What is a coach? According to Merriam-Webster, the literal definition is “a large, usually closed four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage having doors in the sides and an elevated seat in front for the driver.” While this interpretation is certainly less relevant today, it’s valuable to reflect on where the word’s most popular current usage comes from. The modern understanding of “coaching” evolved as a slang term, alluding to an advisor who helped “drive” students through academic examinations— a person serving others as an intellectual carriage.
So what’s the purpose of a coach in today’s world? Personally, I believe coaches should work to drive positive change in those around them, though a change of any sort is a tricky job in itself. Fortunately, there are plenty of change management frameworks available as guides. However, without the right experience and expertise, applying these frameworks can still be a considerable challenge.
One of the most powerful advantages a coach provides is the ability to drive transformation, reinforcing change to help ensure your team doesn’t slip back into old habits. Just as an athlete’s coach helps identify deficiencies in performance, outline action plans, and enforce accountability, an Agile coach performs the same duties for people, teams, and organizations as a whole.
It is the knowledge and experience that coaches bring to the table that helps them capture opportunities, avoid pitfalls, and help the organization continue moving forward. There are many common patterns we see in teams transitioning towards Agile, and an effective coach can be an enormous asset in recognizing and leveraging these trends.
Some organizations have scaled into silos to increase efficiency (and keep people busy). Unfortunately, this managerial optimization is unrelated to the effectiveness of getting work done from the perspective of a customer. For many teams, it can be difficult to step outside of the routines practiced within their small corner of the company.
Experienced agile coaching, however, understands the full spectrum of organizational experience, from client to C-suite executive. By helping each team member understand their value-add from a user perspective, agile coaches can help better align the work as it flows through a process, improving and accelerating the pipeline of value delivered to your customer.
Processes, tools, and practices are easy. It’s the change required that makes ‘going Agile’ difficult. Organizations often attempt to jump right from making a decision to training. This shortcut fails to properly build widespread awareness of the change’s importance. This can trigger frustration and pushback from employees, leading them to believe that they should simply wait out this ‘passing fad’ until management reimplements the status quo.
Effective Agile coaches, however, possess the empathy and charisma necessary to help teams see the bigger picture. By reframing the conversation and helping each individual see how this change also solves their problems (rather than just their boss’s), coaches can help institute a more sustainable culture of continuous transformation and personal growth.
After you’ve built a sense of awareness and desire within your organization, it’s time for training. An effective Agile coach can step in at any point of this transition, training level-set teams on processes and frameworks and progressively builds an experimental mindset.
Through their deep expertise and record of proven successes, experienced coaches can not only show teams how Agile delivery is done, but they can also demonstrate why it will work for them.
Through this training emerges a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation. Armed with the proper knowledge and methods, employees soon feel capable of tackling even the most daunting business challenges, empowering them to do their most effective work and maximizing their contribution to customer value.
Re-aligning the Organization
“Agile” isn’t something just for the teams. At its core, agility often requires a change in the very structure of organizations because they were once tuned for efficiency and have become rigid. Being agile often involves redefining your products to hone in on true customer value and ensure necessary changes can be easily made. With a renewed product focus it becomes necessary to reorganize how teams align around them. An effective agile coach has seen this process happen numerous times and can help every step of the way.
Whether optimizing for continuous delivery or toppling traditional corporate hierarchies, organizations must make a variety of monumental shifts in how they coordinate their efforts or risk compromising the results they were seeking. By bringing together key stakeholders and aligning them to a common purpose, Agile coaches can help unify and integrate these efforts. As they help leaders push decision making down to speed up risk mitigation, coaches ensure customer value is a universal priority, building autonomy and accountability into every role.
Most organizations are resistant to change that it doesn’t collectively understand or truely desire. In these cases,an external influence will be required to facilitate meaningful progress. This outside voice is unencumbered by office politics or entrenched ideas (“that’s the way we’ve always done it here”). Your Agile coach should also be sensitive to the cultural elements that must be preserved while applying proven change management techniques to take your organization to the next level.
After carefully removing the anchor of tradition and legacy business practices, Agile coaching can help dramatically shift mindsets, taking them from seeing things as “good enough” to believing in the “art of the possible” building learning organizations. Not only can this guidance reignite the ambitions of individual team members, but the influence of a skilled Agile coach can ripple throughout an organization, transforming stagnant company cultures into vibrant epicenters of industry-wide disruption.
One of the most important characteristics of an effective Agile coach is a proven track record of success. The team at Responsive Advisors is stacked with some of the most accomplished professionals in the increasingly complex domain of project management. They have the knowledge and experience of working with clients of different sizes across industries, allowing them to quickly recognize common problems and help avoid some of the more painful lessons.
Through Responsive Advisors’ extensive educational offerings, offered both in-person and remotely online, their coaches have the ability to thoroughly train your team, providing impactful Agile coaching and ensuring full adoption of the business world’s most popular value-delivery framework.