Thoughts on Agile Coaching

There are many ideas and definitions of agile coaching.  I was talking to with some people this week about agile coaching and figured I’d summarize a bit of the discussion here.

Given that each agile coach is helping unique people, who make up unique teams, who make up unique departments, and organizations — we should expect there to be a large degree of variation as to what an agile coach does. People, teams and organizations are at different points in their agile journey. This necessitates that as an agile coach, you meet people where they are. There are so many variations of clients and situations that attempting to propose a prescription is unwise.

Agile coaches work in service to and with clients, helping them achieve the amazing results they are capable of.

Helping people at this level requires that you believe in them in the first place. That requires dealing with ego and judgement right off the bat (yours and often others). How capable are you as a coach to set aside what you “know they should do” and listen.  How open are they to working with you to dig into challenges instead of just wanting you to “tell them what to do?”

My definition of agile coaching is not a prescriptive one (some might say is it generic!), but the intention is to represent a number principles the coach must consider throughout the coaching process.

There are many views on Agile Coaching!

There are many views on Agile Coaching!

There are principles that you can derive from this definition.  Here are a few:

  • Do as little as possible to help them succeed. The idea is to “maximize the amount of advice not given!” Perhaps that sounds absurd to some people, but how else can it work?  How else will people carry on once you, the coach, is gone? In the case that you are an internal coach, how will the clients learn what they need without this approach? Perhaps most importantly, there is a focus on listening and allowing people to tap into solutions that only they can arrive at.
  • Bring honesty and integrity to your coaching work. Without these, there is no real way forward.
  • Believe in your heart that the clients are creative and intelligent.
  • Bring yourself to every coaching engagement.  This is about your uniqueness.  You have a background, personality, perspectives, and much more that is you.  Bring that!
  • Meet them where they are.

“You can think about your coaching approach as an awesome pair of shoes. Think about the most comfortable foot wear you have — this could be dress shoes, bunny slippers, flip flops, sneakers, boots, just socks or even just bare feet (or bear feet if that works).  As you consider which competency helps inform the coaching situation you are working on, consider the footwear you are wearing.

Are you bringing your best-self to the client?  Are you in service with the client?  Are you helping them, in the best way possible, to be amazing? You should be wearing the footwear that grounds you and guides you in your service to the client.  These “shoes” are something you can wear as you move around the competencies. They ground you — in you!” – from my article on the agile coach competency framework.

Not everyone would describe agile coaching the same way and that may be due to how they see the world, agile, or their organization . . . among other things. However, there are core principles that drive what it means to be an agile coach and even agile in general that most of us can agree on.

Are there principles that you see as critical to the foundation of being an agile coach?


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  1. Great description Jake!

    The one other one I’d add is helping our client own the outcome. We need to accept that the ideal state we may have in mind may or may not work out. As you said each person, team, group, department and organization is unique. But through our work with our clients if we can help them improve their world and set them on a path of learning and improving … then we have succeeded.

Jake Calabrese

Jake Calabrese is a coach, trainer, and coach-consultant working to help organizations meet the promise of agile by going beyond agile practices to address culture challenges and help teams and leaders reach and maintain high performance. He has unique expertise as an Organization & Relationship Systems Certified Coach (ORSCC), a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST), Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC), and Professional Certified Coach (PCC), and as a trainer and coach for Agile Companies (helping non-software organizations use agile). Jake created the AgileSafari cartoon series to introduce humor into the more challenging issues we have to tackle. Jake uses ideas from various areas of thinking such as: Lean, professional coaching, neuroscience, psychology, facilitation, brain-based training, improvisation, agile, kanban, and scrum. Jake regularly speaks at local and national conferences including Mile High Agile, Scrum Gathering, and Agile Alliance Agile20xx conferences.

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