Seven Agile Coach Failure Modes

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point that you may not give the team enough room to see what would happen, what they would come up with, how good they really could be. This is where the Hub, the Admin, the Opinionator and the Expert come in. These failure modes are all ways to insert yourself into the team's operations so you can ensure they won't go too far astray. The problem is that this also ensures the team won't come up with amazing results, either.

Multitasking is normal, right?
Well, not really. Multitasking, and its cousin, continuous partial attention, are fairly new and the human nervous system may not be built for them. [1] You're probably well acquainted with multitasking - doing more than one thing at a time, usually with one task being a simple on you can do on auto-pilot. Continuous partial attention is a more recent term, but you probably know what it is, too. It's like this: "I'm going to answer this e-mail while you tell me about your problem and while I look at my Blackberry because it's chirping at me. Now, tell me again, what did you want to talk to me about?" It's like multitasking, but with a twist - the feeling of being "on" 24/7, constantly scanning for who or what wants your attention next.

Continuous partial attention arises when the coach is coaching more than one team, which is fairly common. However, it often leads to the Seagull, the Spy and the Butterfly. These are all some version of doing just enough to make one's presence felt, to make it look like you are coaching when you are really just barely there.

The reality of the situation is that coaches spend much of their time waiting. Being with the team, noticing what's happening and waiting. Waiting for what? Waiting for precious teachable moments.

Teachable moments are "those unique transition points where there is the maximum opportunity for imprinting new learnings." [2] These are the moments that crystallize an Agile principle and make it real or move a team into greater insight and creativity resulting in a remarkable product. They are the "aha!" moments, bringing it all together and laying the foundation for the high-performance team.

Although teachable moments often come for individuals at typical transition times such as the start of a new job, all bets are off when you're dealing with teams. In the context of an Agile team, teachable moments come seemingly at random. You can't force them and you don't know when they will emerge. Waiting seems unproductive, but if ample time for the coach to just "be" with the team is not allowed, the moments will be missed, along with the learning. When the learning is missed, the team's journey to high performance slows.

What might an Agile Coach do?
There is a recovery mode - a way to avoid or, at least, recover from the failure modes. The recovery mode is to replace fear with trust. It's important enough to say it again: replace fear with trust. Trust that the team really does know the right thing to do, even if it's different than you would have them do. Trust that they can and will bounce back from blind alleys and approaches that don't pan out, so you need not save them from these disappointments. Trust that they will rise to the best in themselves to surprise and delight their customers (and you). Trust that if they fail, they will learn and be even better for it.

It's no small feat to get to a place where you trust. This is

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About the author

Lyssa Adkins's picture Lyssa Adkins

Since 2004 Lyssa Adkins has taught Scrum to hundreds of students, coached many agile teams, and served as master coach to many apprentice coaches. In both one-on-one settings and small groups, she enjoys a front-row seat as remarkable agile coaches emerge and go on to entice the very best from the teams they help. Prior to agile, Lyssa had more than fifteen years of expertise leading project teams and groups of project managers, yet nothing prepared her for the power of agile done simply and well. Lyssa authored Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition.

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