Everybody makes mistakes, especially at the beginning of their learning something. If you recently took it upon yourself to learn more about Agile Coaching stances and how to apply them, this post is for you. And I’ll tell you right now: I made the four mistakes I’m mentioning here in my journey to becoming an Agile Coach. And I’m still here standing, and as far as feedback my clients still love working with me!
So normalize failure and don’t be afraid of it. And be attentive to see if you can spot those mistakes early and learn sooner rather than later. We can and should learn from others. Not all failures need to be of our own!
In this post, we cover the 4 mistakes beginner Agile Coaches make. And because pointing fingers is easy, I won’t stop there and I will list also some ideas on how to avoid them. Let’s go!
1 – Speaking more than listening
Let’s be honest: many people, coaches or not, love to speak. And especially if you are into that kind of sports coach approach, where you have the coach giving a speech before the team enters the game, or you listen on YouTube to some inspirational videos from a sports coach… in all these scenarios, the coaches speak and you listen.
So you might be tempted to think that this is the norm in coaching and apply it when coaching teams and individuals on Agile. But actual coaching, the one that helps people achieve their full potential, requires that you listen a lot. You listen to what is being said, you notice patterns, you notice energy shifts in the person speaking, you notice what they don’t say or don’t seem to want to reveal, and you notice people’s mood and their body language.
So how do you start listening more and speaking less?
To this day, I use some mindfulness exercises before you start my conversations. Remind myself that I’m there for them, literally telling me “I’m there to listen”. Telling myself to be very attentive, because while others will be speaking, I’m actually THE one person who will be listening.
I also like to combine that with a breathing exercise, especially for difficult or longer conversations. Breathing is a primal way of relaxing and calming, and then you can enter the conversation in the right state of mind.
Be in action… in other ways
For those of you, like me, who might be thinking that you speak to be in action, you can show up for the conversation with pen and paper. That’s right: doodle; write down whatever picks your interest. That not only keeps your focus in the conversation, but it is also literally you DOING something. That’s very useful if “doing something” is the urge that spoils your coaching conversations.
2 – Teach all that Agile you know
It’s not uncommon as we start with Agile coaching that we are big believers in the mindset and in all these amazing things and techniques. And our eyes become sharper, we start noticing all that’s wrong with our teams and we start helping them all the time with some serious Agile cure. We tell them all the principles, all the techniques, and every single problem has an Agile solution to it.
It is actually quite normal. You know so much after all this practice you have adopted the mindset. It feels like a waste not to tell others about all we know. And it’s free! We just want to help and give away knowledge.
The problem is: do they really need that specific help you wanna give them? And most importantly, if you don’t get selective and want to teach something every single time you talk to people… basically all your interactions are about fixing things and even fixing people. That’s off-putting for most humans. Not to mention that they might feel like they only do things wrong, because every time they talk to you is lesson time.
I know from experience that it comes from a place of great intentions: you want to shortcut your team’s journey through Agile! The thing is: that’s not actually possible. People have their own timing for learning and we are all at different stages in our Agile journey anyway.
So what can you do to stop inflicting help all the time?
Use your listening skills
That’s right. You already started listening, so it all becomes much easier. You start picking patterns and with those you can now show the mirror to your teams. You have the receipts of when these patterns are showing up. And what’s the impact. Now you can invite them into the conversation about what can be done.
And if the team says yes, then you can showcase all that knowledge you have in the service of the team.
Work on your confidence
If your urge to teach all your Agile secrets comes from a place of insecurities, I’d say, more of that mindfulness exercise is needed. Every day, reserve a time to do it. I like to do mindfulness at the beginning of my day because it prepares me for the day ahead. This can look like anything that you like to do that centers yourself. Do you like to run or walk, do some meditation, breathing, yoga, or visualization? Pick whatever is best for you.
Just add a mantra! A powerful message you tell yourself about how competent you are and that you don’t need to prove it by imposing on people.
3 – Only share the success stories
Let’s be real. The road to success is paved with failures and you will face so many failures as a coach! And so will your teams as they learn how to think differently and how to act differently to reflect this new mindset. Nobody wants to be the fool or feel unskilled. People don’t want to do things wrong, and sometimes that’s why they resist Agile change.
So showing examples of how things can go wrong, how things did go wrong for you when you first started with Agile, acknowledging the difficulties of the process, and making it all the more human. I bet you did not have the easiest time to start prioritizing one single thing after the other and working sequentially. Most people are tricked into multitasking as if it was a badge of honor! Or maybe you were cheating on your iterations, to make things seem that they fit the cycle plus or minus one day, ignoring that the most important point is the progress, not perfect. Maybe you were once the one who was not so engaged in Agile retrospectives.
So, if troubles and failures are so common what can you do here as an Agile Coach?
My best advice comes with simplicity and vulnerability Just share your own journey. For yourself or with the teams you were part of. Not only do people love stories because they can connect with the event and the characters in it, but you are also normalizing learning from failure.
There’s a distinction here: not just simply failing, but learning from it. Failing should serve a bigger purpose. Failing without paying attention and repeating mistakes over and over again, is like spinning a hamster wheel. But they, hat’s also a meta-learning in itself, so use that with the team if it seems fit.
4 – A chaotic approach to their practice
The final mistake I see, and I was not immune to it, is having a chaotic approach to your Agile coaching practice. Sometimes even lacking discipline and a plan on how to show up and where to evolve.
This is observed in many ways. Sometimes you show ups as a jedi who can solve all problems; tomorrow you are more like the ninja that no one can find. Sometimes it’s you teaching a lot and sometimes it’s the opposite, with you letting the team fail and learn all the lessons alone. That’s a lot of change and inconsistency to your practice if it happens frequently. And you might not even be noticing and showing up as a person with a different mood every day.
You run the risk of coming across as unreliable. You certainly will have a hard time having teams understanding you and trusting you.
Now, am I saying you have no right to be moody or to change your style? Or that you should not have different styles with different teams? Absolutely not. In fact, I assure you, you will change your style as you develop your skills, and the experiences you go through help shape who you’ll become as a coach. And different teams activate different skillsets from your arsenal because their needs are quite distinct.
What I am saying is to stay consistent for a period of time before you change. If you want to be more of a hands-on coach, seek engagements that put you in that type of environment. If you want to work more on technical aspects of Agility, grow skills there for some time. Being consistent is a benefit not only to people around you, but it’s also helpful to you because you are giving yourself time to try it on and see if it fits. You are learning different stances and different skills, and that requires more than just theoretical knowledge, it requires practice and doing. Exactly what you tell your teams. You can’t rush learning. You can’t skip practice. So, sit with that style, approach, skill, for a while. Learn from it and either keep it or move on.
For that, you need to be intentional. What skills, what stances are you interested in growing next? Treat your Agile coaching skills as a product! Have a vision and a backlog, prioritize it, iterate over your learnings. Be meta here! Have fun!
You are NEVER done growing as an Agile coach. But don’t leave it all to chance. Have some planning and intention around how you do things, how you show up to support your teams. And be agile. Remember that planning the course doesn’t mean you can’t adjust to a massive change in direction when the opportunity comes your way.
So how about the mistakes you’ve been doing or done as you started? How did you overcome them?