Squad-Based Coaching Is Essential for Agile Success
Squad-based coaching is an Agile practice that aims to help businesses become more adaptive and flexible by incorporating decentralized coaching methods.
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In today’s turbulent and rapidly changing business environment, Lean-Agile working models have helped businesses become more adaptive and flexible. With a focus on creating highly engaged and empowered teams who act on fast feedback and pivot regularly to maximize business value, it’s easy to understand Agile’s present popularity.
Yet while the “Agile” concept is good in theory, it can become overly-idealistic. Many organizations commence their transformation journey with the best intentions only to find their workforces soon shift back into a production line driven by uniformity. This is the critical point where progress can begin to stall.
By embedding deeper coaching capabilities within multiple people and squad roles, however, it’s possible to navigate these challenges and enable true self-management and collective leadership. Let’s take a look at how effective, sustainable coaching can accelerate organizational agility and help create positive working cultures for lasting change.
Decentralized Coaching Is Essential for Thriving Self-Managed Squads
A truly effective coach works with individuals and groups to help them reach their full potential. This is a well-known and trusted element of the sporting world, so why shouldn’t it apply to professional teams too?
In order for a squad to become truly “self-managing”, there must be clear and transparent frameworks in place which guide the ways the group works together. This ensures that every squad member has an equal voice and solid understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing the group and that decision-making processes remain democratic.
A coach enters the squad to focus on the “way” the team works together, rather than the details of what they are aiming to achieve. By being detached from the core business of the team, the coach is able to be objective and focus their attention on helping the team work together as effectively as possible while learning from their experiences.
Identifying and Developing Coaching Opportunities
The most important attribute of an effective coach is a genuine level of care and commitment to the squad they are working with. This must be aligned with the material success of the squads’ delivery, but more importantly, with creating and sustaining a positive working culture. The coach will be instrumental in making the squad a happy, supportive, and engaging place to be, so they need to care deeply and genuinely about the people they are working with.
When identifying internal resources with strong coaching potential, look for great communicators with high levels of emotional intelligence. They will be supporting teams and individuals through the good times and the bad, so empathy and resilience are important.
Once those individuals with the right mindset and a deep level of care have been identified, the next step is developing them into effective coaches. This involves cultivating a sound understanding of organizational frameworks and how these impact the squad they are working with. Once those with potential are identified, developing and nurturing them into effective coaches is the easy part — it just takes time and dedication.
Feedback Data Drives Successful Coaching Strategies
Employee sentiment analysis is a central theme of the data used to drive coaching. It is important to understand staff engagement levels and how motivated they are by their interactions with their team and more broadly in the organization. If there is evidence of poor engagement or demotivation, this often means the team in question could benefit from more hands-on support from a coach.
Constantly capturing data and feedback from a workforce provides an objective and tangible canvas from which to identify areas of successful working, and where greater support is needed. Organizations can regularly conduct staff sentiment surveys with their teams and squads and aggregate this at the end of each Program Increment of 12 weeks. Assessment and analysis of them can then be used to inform the coaching strategy for the next quarter.
This kind of survey data can also highlight teams and individuals who are performing at a higher rate than average. Workflow management tools such as Jira can provide insights here and can help identify squads who are working together in an efficient and effective manner. The coach may then choose to observe these squads more directly to capture learnings that can be applied to other squads.
Accessible coaching is a learnable skill to be widely available and employable for all staff. By enabling employees with greater access to authentic and effective coaching support, we can create future-primed teams who are ready to tackle the problems of tomorrow.
Further Background Information
Sam Rickard has worked for Victoria University for close to 10 years and has extensive experience in online learning technologies, technical development practices, and what it means to provide an impactful student and staff experience. Throughout the last three years, he has endeavored to identify, embed and teach Agile practices throughout Information Technology Services (ITS), helping individuals unlock opportunities and overcome challenging problems. Sam has a deep interest in augmenting the work experience of his peers and is currently supporting the adoption of agile ways of working in ITS.
Will Thompson is a program management professional with a background in digital transformation, currently leading the Agile Transformation at Victoria University. A UK national who has spent the last three years working in Melbourne, Will has a wide range of experience across both public and private sectors. Will is passionate about forming positive working cultures and creating teams of the future based on empowerment and trust.
Over the last 12 months, Victoria University's (VU) IT Services department transitioned to a new way of working. Named the IGNITE (Inclusive, Grow-in-Numbers, Innovate, Trust, Evolve) framework, our delivery model is a bespoke Agile framework combining SCRUM, Lean and Kanban approaches. Despite 2020 being one of the most challenging years ever for organizations worldwide — especially Universities and those working in Agile where rituals traditionally focused on face-to-face interaction had to be moved to virtual spaces — we successfully transitioned almost 80% of IT Services staff. Through positive word-of-mouth, improved cross-functional collaboration and outstanding project outcomes, the benefits began to inspire organic interest in organisational agility from many diverse departments leading to the adoption of IGNITE by VU Finance and Procurement teams and soon VU’s International arm — with nine more departments registering for the induction waitlist in 2021. You can watch a short video here about how our staff sentiments have dramatically improved under IGNITE. In this second video, you can hear more about the IGNITE mindset and hear from staff across the University outside of IT who have experienced positive repercussions.
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