5 things I learned from the “Coaching Agile Teams” book

“A ScrumMaster is equal parts coach, process owner and protector” – writes Mike Cohn in his website’s “ScrumMaster” section.

So, as a Scrum Master, in my quest to acquire a better perspective into what it takes to be a better Coach for Agile Teams, I went to Indigo Store and stumbled across a book by author Lyssa Adkins “Coaching Agile Teams”.  The book seemed highly relevant, and I bought it with my eyes closed, got it delivered and started reading.

To improve her own Agile Coach skills, Lyssa took a professional coach course which greatly assisted her in serving her teams with more compassion and in becoming more able to guide them through their Agile journey.

In her book, Lyssa shares a lot of helpful insight into what great Agile Coaches do and how they do it; however, the five things I list below were like eye openers for me simply because I had not realized how simple things like these can be so powerful.

- Being Silent. The power of asking a meaningful question and going silent may be a true test for some. How many of us have felt the awkwardness and urge to say something to fill up the vacuum associated with silence? I personally have. More than once. But WHY do we feel that we need to fill the space? Why is it that silence makes us feel so? After all, silence is necessary: it gives us time to reflect on what was said, put our thoughts together, analyze. Lyssa teaches, that as an Agile Coach, we need to know how to be silent and how to hold the silence for however long necessary. Ask the question, then go silent. Let the team reflect on what you just said, and wait for them to start talking. Someone will, and it should not be the Coach.

- Asking for Permission. As a Coach, I believe that my team truly knows all the answers, not I. Asking for permission to do certain things or to do common things certain way is a great tool to demonstrate to your team that you have faith in them and that you believe that they know better than you. Lyssa gives a great example to back this point. As a Coach coming to facilitate the Retrospective Meeting, we propose our agenda and ask the team if they are OK to proceed with the discussion around our listed points. It may well be that something more pressing is on the team’s mind and they will want to discuss that instead. We should go with the flow. This means that the points we proposed in our agenda are less critical and can wait. Another time to ask for permission is when we, as a Coach, want to provide feedback. Ask if the person wants to receive feedback, and if they say no, then step back. There will be other opportunities to give that feedback, and they will learn … eventually.

- Waiting. In like with the point above, sometimes it’s necessary to wait. As Agile Coach, we need to be able to recognize when giving feedback can be done immediately versus when it will be detrimental if done immediately and, therefore, needs to be postponed until Retrospective. Sometimes (and actually quite more often than not) it is better to let the team work on its Sprint Goal and wait with addressing points of concerns at the end of the Sprint, during the Retrospective Meeting.  Retrospective is the absolute right forum for these discussions, unless NOT giving the feedback on the spot will be detrimental to the team’s progress or morale.

- Stepping Back. As the team becomes more self-sufficient, it is important to step back and be less intrusive. Teaching and Coaching are more critical at the start of the project, as well as during teachable moments. When the team has learned the chosen framework, however, it’s time for the Coach to step back and let them be self-sufficient. Occasional stepping back in and offering observations/comments/powerful questions, etc. becomes critical when we feel that there is need in them.

- Observing. This goes together with the previous point. As an Agile Coach, we always have to observe our team’s behavior. Are they following the framework? Are they upholding the Agile Principles? Are they communicating well? Is anyone left outside of a conversation? Are they jumping to solutions too quickly? Or are they too slow to start working on the next Sprint? These offer opportunities for the Coach to be a catalyst by asking powerful thought-provoking questions that will help the team get back on track.

As Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches, our utmost priority is our team. Being able to smartly navigate the team through their Agile Journey without demonstrative intrusion can be complicated art and therefore requires practicing. But once the skill is set, the rewards will be huge.