Tag Archives: agile coaching

Using “Status” in Agile Coaching & Training

Recently after attending a Scrum Alliance webinar on “Best Practices in Coaching,” I was reminded of my experiences teaching Acting students at university, and how I used changing status to help them achieve their best.

Status refers to the position or rank of someone within a particular group or community. I believe it was Canadian Keith Johnstone who introduced the idea of “playing status” to theatre improv teams. It is used to create relationships between characters onstage, and to change those relationships to move a story forward.

Status can be indicated through position, posture, facial expression, voice and clothing. It is a fascinating tool for any trainer or coach to use.

At the beginning of a semester with new students, I would invite them to sit on the stage floor in a circle with me. I would welcome them, discuss my expectations of their learning, and tell them what they could expect from me. We’d go over the course syllabus and I’d answer questions. I purposefully put myself in an equal status to them, as a way of earning their trust, because the processes of acting* requires huge amounts of trust. I also wanted to establish a degree of respect in them for the stage by all of us being in a “humble” position on the stage floor.

However, when I would introduce a new exercise to them that required them to go beyond their comfort zones, I would deliver instructions from a standing position while they were seated. By elevating my status, I conveyed the importance of the exercise, and it was a signal that it was not something they could opt out of. In this way, I could help them to exercise their creativity to a greater extent.

Another way I encouraged my students to take risks was to take risks myself. Sometimes I would illustrate an acting exercise by doing it myself first. For those few minutes I became a colleague with my students, one of them, equal in status. If I could “make a fool of myself” (which is how it may look to an outsider), then they could too.

I had one student who had great potential, but who took on the role of class clown and would not give it up. He fought against going deeper and getting real. One day in an exercise where they had to “own” a line of dialogue, I had him in a chair onstage, while I and the rest of the students were seated. He had to repeat the line of text until it resonated with him and became real. After some minutes, nothing was changing in him. In desperation had him turn his chair around so his back was to us. I then indicated to the other students to quietly leave the room. He could hear something happening but was confused about it. He was not able to turn around and look.

When I allowed him to turn around it was only him and me left in the theatre. I had him go through the repetition exercise again. Without an audience, and with me still seated, he finally broke through the wall he had erected and connected with the line of text from his inner self. It was a wonderful moment of truth and vulnerability. I then allowed the other students back in, and had him find that connection again with the students there. He was able to do it.

He is grateful to me to this day for helping him get beyond his comfortable role as clown to become a serious actor.

When training or coaching, it seems to me there can be huge value in playing with status. Sometimes taking a lower status, an equal status, or a higher status, can move a team or upper management into discovering whatever may have been blocking the process. Again, there are many ways to indicate status and even a status change to effect progress.

In his book, “Improv-ing Agile Teams,” Paul Goddard makes some important observations about using status. He writes: “Even though status is far less obvious than what is portrayed on stage, individuals still can take small steps to encourage status changes within their own team. For example, asking a team member who exhibits lower status behaviours to take ownership of a meeting or oversee a process not only boosts that person’s confidence but also increases status among peers…these subtle actions can help make lower-status team members feel more comfortable when expressing new ideas or exposing hidden problems.”

A colleague reminded me of a 1975 publication called “Power: How to Get It, How to Use It,” in which author Michael Korda gives advice about facial expression, stance, clothing and innumerable ways to express “power.” The idea of using status in the context I’m writing about is not about gaining power, but about finding ways through one’s own status changes to help unlock the capacity and potential of others.

How can a coach use status to help someone in management who is blocking change? Is someone on a team not accepting what others have to offer because s/he is keeping his/her status high? Is a Scrum Master necessarily a high-status team member, or rather a servant to the team (low status)?

I am curious if any coaches or trainers out there have used status in a way that created growth and change.

*Good acting is a matter of the actor finding the truth in oneself as it relates to the character he or she is playing. It requires vulnerability and courage to step out of one’s known persona and take on another as truthfully as possible. Inherent truthfulness also applies to work in any other endeavour.


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Top 10 Secrets of Agile Transformation with Michael Sahota

I dutifully watch Scrum Alliance’s webinars whenever they offer something I want to learn about, so I recently attended Michael Sahota’s “Top Ten Secrets of Agile Transformation.”

Sahota is a bit of an Agile guru, and well-respected in the community. He founded the Toronto Agile Community, and can be seen at Scrum Alliance gatherings everywhere. He also facilitates a Certified Agile Leadership course. You can learn more about Sahota by going to his website www.agilitrix.com.

The webinar he conducted was fascinating, because by the time he went from #1 to #10, I realized his “secrets” were very simple, and that one could start with #10 and work backwards to #1 and learn the same things.

By simple I mean his points were clearly articulated and comprehensive.

Before enunciating his secrets Sahota started with the idea that “Culture is the #1 Challenge with Agile.” He asked, “What are we (agilists) doing to create resistance to a change of culture in an organization?” Mindset, he averred, is more important than the practice of Agile – by which he referenced creating safe and trusting relationships, engaging with others, promoting continuous learning, innovation and so on. On a continuum line with “practices” on one end and “mindset/culture” on the other, he urged practitioners to find a balance between the two.

And now for the count-up:

Secret #1 – Clarify the purpose of bringing in an Agile coach by asking “why?” Usually the answers have to do with improving the quality of a product and encouraging more collaboration.

Secret #2 – Focus on organizational goals (and drop the word “Agile”). If the goals are clear, as those articulated above, one can drop the Agile initiative and try another. Agile is not the goal, but focussing on doing and being Agile can set up the wrong expectations. You may say, “Of course we will likely use Agile to help us achieve the organization’s goals,” but remember that Agile cannot be the goal!

Secret #3 – Focus on growth (and drop “transformation”). The idea of transformation is that it is a painful process. It also implies an end point: one is transformed. The idea of growth is more natural, and transformation is really about creating healthy change and growth. It is ongoing.

Secret #4 – Increase awareness of the global context. Global trends mean that an organization must be growing to survive. A lot of organizations do not know how to read their engagement surveys, or don’t even have them. People’s talents are wasted when engagement is low, which leads to massive financial waste. Millennials demand change – will not seek to work in an organization that’s regressive or stagnant. An agile enterprise is resilient and anti-fragile. How well is an organization set up to thrive in the future?

Secret #5 – Increase awareness of organizational context – what’s happening in an organization? However, resist telling leaders that their organization is broken. Start with humility and compassion, and then show leaders that there is a lack of engagement by their members by reading the survey. It’s not about blame – have the leaders acknowledge this and say what they want to do about it. What difficult conversations are needed here? The coach must stand in the truth of what’s happening, listen and understand. Be real.

Secret #6 – Clarify the focus of the initiative. Is more time spent on tactical initiatives (as in, how do we work?), in strategic initiatives (what do we want to achieve?), or in cultural concerns (who do we want to be?)? Discuss what percentage of time is needed to spend on culture in order to have a bright future.

Secret #7 – Build a shared understanding of what culture is. Culture has to do with both consciousness (or energetic property) and structures. Consciousness includes identity, values, beliefs, and the unwritten rules and norms in an organization. It includes values such as safety, trust, people being valued… Structure (practices) and consciousness (culture) co-exist together and are inter-dependent.  Refer to the Agile Manifesto: people over process. – focus on structures without consciousness cannot succeed.

Secret #8 – Clarify the leaders’ role in growing. The consciousness of the leadership is most important. New organizational behavior requires new leadership behavior. Growth requires leaders go first! How do we invite them to go first?

Secret #9 – Honour the leaders’ freedom to choose. Do they wish to work on something tactical? Cultural? A coach must let go of what he or she wants. We cannot coerce people into believing what we believe.

Secret #10 – Growth can happen anywhere.You, as an individual, are the limit for growth.

Sahota suggests creating a culture-bubble in which consciousness and safety can be grown. In this last point he quotes Gandhi: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

I am aware that in the 45 minutes of the webinar, Sahota went through each point relatively quickly. Each one in itself provides room for reflection. For me, the fact that the tenth “secret” puts the onus on each individual to grow is telling; if we change, we can help those around us in their transformation. But that requires extra-consciousness, I think, and humility. Overall, Sahota points to values and culture within and without as the key.

Michael Sahota is offering his Certified Agile Leadership class in the new year through BERTEIG – you can find dates at this site: http://www.worldmindware.com/Certified_Agile_Leadership#schedule


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9 Common Mistakes in Hiring an Agile Coach

Nearly everyone is hanging out the “Agile Coach” shingle.  Agile has reached the point where many large organizations are adopting Agile practices.  As a result, consultants and consulting companies are trying to jump on the bandwagon to take advantage of this fad.  Unfortunately, we at BERTEIG are often being called in to clean up after other Agile coaches have made a mess of things.

Here are the most common mistakes that organizations make when hiring Agile coaches.

1. Not Measuring the Results of Your Agile Coach

Agile coaches should be able to measure their results as they work with your teams and your organization. Important measures include performance, cost, quality, time to market, customer satisfaction and others.  If you aren’t measuring results, you can’t possibly know if the money you are investing into your Agile coach is worth it.  Of course, some qualitative measures such as staff satisfaction with the coach are useful too, but quantitative measures are also essential.

2. Not Benchmarking before an Agile Coach Starts

You need to be able to know if an agile coach is making a difference. Knowing where you are starting is necessary.  Having benchmark measurements of important KPI’s will help you to make sure that your agile coach is successful.  Benchmarking is something that your agile coach should be able to help you with, but make sure that you are involved directly!

3. The Agile Coach is Lacking Advanced Certifications

Agile coaches need to have proven their knowledge and experience by obtaining advanced certifications. A “Certified Scrum Master” designation is just not sufficient. At a bare minimum a Certified Scrum Professional (CSP) or Kanban Management Professional (KMP) certification are critical. However more advanced certification’s such as Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC), Kanban Coaching Professional (KCP), or even non-Agile coaching certifications such as Leadership Circle Profile are important to see in a candidate.

4. Lack of Diversity of Agile Experience

An Agile coach must be able to prove having worked with at least Scrum and Kanban methods on more than one team in more than one organization.  However, there are many other Agile methods and techniques, and it is critical to explore the depth of your candidate’s knowledge and experience with those techniques.  Do they know how to do the Agile engineering practices?  Have they used many different retrospective techniques?  What about Innovation Games?  Estimation and planning tools?  If your coach has less than five years of experience with Agile techniques, chances are they don’t have the depth to deal with the complexity of your situation.

5. No Huge Agile Coaching Failures

An Agile coach needs to be able to explain how they have failed to achieve results in at least one case, ideally getting fired as a result. Failure and learning from failure are critical parts of the Agile framework. If an Agile coach can not share with you a significant failure then you cannot trust that they are able to learn from their mistakes.

6. No Systematic Agile Coaching Approach

Helping teams, groups and organizations become more Agile requires systems thinking and systematic approaches.  Organizations are complex (and sometimes chaotic!) – if an Agile Coach does not know how to deal with this complexity, and cannot describe to you their systematic approach, then they probably aren’t going to be consistent in their results.  And if the approach they describe doesn’t seem to make sense to you, you are probably right to give that coach a pass.

7. Missing Clear Agile Coaching Goals

This mistake is a little less common, but it is important enough that it still needs to be mentioned: your organization absolutely must have clear goals for the Agile coaching.  Those goals should be related to both Agility and business results.  Agile techniques are a means to an end.  Lacking clear goals often results in an organization spending far more than it needs to on Agile coaching.

8. Hiring an Agile Coach to do Training

(Or the other way around.)  Coaching and training are two completely separate disciplines!  It is rare to find an individual who is able to do both well.  The systems and techniques of coaching are different than those of training.  Becoming excellent at one, takes many years of focused work.  Becoming excellent at both, takes deep commitment and opportunity.  If you hire an Agile Coach who has good experience, don’t just assume that they can do training just because they have delivered a few talks or made up a slide deck.  Put the same discipline into hiring an Agile trainer that you would put into hiring an Agile coach.

9. Not Letting Leaders and the Agile Coach Work Together

This is probably one of the biggest mistakes of all!  An Agile coach must work with your organization’s leaders to have any hope of helping you with lasting change.  No matter how large your organization, the culture is set by leadership, Agile has a huge cultural impact, and your Agile coach needs to be able to link the two together (leaders and Agile culture).  Even if the Agile coach is “just” working at the team level, a lack of contact with leaders will make the coaching work inefficient, frustrating, and unsustainable.


Your organization deserves the best chance it can have.  Consider contacting us at BERTEIG to help you make sure your Agile coach (or Agile coach candidate) is up to the challenge.   We have a systematic program to develop Agile coaches.

BESTEIG Real Agility logo - Agile Coach development program


Affiliated Promotions:

Try our automated online Scrum coach: Scrum Insight - free scores and basic advice, upgrade to get in-depth insight for your team. It takes between 8 and 11 minutes for each team member to fill in the survey, and your results are available immediately. Try it in your next retrospective.

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