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How to build a high-performing agile coaching team

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

Below shows a team of agile coaches I was proud to help mentor (they were amazing!); but what does it take to put a cohort of agile coaches together?

Agile coaches have a reputation problem?

I speak to many high performing senior leaders who become nervous when they are given the job of building or developing an agile coaching capability within the organisation. This fear comes from agile coaches having a reputation of being particularly difficult to manage.

It is important I believe to recruit carefully when assembling an agile coaching team; one or two dogmatic non-team players can significantly disrupt the teams culture and reputation as a service provider within the organisation. Often I hear comments such as

“agile coaches are all care but take no responsibility”

“agile coaches are opinionated and fixed in how they apply agile”

“agile coaches talk down to us making me feel stupid for not knowing agile-speak”

“agile coaches don't understand the pressure I am under to deliver results”

“agile coaches are not respectful of the existing capabilities within the organisation and think they have all the answers”

Unfortunately, I have heard a lot of these statements from many of my customers as I help them build their internal agile coaching capability; this in some instances has resulted in some interesting consequences for the agile coaching industry, such as:

  • a lack of willingness to use the role title of agile coach

  • bringing in consulting companies that will enable the required changes without then need to hire permanent staff

  • Not hiring agile coaching as a role but incorporating it as a skill within other roles (e.g. agile delivery leads)

  • Giving the job of managing the change in the way of working to other professionals; leadership coaches, organisational change practitioners, business transformation specialists.

So how do we take back our brand as agile coaches and restore the industry's faith in what we do. Answer; hire agile coaches in a way that filters out all the imposters. Here are three tools I use to ensure a high quality agile coaching capability.

The three tools I use when recruiting agile coaches

I’ve built many teams of agile coaches. Over the years I learned some hard lessons; the following three tools are what I now use to guide me to build a great teams of coaches:

1. Look out for the arguer who always finds fault, is judgemental and opinionated. Instead look for agile coaches that utilise appreciative enquiry. People with this mindset hold onto their opinions lightly and are curious about what others think. Appreciative enquirers are more suited to co-designing solutions to ways of working problems.

2. Get very specific and detailed on exactly what the coach has done; been accountable and responsible for delivering/executing. As I screen agile coaches, I use a 50-question survey and over the course of an hour we go through specific practices, methods and elements of what the candidate has done. This approach focusses on practical competency not theoretical knowledge. This process is very enjoyable and a great way for coaches to introspect and baseline their skills against what the market is asking/paying for. The output is shown below as a quantified measure of competency across the three levels of agile coaching. I talk more about my approach in this post.

3. Gain an understanding of each candidates coaching style. I have an assessment I use to help provide coaches an appreciation of how they present in a coaching conversation. My tool is based on the Social Style model and provides an output shown below.

For more background and information on how I use this tool go here to watch my video series

Finally, I always utilise role play and case studies to see the coach in action; rarely do I ask questions that start with

“tell me about a time…”

Instead I put candidates in front of a whiteboard and ask them to

“show me..!”

Final words/ conclusion

My last piece of advice is a critical ingredient to make the above approach work.

Always have an experienced agile coach/practitioner interview and hire agile coaches

Some of the worst outcomes I have seen are when people who didn’t know what they don’t know are the decision makers in the hiring process for agile coach roles. What happens if non-agilist hire agile coaches is that they cannot challenge and interrogate candidates to test if they have really got the competencies required. This destroys the brand and reputation of the agile coach role in the market.

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