Seven Agile Coach Failure Modes

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a tall order, with a big payoff. One nifty side effect of trust is this: to make trust work, you have to offer your full attention. To make room for trust, you need to pay attention to what's actually happening on the team and also, what's trying to happen.

Trust + Attention = Good Coaching (Or, at least, the foundation that makes good coaching possible).

Although there is no one right path to "get to" trust and offer attention, here are a few things you might try: cultivate mindfulness, get curious, go easy and pair. They all work well together and each works fine by itself, so do what feels right. 

Cultivate mindfulness
Anything to help you cultivate mindfulness will help avoid the failure modes. Practicing mindfulness, you may learn to be fully present to teams and you may find your self-awareness increases. Presence and self-awareness are two keys to help you notice when a failure mode has arrived so you can adjust. Any books from John Kabat-Zinn [3] are a good place to start with mindfulness practice.

For me, mindfulness means silencing the noise in my head. The noise may be worry about what the team will do next; judgment about the product owner being too directive; aggravation about a team member not truly participating; elation that the team just released a new product; and so many other thoughts. They are all in there, jumbled up and trying to elbow their way up to the front of the attention line. They are loud and distract me from doing what I need to do as the coach: tune in to what is going on with the team right now. Not what happened in the past, not what I'm worried about will happen in the future, but what is happening in the present moment. This is why mindfulness is often called "getting present." When I get present, I am able to notice what is really happening with the team and then help them move forward in a constructive and positive way. Looking back, I often see that the path they took was perfect for them, and very different than I would have suggested if I allowed myself to be driven by worry, judgment, aggravation, elation, and more. 

Get curious
When you are observing a team as they work, get curious about what's going on. Ask yourself questions such as, "What's trying to happen here?" "Where are they headed?" "What might they find useful?" Then, notice what's going on some more. Take time to see what's really there, to get the clear view of the team - the view that is not colored by your judgments and assumptions. Then, notice what's going on with you. What failure mode is happening for you? What are you feeling? Is fear motivating you? Where is the trust? Where is your attention? And, then, when you see clearly what's going on with them and what's going on inside you, you can begin to *think* about coaching them. 

Go easy
Maybe noticing that a failure mode is in operation for you is enough right now. Maybe just becoming aware when you slip into a failure mode is a big leap forward. Go ahead, be aware. Be gentle with yourself. This is a new muscle. Of course you are going to rely on time-worn reflexes when stressful situations come up. The secret, here, is to know that the stress behavior need not become your everyday behavior. And then, eventually, even in stress, you will be able to avoid the failure modes. But for right now, know where

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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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