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An argument of coaches

It was another Thursday morning meeting.

“Who puts in a 9am meeting? On a Thursday?”

“Sorry everyone on the line. Give us a minute to sort out the connection problems.”

“It’s the same every week! How many IT people does it take to get a bloody meeting started?”

A few chuckles and eye rolls before reconvening occupation of their own important bubble. Tablets, phones and laptops were swiped, tapped and clicked.

This meeting was obviously getting in the way of important ‘real’ work.

“OK. Looks like it’s all sorted! Everyone can see and hear us in London?”

“Yep”

“Yeah – loud and clear”

“Excellent – let’s kick off with a quick update on what’s been going on this last week.  Who would like to start?”

The concentration intensified within each bubble.  Only a few faces looked up, hoping not to lock eye contact.

“OK.  I’ll start.  We had a great chat to some people yesterday about Test Automation.  Not sure who owns it … but the conversation was good and we will be at the next session.”

“I’d like to help with that.  We had some great stuff at my previous place that could be helpful.”

“Well… it’s early days so as soon as I need support, I’ll let you know.”

“OK…”

The meeting continued for an hour and a quarter, overrunning by forty five minutes.

“Great to catchup guys.  Same time next week?”

Some nodding as everyone stood up while closing laptops, pocketing phones and locking tablets.

Broken meetings.  Distractions.  Single ownership.  No shared focus.  Disjointed approaches.

Lots of work to do here.

There HAS to be a better way than this

The ironic thing was that this was not a distributed development team I was observing or coaching.

This was the weekly agile coaches meeting.

The client was going through a large transformation to Agile and had decided to hire coaches to help.  They hired a team of experienced coaches that would be able to deliver more than the sum of it’s parts.

The A-Team

This is not a common thing to do.  Depending on company size, you will usually only find a small number of coaches.  Each coach a guru in their own right.

Putting twenty six coaches into a single organisation created an interesting and new dynamic.

We penned the collective noun as an ‘argument of coaches’.

Within a few months of forming, we had picked up all the bad habits of a fractured team.  We pulled in many different directions. Postured. Formed cliques. Death by email. And meetings.

It took a lot longer than we had hoped but there was eventually some movement.

Pockets of value appeared.  Great feedback on training.  Lean Coffees and Agile Surgeries got attention.  The Community of Practice started building.  We even heard some of the right words used in the right context in conversation.

But we were still not performing like a team.

Had we become the plumber with the leaky tap?

Our day job is to help individuals and teams become the best they can be.

We could have refocussed ourselves and helped drive a bigger groundswell of adoption.

Something was missing and so instead we became busy being busy, attempting to show value in any way we could.

Fundamentally we fractured and became a broken team as we hadn’t got the single shared goal and vision.

The volume of work to do seemed insurmountable but we were not looking at swarming on the highest priority to get it done.

We were working as individuals inside a group rather than sharing a single goal and working as a team to get things resolved.

Our sponsor was driven, trusting and wanted to do the right thing.  But I am not sure he was ever as empowered as he needed to be to get the dials moving properly.

We lost our way.

We lost some great people too.

Not adding enough value didn’t sit well with their principles.

Or the value they were adding was difficult to show to the business.

Those that were left behind moved to support different areas of the business.  And just like a comfy pair of shoes, they became a guru again.

This further fracturing didn’t help the notion of ‘team’.

We tried to get together regularly – in the weekly call or in the pub.  Slightly jaded but still passionate about doing the right thing, about making a difference.

Although these meetings over a beer were cathartic, they didn’t give us the empowerment and single focus we needed as a team.

That would need to come from the business.

Where to next?

The dynamic, structure and focus of the coaching team changed as the business continued to transition towards agile.  The transformation rolled on as the business was still invested in getting to market quicker.

We learned a few things about ourselves.  Maybe not surprisingly, the lessons on how to build a great coaching team don’t differ from how we would help build a great agile team:

  • Find the best, most diversely experienced people you can
  • Create a safe environment for openness and honesty to thrive
  • Create a shared goal that everyone understands and buys into
  • Regularly get together both in and away from the office
  • Empower the team to have the right conversations with the right people
  • Respect feedback and learn from your mistakes to grow (thanks Ray)

You won’t get it right first time around but as long as you get feedback and move forward together, the results as a team will be much larger than the individual effort put together.

Of course, you should expect a healthy argument or two along the way.