agile, teamwork, coach

How to Coach an Awesome Team

Introducing a team to Agile concepts and ideas is one of the most satisfying things I do as an Agile Coach. The idea that I can show a team strategies, tools and techniques that will make a difference to the way they work is brilliant. Even tools like visualising work and putting more rigour into planning can supercharge a team and make the difference between barely surviving and thriving. As a coach I build capability through coaching, training sessions and in the moment teaching opportunities. I reinforce learnings and get the satisfaction of them not needing me as much.

Wait, what? They might not need me?

Not strictly true. A team, no matter how awesome they are, needs a coach. In fact, athletes at the most elite levels of sport have more coaching than amateurs. So when I say the team might not need me as much, I don’t mean they won’t need me at all. They just need me to show up differently.

Time to Step Up to Coach your Awesome Team

Introducing a team to Agile takes a different type of coaching than what is needed when the team performs at an excellent level. In the same way as coaching a high school basket ball differs from coaching an NBA team. While the high school team may need reinforcement on ball passing skills and goal practice, the NBA team still needs to practice all that, AND needs a coach to push them harder.

That means the coach has to push themselves harder.

That’s right. A coach of a high performing team works harder. Not only do they need to remind the team of the basics and ensure consistency of practice, they need to challenge the team in different ways so they are always improving.

In many ways coaching a high performing, highly self organised team is harder than a team new to agile. A team new to Agile needs the basics – careful capability uplift coupled with coaching and support – the biggest challenge is ‘over chunking’ them with too much information all at once.

Coaching a more experienced team is a different challenge. While you risk ‘over chunking’ your new team, you risk ‘starving’ your experienced team. An experienced team is hungry for more. They have mastered the basics and most likely already have a culture of continuous improvement. They want more. And just like an experienced basketball coach will have a raft of differing plays under their belt, an experienced Agile coach will have a range of techniques, models and ideas to share with the team so they can continue to learn and test out new concepts. An experienced Agile coach will not just know the models but have applied them. And have the ability to apply them in a new context. An experience coach is always learning!

Never Forget the Basics

Former UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden – named the greatest coach of all time by his peers – was famous for his pre-season lesson in putting socks and shoes on. If I ever notice a ‘high performing team’ taking short cuts ‘because we know all that stuff’, it’s a sign we need to go back to the basics. And time to question  whether they really are the high performing team they think they are.

Even the highest performing Agile team needs to practice the basics:

  • Setting the intention before a planning session;
  • Still taking time out for quiet writing before contributing thoughts in a retrospective;
  • Checking stories to ensure they are written with outcomes in mind (and story kick-offs!);
  • Reminding the team of the purpose of a stand up, retro or showcase.

Go forth and coach your awesome team!



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About Emma Sharrock

Emma is the author of The Agile Project Manager: Thrive in Change with Agile. An experienced change leader, Emma is passionate about working with people to facilitate successful change. Emma utilises Agile techniques, coupled with the Agile mindset to coach leaders and teams to achieve their business goals.