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Why agile coaches need to get back in front of real people

Consider the picture below that shows me on a solo bushwalk in Australia. It looks beautiful, amazing and wonderous but it ultimately fails to convey how moving it was for me in that moment.

Now consider what it means to deliver agile coaching via zoom.

The magic of face-to-face work

Recently I facilitated my first post-COVID all-day offsite leadership workshop. Here is a list of things that happened that are near impossible over zoom:

  • A participant who became upset and tearful after something that came up; they made no comment, were quiet but visibly upset as we did some deep work on culture. Out of the 20 people in the room this was off to the side and very easily missed (even being in the room). Over zoom, they would have turned off their camera, and no one would be the wiser.

  • A senior leader getting a flushed colour in their face in reaction to a conversation. Subtle human responses in difficult situations are not observable over zoom. This data is gold for a facilitator as they “dance-in-the-moment” adjusting their moves and energy.

  • Of course, there was so much body posture, even down to the actual “sparkle” in the eyes of participants. A special moment came when one the participants opened up about their reluctance to come to the day; the presence in that moment was palpable. This person’s body started speaking to me as they “warmed” up and became engaged. I responded in kind as a facilitator; leaning in and giving using my status to subtly reinforce their behaviour and give them recognition for their vulnerability and contribution.

  • The magic of working with others intuitively and emergently without words. I facilitated with someone else; we were in synch and aligned, nodding, winking and indicating where each other needs to come into the conversation. Completely impossible over zoom.

A worrying trend

This leads me to what I see as a disturbing trend in the agile coaching community; the fully remote agile coach who suits themselves instead of serving the client. I’m talking about coaches who have the choice to work face-to-face but choose not to. I even know some coaches that have never worked with a team face-to-face and think that's ok.

Final remarks…

Please, if you’re new to agile coaching or agile team facilitation, understand that face-to-face work shouldn’t be seen as optional if you want to be considered a deeply experienced agile practitioner. I know most of the world is still working remotely and my heart goes out to my colleagues outside of Australia. My point is simply to remind people of what it means to work with people directly; its where magic can and does happen and you feel it!

If you have the chance, get in a room with a team and do the work of agile.

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