Thoughts About Agile Coaching and the Disappearance of Agile Principles

I started my work as a Scrum Master at idealo in 2014. Nowadays I call myself Agile Coach. It is not only the name of the role that changed. I got a completely different job by now. But which one?

Recently I stopped facilitating most team ceremonies as well as training agility in teams – at the base of the company. Instead I am now working with a #tandem-partner, a very experienced systemic coach and trainer. Together we are coaching colleagues who are in some kind of organizational leadership roles. Most of the time this means helping them to change perspectives. With our guidance the coachees reveal new options for action. Topics often are related to better communication, clearness of roles, responsibilities and goals, and dealing with conflict. And with that change agile values and principles seem to have vanished from my daily communication. Although all of these topics are connected to agile values and principles, the relation is not discussed explicitly. Time to ask myself whether this is acceptable or not!

Of course agile values and principles are anchored deeply in myself. They surely influence my work and therefore have impact on the colleagues I am working with. But is there a chance that they become part of other people’s mindset that way? Would they be valuable to the coachees? (Lately we can see more and more discussions in the community addressing the need for a re-newed agile manifesto applicable in contexts other than software development teams.) Am I acting as an Agile Coach or rather a personal coach with agile background?

What does an Agile Coach do anyways? Maybe this is the main question here. As far as I know each organization is having it’s own definition for the role. People having completely different jobs start calling themselves Agile Coaches. At the Agile Piano Meetup @JeffSutherland agitated for having more and stronger Scrum Masters instead because everyone calls herself „Agile Coache“ nowadays (without any qualification or clearness of what it means).

It is time for clarification. A first step seems to be made. In 2018 first professional trainings for Agile Coaches became visible in Germany.

The Tandem Effect – A Supporting Factor for Overcoming Resistance in Role Transformations

Change has become the daily business of many organizations. The complexity and ambiguity of many–if not all–industries demand new answers. As a consequence, organizations need to continuously adapt their ways of working. More often than not, this means a change for job-roles as well.

If you ever had to re-work your own job-role, you know that this is a hard thing to do. Especially if collaboration with others is a central part of it. Typically there will be a lot of resistance to overcome in:

  • changing your own behaviour and
  • getting others to accept the changes

In this article I will share my experiences and learnings as an example of how expert-role-tandems can help to successfully master this transition.

Introduction

Let me provide you with a recent example of how our job as Agile Coaches at idealo changed. Until 2018 we worked very closely with the development teams. We filled an important role in their daily business, e.g. being facilitators of team ceremonies such as Daily Standups, Refinements, Plannings and Retrospectives. Whenever an Agile Coach could not attend such a ceremony it was likely to be canceled or postponed. Most teams were not able to compensate the role of the Agile Coach. Other Agile Coaches did not have enough capacity to take over. We had become bottlenecks of the agile transition, looking for a way to increase independence of the teams.

Lately we came up with a new principle guideline for the role of Agile Coaches at idealo. It describes roughly how we want to solve that problem. Two central phrases of that guideline are:

We enable people and organizational units to act effectively.

[…]

Although “acting on our own” is important to us,
we value “enabling others to act effectively” more.

[…]

Agile Coaches @idealo, 2018

This is a major change compared to the way we worked in the past. It means that instead of being facilitators of team ceremonies and team coaches, we will focus on enabling team members and other colleagues, e.g. teamleads, to facilitate ceremonies and develop their own agile environment independently. Even though the guideline does not say anything about our ways of working or specific tasks, implications on that level are inevitable. We started a major role-transformation-process by writing down that guideline – although we did not realize this at first. And as with any other change process, it comes with resistances that we need to overcome.

Unlike most of my Agile Coach colleagues at idealo I am lucky to go through that change in a tandem constellation. That is what we call the close collaboration of two experts sharing the same responsibility. In my case my tandem partner is Frieda, another Agile Coach. We both work at idealo within the product area Acquisition and Loyalty, one of our customer-centric product development areas.

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