Book Review: Coaching Agile Teams
by Johanna Schober & Sigi Kaltenecker
In this text you find: A PAM review of Lyssa Adkins´ book // Appreciation and open questions // What we got out of the book //
What we appreciate:
the differentiated approach towards a profession that is quite complex. As with agile in general, agile coaching is easy to get going yet hard to do well;
the precise description of different roles, i.e. coach as mentor, facilitator, teacher, problem solver, conflict navigator, collaboration conductor (pp73). Lyssa´s book helps you to notice which hat you are wearing, clarifies the specific tasks of each role and applies a lot of skills from professional coaching.
the strong connection between different techniques and the general attitude or mindset of a coach. Lyssa makes it crystal clear that the role of agile coach is far more than getting the basic agile processes and principles instilled. It is to act as a role model, a specific way of walking the talk and modelling the agile behaviors you want to see in place such as good communication and listening skills, openness for other ideas or giving space to clarify differing expectations;
the challenge to start with and constantly work on yourself that meanders through the whole book as a kind of main theme. “To improve teamwork, I need to improve me” is both an essential and very convincing motto of professionally helping others to help themselves. At least this is what resonates the most with me (Sigi), stirring up my own experience of success and failure as a professional coach who have worked for over 15 years in different areas of expertise.
What we ask ourselves:
Is it possible, as suggested on p34, to empty yourself of personal agendas, emotions and thoughts in order to reflect “like a clear mirror in which the team may see themselves anew”? Got the idea, but have you ever heard of constructivism, not to mention systems thinking?
How could one coach both individuals and teams, Scrum and management experts simultaneously and guaranteeing safety and confidentiality as well? What about handling contradicting interests? What about your own credibility in the face of unconscious siding?
Surprisingly, there are few suggestions on how to learn as a coach besides the assertion that “it´s your journey”. Isn´t a professional coach constantly obliged to be a coachee as well? To engage in peer coaching? To consciously devote some time to a tailored learning plan? “Getting more of yourself” needs more than applying nice personas such as “the spy”, “the seagull” or “the hub” (for agile coach failure modes p260) respectively “the magician”, “the ear” or “the dreamer” (for agile success modes p266).
What about the specific organizational context an agile coach works in? Is there no significant influence of the organizational dynamics let alone the organization´s relevant environments (e.g. customers, suppliers, shareholders, competitors) have on how to coach? In other words: is everything just a matter of personal styles?
Just a small thing, nevertheless irritating: Why is there no concrete reference to Sandra Janoff´s and Marvin Weisbord´s landmark book on meeting management.? Is it possible that the whole book reflects on a lot of ideas from Sandra and Marvin without even knowing it? (In order to get to know some of these ideas in a nutshell see http://www.loop-beratung.at/fileadmin/pdf/Guideline_Principles_for_leading_meetings_that_matter.pdf).
What we got out of the book:
for sure, a lot of concrete advice in terms of using the right techniques with the right mindset in the right context. The book is well written, clearly structured and combines a lot of personal experience with constructive lessons learned which could help in a lot of different tricky situations;
more than that, the book stresses the basic idea that mindful self-observation, open self-reflection and structural leadership are the most important guidelines for successfully coaching agile teams;
encouragement to continue the constant work on myself – although it´s sometimes not only challenging but boring as well to meet the same old patterns again and again, reminding myself of the famous “Groundhog Day” movie;
However, there is no other way than to create a well-balanced system of feedback in order to continuously re-align my self-perception with how others perceive me. Structurally speaking, this clearly needs a specific investment to organize enough re-alignment opportunities on a regular basis. More than this, it needs the courage to ask the right people who are able and willing to gracelessly confront ourselves with challenging points of view;
As in agile teams, timely and honest feedback acts as the most important catalyst for continuous learning.
Lyssa Adkins: Coaching Agile Teams. A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition. Addison-Wesley Signature Series (Mike Cohn), 1 edition (2010), Paperback: 352 pages.