Organizations dealing with the COVID-19 crisis are needing to reduce costs quickly and are consequently looking to remove or reduce their coaching cadre. This is understandable as it is often more challenging to see the value that a coach brings, after all, coaches are about making their teams shine not themselves. But a coach’s value should be best demonstrated by team’s positive improvement of their speed, quality and value delivered.
Additionally there is a belief that Agile Coaches are only about standing in team’s ceremonies and doing minor course corrections as they overhear work being done by teams. With teams now working distributed, organizations believe that because coaches can no longer see and hear teams, that their effectiveness is significantly reduced. However, Agile Coaches are needed more now than ever before in order to support teams in helping to work effectively whilst distributed. This includes training on using new tools to effectively collaborate, focussing higher on alignment prior to starting work, empathatically connecting with team members to resolve issues and ensuring team members aren’t feeling socially disconnected.
Agile Coaching of leaders is just as equally important for a similar series of reasons that existed prior to COVID-19 including how leaders can best enagage, support and get transparency of their teams using digital tools.
Whilst teams and leaders need to adjust to this distributed world, Agile Coaches too need to make some adjustments in how they have traditionally worked. The following are the top seven changes that Agile Coaches need to make to be more effective in remote coaching.
- Build trust virtually. Trust is a critical element to be established in any coaching relationship. If you have an established coaching relationship when working virtually is unlikely to be a significant hinderance. But for new coaching relationships, building trust will take longer and be more challenging to detect nuances in body language. Coaches will need to demonstrate more vulnerability and humility than they may be used to in order to help build a trust relationship. Check out these 13 simple strategies for building trust.
- Get familiar with new games and activities that can be run virtually to teach people agile behaviours, principles and practices. Lisette Sutherland, co-author of “Work Together Anywhere: A Handbook on working remotely, successfully – for individuals, teams and managers” has produced a brilliant page of ideas and tips on her collaboration superpowers site. Utilise simple Trello boards to run training agendas and vitual whiteboards or virtual post-it note tools. To inject some competitive, multi-choice activities into training utilise tools like Kahoot.
- Adapt your coaching style to focus heavier on general coaching and less on Agile coaching skills. Great coaches already utilise a broad toolkit that includes deep Agile knowledge and strong capabilities in general coaching utilizing coaching models like GROW. With anxiety and stress levels so high, coaches will need to ensure that their coachees are feeling supported and that conversations are focussing on the coachee’s needs over necessarily focusing on Agile maturity.
- Focus on open questions. As coaching becomes completely virtual, it will be harder to see the “system of work”. Coaches will not be able to overhear conversations (unless the team is using constantly voice connected platforms like Discord). Consequently it becomes even more important that coaches ask open questions like “why”, “what” and “how” over closed questions that result in a “yes” or “no” response.
- Support leaders to not revert back to command and control. When under stress and anxiety we will revert to utilize patterns that have been deeply established in the neurons in our brains. Coaches will need to be super sensitive to this shift in leadership behaviours and watch out for it in emails and in voice communications. When detected, coaches need to be congniscent to the context – maybe the group required some immediate and rapid direction setting as the situation had become chaotic. If the context didn’t require micromanagement, then coaches should be empathetic when discussing this with leaders, appreciating the stress that they are under and supporting them by letting them know when they themselves have failed to re-enforce behaviours and fallen back on old habits.
- Ensure teams and leaders have access to the tools needed to collaborate. Along with the tools previously mentioned, ensure that the team has access and training on to tools to manage their work. Look out for plug-ins that can make their work even easier. Help by cleaning up the quality of information inside of the tools so that leaders and teams have better insight into the work.
- Strive for alignment across teams. Listen out for team members that are unclear on the purpose and acceptance criteria of their work and help them to connect with stakeholders to resolve ambiguity. Often team members have little visibility on what other teams are up to – coaches are in a unique position to detect cross-team misalignments and should help to resolve these. For teams that are utilizing SAFe to create alignment, coaches should continue to help out preparing and supporting PI Planning distributed. Xebia has done a number of great blogs on how to do remote PI Planning and remote core team ceremonies.