stance that short-term coaches had no value. They provided hocus pocus and promised a miracle in 7 days.

Now that wasn’t the point of the article, and Michael got that. He also tried to explain the value that shorter-term coaches can provide. For example, gaining quick insights.

Michael dealt with the dialogue with absolute grace and then, when Sead showed that he wasn’t really listening, he respectively bowed out.

Michael – you deserve recognition for your patience! You were a great role model in your exchanges.

And Sead, if this exchange is any indication of your coaching experience and approach, then I think you have a bit of work to do. Particularly on your “listening” skills.

Colleen Esposito – on LinkedIn

Colleen responded a couple of times. What caught my attention was her reflection. She had an initial reaction and then followed up with some additional thoughts.

This is exactly what I was hoping that every coach who read it would do. Simply reflect on it and consider it against their current context. That it! Thank you, Colleen.

Philippe Besson – on LinkedIn

First of all, I have to give a begrudging kudo to Phillipe for using the term – Butterfly Coaches. While I don’t appreciate the term, I do think it’s quite creative.

He made the following point to support longer term coaching and the pitfalls –

Avoiding them requires a level of courage, conviction, and organizational awareness that not everyone has in their DNA.

I actually want to respectfully disagree with Philippe. I don’t think anyone, myself included, has the TOTAL awareness to avoid eventually becoming assimilated into a client’s culture. I just don’t think we’re equipped to do it. We lack the self-awareness and the lens to really see what’s subtly happening to us.

I think it takes humility and vulnerability to realize that we have this gap and blind spot. Some coaches, in our hubris, think we’re above the culture. I don’t.

Lennie Noiles – on my Blog

Lennie makes a really good point that one of the ways to combat the cultural assimilation is to get a coach. And not just any coach, but a professionally trained agile coach who can help with your recognition and strategies to remain independent.

This aligns with an earlier blog post I shared on being coachable.

Stephen Sanchez – on my Blog

I just had to include this quote…

When your agile heart feels “something is not right”, and your mind says “everything is good”, you may have become furniture.

Dan Mezick – on my Blog

Dan wrote quite a bit about the background intentions of OSA trying to limit the time a coach spends with a client. He also makes the point that it changes the “intensity” of the exchanges as the coaches exit looms near.

But he also nicely pointed out that the “departure” doesn’t have to be as severe or permanent as I alluded to in the original post. Just finding another home for a while, might be all that’s needed. 

Thanks for the details, Dan. And for making OSA available and reminding me of the Power of Invitation!

Darren Terrell – on my Blog

Darren brought up the wonderful idea of pair-coaching and mob coaching as providing a measure of defense against assimilation.

I wholeheartedly agree with him. I think these practices should become more of a standard coaching practice. Not only for this trap, but for continuous improvement and learning as well.

BTW: Jon Jorgenson also mentioned these practices.

Jon Jorgenson – on my Blog

I have to give you honorable mention for a comment that I can’t even begin to understand.

However, I DO trust that’s it’s relevant and thoughtful. Grasshopper (me), you have a lot to learn!

Rob@AgileSpotlight and Peter – on my Blog

Provided thoughtful rebuttals. Particularly bringing in company culture and dynamics as significant factors.

While I don’t agree with everything they say, I’d like you to review their thoughts and perspectives. 

AND, to the best of my knowledge, Rob is the only commenter to say – “It Depends”.  Bravo Rob!

Wrapping Up

I hope you enjoyed the shout outs to some of the comments. I really appreciated each and every one of them. The feedback was incredibly valuable. 

In the original post I really didn’t focus on ways to avoid assimilation. That was a big miss on my part.

Let me wrap up with some suggestions as to how to avoid the trap OR to combat as several people discussed in the comments, becoming “pickled” ;-) via Prescott’s Pickle Principle.

  1. Rotate in/out/across teams, groups, and organizations as much as possible. Perhaps by swapping roles with another coach.

  2. If you’re an internal coach get an external mentor/coach

  3. If you’re an external coach, get a colleague as a mentor/coach

  4. Continuously check (be aware of) the honest level of cultural safety.

  5. Get a professional coach to help coach you on your systems awareness.

  6. Stay curious!

  7. Pair-coach or Mob-coach as a means of having multiple eyes/lenses on each situation.

    1. Here’s a blog I shared awhile back on pair-coaching.

  8. Engage part-time with your client…dare I say it, become a Butterfly Coach ;-).

  9. Check-in with your principles often; reflect on the dynamics of your engagement.

  10. Of course, limit the amount of time you spend with your clients. Try to create as much SPACE without you around as possible.

  11. Invite external coaches into your context to get a quick “second opinion” and additional insights.

  12. Have/build an adequate buffer in your bank accounts.

  13. Finally, realize that you’re goal as a coach is to become unnecessary and irrelevant, in other words, to put yourself out of a job.

I truly hope this follow-up helped to make the original post more valuable and actionable for you. In the end, I’m simply trying to keep our craft of agile coaching strong, self-aware, valuable, and improving.

Stay agile my friends,

Bob.

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