How does an Agile coach help create a highly motivated, self-organising team?
Welcome to part 15 in our agile coach interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of agile coaches and scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.
This is an interesting one. I would start by breaking this question into 2 parts:
Very often when we first bring a group of people together, they don’t know how to work together. They don’t know what it means to work as a team, nor do they know how to work as a team.
So, one of the first points of call for an agile coach is to host a series of workshops with the team to explore how they currently work, what the team are attempting to achieve, and how best to do that.
They will explore potential team values and identify what the team want to be, how they want to work in the future, and what the foundation of great teamwork and performance looks like. What are the team willing to hold one another to account for in terms of behaviour and principles?
These are very much the early days formation of a team and very often the agile coach is turning up as a facilitator. In some ways, also as a consultant where they tell the team to commit to the process and to trust that the fundamentals of team development will get them to a great initial stage.
As we move through the journey of team development, the agile coach shifts from consultant to facilitator and coach, encouraging crucial conversations and inviting the team to explore elements of teamwork that best fit that stage of their progression.
So, conversations are going to start and we’re going to encourage the ones that help us grow and evolve whilst dampening the ones that lead us to stalemates and compromise. We’re going to encourage them to talk about the team identity, how they are going to work together, and how they are going to improve their product.
In time, the team won’t need you to marshal their meetings anymore or facilitate the conversations that need to happen. They will become more effective at self-organizing, and your role will shift once again into a stronger coaching role.
At this point, it is no longer about guiding the team, it is about being guided by the team and challenging them to become the best version of a team that they are capable of. It is about believing in them and leveraging coaching techniques, tools, models, and frameworks to bring out the best in each individual and for the team.
Belief is incredibly important. You need to believe that the team can improve and that there is a long way to go in their journey to high-performance. Sometimes, teams become complacent because they recognise that they are the best team in the organization.
They receive recognition, rewards, and validation from the organization that they are outperforming other teams which often leads to a sense that there is no room to grow or improve. As a coach, you need to guard against that and help the team with continuous improvement and innovation.
At other times, you’re going to be the person helping the team regain their footing as a powerful force of creativity and collaboration. They may have lost their way or failed to overcome challenges that set them back. It’s your job to remind them of the journey undertaken and how far they have come. It’s your job to coach them through the challenges and help identify a way forward that they can evolve from.
Self-organization is not a quick and easy achievement. It takes time, effort, will and a commitment to continuous improvement. It has rollercoaster moments that alternate between high performance and below average performances.
As a coach, you may need to alternate between facilitation and coaching to help the team achieve self-organization and self-management. You will need to blend teaching, coaching, and mentoring to help the team achieve their goal of self-management.
Remember, a team can be defined as a small group of people (6 to 12 people) with complimentary skills, and a goal that no one person can deliver themselves. To become a team, each person on the team needs to agree to hold one another accountable for the delivery of that goal.
Motivation is a tough one and some would argue that this does not fall under the responsibility of an agile coach or scrum master. Motivation is intrinsic to people and whilst you can help create an environment that nurtures motivation and inspiration, you can’t directly enforce motivation.
So, how does an agile coach create the environment and invite elements that are the foundation of intrinsic motivation, inspiration, and deep satisfaction?
Interestingly enough, by helping the team become more autonomous and self-managing, we are automatically going to see a lift in inspiration and motivation because the team own the goal and they own the style or way of working that empowers them to reach that goal.
Nothing is being imposed on the team and each member of the team has taken ownership of the process, systems, and outcomes necessary to achieve their shared goal and purpose.
We work with great people. They are highly intelligent, skilled, and committed to doing a great job.
Providing them with autonomy and empowering them to resolve everything from problems to internal conflicts leads to intrinsic job satisfaction and motivation. They want to hit the ball out of the park, and they want to serve the team, customer, and organization to the best of their ability.
Learning a new skill is hard. It requires us to be humble through the process of discovery through to demonstrated competence. In short, we need to accept that we are going to suck at what we do until we have learned and practiced enough to be great at it.
It takes time. It takes humility. And it takes deliberate practice with immediate and frequent feedback from a coach.
Sometimes that coach is a skilled practitioner that mentors them from beginner to expert and at other times, it’s the Agile coach that helps them master the elements of agile and whatever agile framework that has been deployed.
Over time, the team become more skilled and competent. They are able to solve more difficult and complex problems and the standard of product or feature they create raises into the territory of technical excellence.
As the team acquire and master new and more relevant skills, they organically become more motivated and inspired. Demonstrated excellence in what they deliver, and praise from customers and the organization leads to increased levels of motivation, inspiration and satisfaction.
As an agile coach, we can help the team identify the skills that need to be acquired and we can help the team organize around empowering individuals to master those skills. We can help them identify the people who will teach, coach and mentor them to achieve mastery as both individuals and as a team.
In the self-organizing and self-management elements of this scenario, we spoke about the team identifying an identity, style of working, and a shared purpose that everyone agreed to.
Purpose is a reason for existing. What are we here to do, why does that matter, and how are we going to organize and deploy the team to achieve that purpose.
If we’re sending people into a high-pressure environment without the necessary skills and micro-managing them every step of the way, it won’t matter how strong the purpose is because the team are way out of their depth and have zero autonomy.
So, purpose is the final step in creating a deep sense of motivation within the environment, and it integrates into the other two elements of mastery and autonomy.
Creating, defining and articulating purpose is not the responsibility of the Agile coach, however, you will work with executives, leadership teams and the product owner to help craft a vision and purpose that inspires the team.
You will work with individuals as well as teams to have conversations around purpose and to help them identify what matters to them, why it matters to them, and how they are going to go about achieving that purpose. You will also help them measure how they are performing against the purpose they are aligned with and help them identify a process of continuous improvement that creates an environment where people can excel and thrive.
Achieving a standard of excellence, in alignment with the knowledge that the team serve a purpose that is frequently and consistently being achieved/honoured, will naturally raise motivation and elevate some individuals to a place of inspiration.
So, in short, an Agile coach is not directly responsible for motivating others but they do play a very strong role in helping the organization and the team to create an environment where motivation, inspiration and job satisfaction are present.
Focus on the key areas outlined above and you should see a high-performing, agile and motivated team.
About John McFadyen
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