Exercise for agile coaches: “Leave It To Them!”

Door Patrick Verheij

Currently I am working as an “agile coach” for a company that has adopted agile frameworks and practices on a large scale. Thousands of people play the game.\r\n\r\n

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\r\n\r\nAwesome…or?\r\n\r\nYes. Being a coach is awesome. Or at least, it has the potential to be awesome. That depends on how you fulfill the role :-)\r\n\r\nOne of the things I like most is to witness people discover new options for themselves or their team, start exploring those options, learn how stuff turns out when they try something, and gain big or small improvements.\r\n

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  • THEY discover
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  • THEY explore
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  • THEY learn
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  • THEY gain
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\r\nAnd me, the coach? I watch all that and reflect on what I can learn from whatever the heck happened there.\r\n\r\nNow as a coach I know it is not about me. Of course I am helpful and usually I do all kinds of stuff that set things in motion, but…I don’t take credit for that. Credit goes to THEM, the fine people who use the coach. Because that’s what they should do: use me as a tool.\r\n\r\nI get back to that in a minute.\r\n\r\nFirst I need you to know that quite often I meet coaches who struggle. They tell me that things don’t work out as planned nor as expected. They try hard to make a difference, but it just doesn’t seem to work. “They” (the teams) don’t change. “They” (the managers) keep being stuck in the old habits. “They” (the other coaches) don’t see things as we see them. And any variations on these themes.\r\n\r\nQuite a few of these coaches have…an assignment: “change that culture!”. And they sweat hard for it.\r\n\r\nSome coaches are lucky. They get a lot done by being persuasive, forceful, intolerant, charismatic, manipulative, or skilled. Many lead by example and get a lot done that way.\r\n\r\nUnfortunately…that’s not coaching. It’s called managing or leading. That’s FINE and quite often very USEFUL, but…it’s not coaching :-)\r\n\r\nCoaching is much less upfront. It has something to do with awakening people’s potential. With arousing hidden desires. With helping someone become aware of what he or she can do.\r\n\r\nCoaching can only be effective if at least some motivation to change is already there, inside a person. If some desire is in place. If some willingness to explore one’s own potential is present.\r\n\r\nIt’s the coach who tries to spot these hidden gems and help the person who is being coached see them too. So these can be used to come to action and start a change: a change that is executed by the person who desires to change himself or herself.\r\n\r\nThat’s why, as a coach, you are not responsible for change. Never take that responsibility! Leave it to the person who is being coached. Because if you don’t…you strip them of one of their most important tools for change: responsibility.\r\n\r\nLet THEM use you as a tool for change. A nice and warm fleshy tool. A tool which they know can be extremely helpful in finding and arousing their potential. Because exactly that is your skill as a coach, isn’t it?\r\n\r\nAlso remember that a TEAM change starts with the people inside a team changing themselves. Change cannot simply be forced on a team from the outside. Well…actually it can, but then there’s no guarantee at all that it will last.\r\n\r\nOne other angle to make my point in this article: some agile coaches tell me that people cannot be properly coached without upfront agile training. The required knowledge and skills just aren’t inside them yet. So you need to train them, right?\r\n\r\nTrue. Alas, most people I meet who say they have had agile training know very little about agility at all. They apparently were never really motivated to learn anyway. Someone perhaps just told them that training would be required or maybe they signed up voluntarily but without further intent.\r\n\r\nNow that’s just a waste of time, money and even respect.\r\n\r\nAs a coach, you first try to spot a person’s desire for learning something and then help them find out ways to become more knowledgeable or skilled. It’s a waste to just advise someone to get some training. People should start asking…BEGGING for training!\r\n\r\nSo once again: leave it to them.\r\n\r\nWithout their permission, you cannot be succesful. If you insist then you immediately stop being a coach and start being a change manager. If you want that, at least be clear about it and stop using the word “coaching” for everything you do.\r\n\r\nEarlier I published an article about how to be an effective agile coach in which I wrote about all the different other roles you can adopt aside from “coach”.\r\n\r\nJust be clear about when you coach and when you don’t. And more importantly: coach as much as possible. It’s immensely easy to fall back into roles like trainer or facilitator. It’s much, much easier than being a coach because then it’s a little more about you and less about them. And that feels darn safe, doesn’t it? But THEY deserve their own lessons and discoveries. So coach first and then see if it’s safe and necessary to do other things. The more you leave to them, the stronger they will be.\r\n\r\nMake it your mantra: “Leave It To Them”. And then enjoy the show or get the hell out of the place if you find out that, after digging deep, nobody really wants to change.\r\n\r\n

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Patrick Verheij

06 59 443 447

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