Attitudes of an agile coach – which is yours?

Very often in agile transformations, we work with agile coaches. Either they already exist in the company, or we help to draft them, or we raise them ourselves from the ranks of employees. And we encounter a variety of attitudes when working with them.

In previous articles, Agile Culture and Leadership and Agile Leadership, we introduced the Tribal Leadership framework in the context of the leader’s attitude and its impact on the company culture. If this is true for leaders, it is doubly true for agile coaches. It is coaches who are the change agents, the change agents, the guides and the carriers of the new culture.

Let’s take a look at the most typical attitudes and their impact on culture and the entire transformation. Can you find your coaches’ attitudes among them?

Tribal Leadership culture levelsTribal Leadership – description of each level is available here

Coach at level 2 – Lack of self-confidence

We haven’t met a level 1 coach anywhere yet. Level 2 isn’t very common in this role either, but it has happened here on occasion. Such a coach is usually nominated by someone and assured that it will “be good”.

  • Source of the attitude
      • The cause of the victim’s attitude is typically job insecurity, feeling unappreciated and frustration.
      • “I am convinced that I am a victim of the system and that my happiness is in the hands of someone other than me.”
  • Manifestations
      • In behavior we find submissiveness and keeping ourselves and the team in a comfort zone, avoiding action and big changes.
      • You hear from him/her sentences like:
        • “That sounds good, BUT…”
        • “SOMEONE should…”
        • “I’ll run the workshop, but you’d BETTER TAKE the values part…”
      • Sometimes such a coach looks proactive, takes on a bunch of technical stuff, and becomes the team secretary, but avoids areas where she doesn’t feel solid. 
  • Perception by others
    • The responsible roles (Tribe leader/Product owner) soon find that they cannot rely on the coach and start to deal with the changes in other ways out of necessity.
    • The level 2 team is happy, the coach isn’t forcing them to move anywhere and is such a partner in resisting leadership and change.
    • A team at level 3 and above will typically refuse to follow such a coach and will not respect them.
  • Consequence
    • Keeping yourself and the team comfortable and avoiding challenges doesn’t move teams anywhere. On the contrary, it hinders transformation and the coach sets a bad example for others through his or her behaviour.

Coach at Level 3 – “My Truth”

A Level 3 coach knows he is good and has a clear idea of what an agile organization should look like. This is already a big shift from the previous attitude. However, a Level 3 coach doesn’t like to discount his ideal. He/she often sees things in black and white and sees the people around him/her as incompetent people who are to blame for the current situation and he/she is there to fix things.

  • Source of the attitude
      • “I believe I’m better than the others. I have had (several) work experiences that confirm this.”
      • “I believe the people around me can’t handle the situation, that’s why I’m here and I can handle it.”
  • Manifestations
      • We will see sharp edges in behaviour and opinions and judgements of others, which often unnecessarily arouses hostility between people.
      • You hear from him/her sentences like:
        • “This is wrong, it should be like this!”
        • “We will do it this way!”
        • “Those product owners are a disaster, we’ll have to replace them all!”
      • He/she unknowingly disrespects others. The exception is people who prove to him/her that they have more experience or power than he/she does.
  • Perception by others
    • Responsible roles (Tribe leader/Product owner) feel they can only rely on the coach in certain areas. Especially in those areas where “sharp edges” don’t matter. But typically topics related to soft skills and culture will be handled in their own way anyway because the coach with his sharp edges is a bit of an elephant in the china shop here.
    • A Level 2 team typically fears such a coach and follows him or her in fear and with a mask.
    • A team at level 3 and above will typically reject the coach because of the sharp edges, or at the very least there will be a big question mark hanging in the air.
  • Consequence
    • A coach with his truth and sharp edges can move teams along, but he is more likely to make enemies among stakeholders, and probably the whole shift and development will happen in an atmosphere of fear or at least mistrust. Either way, it will be very difficult to achieve a culture of WE with such a coach.

Coach at level 4 – Partner

A Level 4 coach knows he is good and has a clear idea of what an agile organization should look like. This is similar to Level 3. But here there is no longer a “big ego” that prevents the inclusion of others. A Level 4 coach has the good stuff from Level 3, but at the same time, there is a huge overlap to the overall vision, mission and values of the organization. The coach acts as a partner in various situations where they are relied upon, but at the same time, there is a mirror and cultivated feedback loop when stakeholder desires and ideas are not aligned with vision/values and culture of WE.

  • Source of the attitude
    • “I believe I am great, my experience confirms it, but at the same time “I know I know nothing” and therefore I listen a lot to others and try to understand their motives and intentions and tune all of them in a cultivated way towards a common goal.”
    • “I believe that the people around me can manage if they are given encouragement and support.”
    • “I believe that I will be the best coach when I make myself expendable, i.e., when both organization and individuals systematically approach things according to the same principles.”
  • Manifestations
    • We will see wisdom and inclusiveness in behaviour and opinions that can calm even crisis situations.
    • You hear from him/her sentences like:
      • “What would you suggest and why?”
      • “Why do you think this is the best solution?”
      • “Sure, let’s do it…”
      • “I understand this is a crisis situation, but let’s calm down. I’m sure we can work something out together…”
  • Perception by others
    • Responsible roles (Tribe leader/Product owner) feel that they can rely on the coach in every way because he/she accepts co-responsibility for the common goal and always looks for win-win solutions, taking into account the views of all stakeholders.
    • He is simply a partner in adversity. He can not only roll up his sleeves and get involved but also set a mirror and point out things that are not working well. That’s why he has the respect of both stakeholders in leadership positions and the teams that follow him with confidence and a sense of certainty.
  • Consequence
    • Such a coach is also very active. He takes on big challenges with an internal vision of the ideal of “how it should be”, but at the same time respects the current state and pace of the organization and individuals. He seeks to engage, encourage and support them. She tries to make the most of the good that is already in the organisation and is always looking for the next step that will move the organisation towards the (unattainable) ideal.

Summary

When you fill the role of Agile Coach in your organization, consider not only their competence in Agile, methodologies and practices but also their mental setup. Often, a well-adjusted coach with less experience – which can be quickly made up for, for example, by temporarily pairing with another experienced coach – is better than a process matador, but whose attitude will block the transformation in the company.

What kind of coaches do you have in your organization?

Related articles