Agile team coaching is generally considered the most effective way to help teams become Agile. Still in its infancy, there is tremendous variation in the practice of team coaching and—not surprisingly—its effectiveness.
Team coaching is a distinct, recognizable discipline and not just a random bag of tricks that varies with each self-proclaimed team coach. Let’s take a closer look.
What is Team Coaching?
Unlike training, the purpose of coaching is not to transfer knowledge or skills, although it’s likely that learning will result and skills will be developed. Unlike some forms of consulting, coaching is not about the master instructing the novice, although both good and bad coaches often possess expert knowledge. Unlike executive coaching, it’s not about developing a private counselor/client relationship, although coaches quite often provide counsel to team members. Unlike one-on-one coaching, team coaching seeks to develop not just an individual, but a team.
Team coaching is the practice of cultivating the characteristics and capabilities of individual team members and the team as a social entity so that the team’s full potential can be expressed and the greatest value delivered.
The Need for Team Coaching
Training is an important starting point, but it is not where the significant learning takes place. Deep and reliable learning occurs through practice; training simply prepares the student to then learn by doing.
The procedural aspects of Scrum, for example, are almost ludicrously simple. The trick, though, is not simply to learn the procedures but to effectively exercise the practices. Furthermore, the practices require team collaboration. Team collaboration is inherently a social activity, so learning and maturing to perform as a cohesive team take place in a social context.
Coaching is the principal activity that guides the team’s learning. It helps the team stay focused on the values and principles that have to be internalized to stay with and master the practices, particularly under stress. A skilled team coach facilitates the difficult human interactions that teams typically encounter on the road to high performance. An effective team coach can also engage with the organizational context beyond the team to help foster an environment that will support the team’s ability to deliver value.
Team Coaching as a Competency
The practice of team coaching has matured over recent years and today is considered both a competency and a profession. Team coaching adopts many of the principles of executive coaching but the fact that the client is a team, not an individual, makes a huge difference. That is why small group facilitation skills are a necessary element. One-on-one coaching requires such skills as establishing and maintaining trust, asking powerful questions, giving and receiving feedback, using emotional intelligence, and conducting difficult coaching conversations. A team coach must do all of these things while also engaging with team dynamics and communications, power struggles, and competing priorities both internal and external to the team.
A number of organizations stand out as proponents of the competency of team coaching. The Scrum Alliance offers the Certified Team Coach (CTC) certification, which recognizes the attainment of a range of competencies that are key to effective team coaching. The International Consortium for Agile (ICAgile), through a collaborative process with experts in the Agile field, has developed an extensive set of learning objectives and certifications that reflect in detail the competencies of team coaching. The Agile Coaching Institute, possibly the premier developer of Agile coaches and leaders, has adopted the ICAgile learning objectives as a framework for their programs in team coach and enterprise coach development.
Is Team Coaching an Ongoing Need?
Some organizations see team coaching as a bridging activity that becomes obsolete after the Agile adoption wave is complete. But there is another school of thought, which recognizes that team compositions change, new employees arrive, there is a tendency for practices to drift, and organizational circumstances are constantly shifting. This creates an ongoing need for coaching capacity, though typically not as great as during the initial transformation activity.
The ultimate goal of the Agile movement is to enable learning organizations. Given the prominence of collaboration and team activities in learning organizations, team coaching can be seen as a necessary organizational capacity. It is a competency all its own requiring mastery in the coaching of both individuals and teams.