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Pair agile coaching; why it is important and how to do it

Delivering agile coaching as a team will always be superior to the hero coach.

I spend all of my time helping, mentoring and leading agile coaches with their practice. We are a diverse bunch of specialists; each individual coach approaches their role from their perspective leading to a rich diverse set of agile coaching styles. Every person has signature strengths, biases and patterns of thinking that are unique to them. Lately I have been actively encouraging the coaches I support to see coaching as a team sport; where each individual coach brings their strengths to the coaching team in order to produce a collective capability.

Influencing for change

Stakeholders also have a variety of world views and perspectives on how to best adopt agile as a way to work. Often I work with sponsors of agile coaching teams and a lot of consideration is given to which agile coach is best suited to work with which stakeholders. You could call this ‘fit’.

Lately though I see this challenge a little differently. The question I ask myself when considering what stakeholder is best suited to working with which agile coach has shifted to

“How can I draw from the coaching team to provide a balance of styles that best serve the client?”

Benefits of pair agile coaching

This leads me to the topic of this post; agile coaches working in pairs to serve clients. What this does is allows for a much more rounded service where the client obtains the wisdom of two coaches with the added benefit of a mixture of styles that can be re-balanced as required.

I often look at the service of delivering agile coaching as a collection of ‘tensions’ that need to be navigated in-the-moment as a coach serves their client; here are my three top tensions:

  1. To provoke/perturb the system and people versus stand back, watch and observe

  2. To ask lots of questions to ascertain the root cause versus provide answers and show the way forward

  3. To focus on the people in the system and their safety versus pushing ahead and completing the tasks required.

I think these tensions are better managed with two coaches working as a team.

How and when to use pair agile coaching

People are complex, change is hard; therefore, if it is possible, pair agile coaching should be the default. With powerful stakeholders who require close coaching support (due to low understanding or resistance to change) pair-coaching is especially recommended. I've seen pair-coaching work best when one coach is the lead with the other playing support. If you are keen to explore this approach I suggest you pair coaches who work at different ends of the tensions listed above. For example one coach has a strong professional coaching stance and asks lots of powerful questions, whereas the other coach is more of a driver and pushes to complete change tasks.

Conclusion and an experiment to try

Pair agile coaching can be done formally as part of your coaching team’s social/working norms or informally through your personal peer-to-peer networks within your organisation. Either way the benefits are a more balanced agile coaching service AND each coach feels more connected and supported as they execute their role.

I encourage you to team up with another coach this week; one your trust and are confident you can work with closely; discuss your styles and where you both sit on the tensions I listed. Invite your pair agile coach to sit in as you work; seek their perspective and if it makes sense, invite them to coach your teams/stakeholders.

Assuming you keep the lead and manage your client’s interactions with the other coach in a professional manner; what is the worst that could happen; you learn to work with others and your client sees another perspective and receives a better service.

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