How I got 15 agile coaches to align, collaborate and deliver an outcome

HINT: you can't command and control agile coaches; they expect and deserve to be treated as knowledge workers who play a key role in achieving change and delivery outcomes.

I remember the day clearly; the sense of achievement, joy and belonging was a shared felt experience amongst those in the room. We had just finished a significant and impactful initiative as a team of agile coaches and delivery specialists. It had been a difficult journey but seeing the customer come into our business and interact with the digital experience we had just spent 18 months designing and building was quite emotional.

Another clear memory is represented in the picture below; I was having (a lot) of fun as I delivered my work and so were the agile coaches I was working with. I call these experiences "agile moments"; where you hit the cultural sweet spot that balances the need for delivering outcomes with other key enablers of success; that's what this post is about.


Agile moments of celebration

These agile coaching and delivery moments are fleeting and are soon forgotten as we move onto the next feature, idea or coaching gig in our backlog. I've been lucky enough to have worked with some great agile teams and cohorts of agile coaches who have delivered together under difficult circumstances. I thought I'd write this post to capture my thoughts on what it was that had enabled these great agile practitioner teams to hit high levels of performance. I wanted to articulate it in order to be able to help others understand what I did to enable this success. What I'll share in this post comes from my work in the following situations where I've had to achieve outcomes working with and through other agile practitioners; maybe you recognise some of them in your work:

  • building an agile practice (teams of agile coaches/scrum masters)

  • coaching agile delivery teams (single teams or at scale)

  • leading agile consulting teams

  • enabling development teams to ship software

  • business agility change programs

In preparation for this post I spent some time whiteboarding my ideas on what have been the critical elements that underpinned these special agile moments; I came up with three key enablers that were always present:

  1. learning via community

  2. making the work matter

  3. fostering a done culture

If we can get the right amount of each element we can hit the agile delivery culture "sweet spot"

Getting in the "zone" or cultural sweet spot

If you can hit that sweet spot, that's when the cultural magic can happen and unthought of levels of collective agile coaching/consulting/delivery performance can be reached; more on this special spot later but now I'd like to take you through each element in a bit more detail and show you how to introduce each one into your team. Of course not all of my work has had all of these elements and I don't always hit the sweet spot, but this approach provides me with a guide on what to aim for as I work as an agile coach/consultant.

The order in which I'll explain these elements is important; I believe that if you are coaching or leading agile delivery teams/practitioners it's important to initially; NOT focus on delivering outcomes. Jumping straight to delivery runs the risk of adverse consequences that are hard to undo later. So my recommendation when setting the foundations for a solid agile delivery culture is to focus on community and meaning first. But I hear you saying...

NIALL, WE HAVEN'T GOT TIME FOR THIS FLUFFY SOFT STUFF, WE NEED TO GET QUICK WINS!!

Trust me I get it, and of course we need to emphasize getting stuff done; but stay with me, it'll make sense by the end of this post. Here are my three recommendations on how to get yourself and your team in the agile delivery cultural sweet spot.

Recommendation #1: Enable the team to form a learning community

It does not take much to start to build community; but it takes regular, consistent and authentic intent to build a strong collective, supportive learning community as the foundation of your agile practitioner / delivery team.