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Coaching: It's Not All About What's Wrong

5 October 2017

Arthur Moore
Clear Systems LLC

As an Agile coach, you are eager to add value. You are a keen observer. You have armed yourself with all the indicators of team dysfunction. You know all the techniques for managing conflict, all the bad behavior patterns to watch for in Agile ceremonies, and ways to address them. You’re prepared for anything that can be wrong with a team or needs improvement. What could possibly be missing? Just this: recognizing what is right.

When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail to you. When you’re an Agile coach, you of course must find things to coach! Actually, sometimes the most courageous thing a coach can do is not exposing the deep, unspoken problem that everyone is afraid to voice. Sometimes the bravest and most helpful action of all is to believe in the team, in what is right about them, and their own ability to act.

What, after all, are you fundamentally trying to help this team do and become? You are trying to help them become self-determined, self-organizing, confident enough in themselves to be decisive, and able to trust and collaborate with each other. You’re trying to increase their rightness.

The team’s capacity to address things that are wrong is proportional to how much rightness they have. In a truly high-performing team, wrongnesses don’t stand much of a chance. They evaporate in the bright light of the team’s smooth operation. For such a team, looking hard for things wrong could itself be a wrongness, introverting the team away from its forward motion.

It is by making the team more and more self-aware in its own ability that you accomplish their independence and competence. When you focus all your attention on what is wrong, what needs fixing, you will inevitably find it. There are an unlimited number of things that you can and will find. You are the hammer. Nails are everywhere.

This absolutely does not mean that a dedication to continuous improvement is a bad thing. Not at all. A good coach seeks to improve the team’s capacity to continuously improve itself. That is measured in and enabled by the team’s pride in quality and the confidence that comes with success.

Recognizing and strengthening rightness is more than giving acknowledgments in stand-ups or reviews. There are number of specific actions you can take to do this. For example, you can help the team by:
  • Individually demoing their contributions to the product at reviews
  • Enabling them to visit client sites where they see their product in action, helping organizations in major ways
  • Setting up meetings with clients who tell them about the value the product has for them
  • Using powerful questions not just to sort out a situation or relationship that needs fixing but to bring about awareness that a team member or the whole team just did something that was remarkable
  • In retrospectives, being just as rigorous about the root cause analysis of things that went right as about those that went wrong, and logging actions to reinforce them. Maybe nobody quite noticed that when the system was down and they took a hack day, they ended up with their most productive sprint ever.
The first and foremost thing you can do is look. Look for the strengths in your team. Look for what is admirable in each team member. If you can do that, and realize that the real power is theirs and that you are just there to help them unleash and channel it, they’ll be lucky to have you, and they will prosper.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.5 (6 ratings)


Shane Billings, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 10/5/2017 7:16:58 AM
Great article! I had never thought of "root cause what went right". Great idea!
Jyoti Prakash Jeengar, CSM, 10/17/2017 10:55:06 PM
Awesome Article..great insights on how to motivate team in effective way. Thanks
Dan Mirabella, CSP,CSM, 10/31/2017 1:24:12 PM
Truly an amazing article. I provided a summary of these concepts to my Team, in a "help me to help you" type of approach. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Thank you.

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