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What is the most common mistake made by newbie Agile coaches?

What is the most common mistake made by newbie Agile coaches?

I would be hard pressed to pick a single mistake above all others so I will explore a couple of common mistakes that I have witnessed.

Making other people wrong.

One of the most common things I witness from newbie agile coaches is making other people wrong.

New agile coaches tend to have a level of zealotry. They are enthusiastic and huge advocates for a particular way of working, but certainly agile as a whole, and that can take over completely.

These new agile coaches start seeing people working in ways that they wouldn’t expect and that leads to them saying, ‘don’t do that, do this instead’.

It is all well-intentioned. That new agile coach can see that there is an opportunity for the team to improve and they are actively seeking ways to help the team become better.

In their eagerness to have the team adopt agile and follow agile best practices to the letter, they are forgetting that it is up to the team to decide, not themselves to enforce or impose things on the team.

  • Maybe the team have tried something in the past and it didn’t work for them.
  • Maybe the team tried something, but it didn’t work as well as their new chosen path.
  • Maybe the team are still figuring out how best to adopt a specific framework and need to mature as a team before they can advance to the next stage.

That eagerness, fervour and zealotry gets in the way of them actually doing the job of an agile coach.

Where new agile coaches rush in and attempt to change every element that doesn’t align with what the textbook says, a more experienced agile coach will take a step backward and observe what is happening, ask questions to understand why it is happening that way, and learn about the team and their environment before looking to make recommendations or changes.

An experienced agile coach will have been burned before and will know that they need to tread lightly, especially in the opening weeks of their new role or engagement, because they need to earn trust and learn as much as they can about how things work, why they work that way, and where the opportunities for improvement may lie.

What I would recommend for newbie agile coaches is to take your time and ask questions like;

  • I can see that you are doing this, and I would love to know why?
  • I can see that you aren’t doing that, is there a reason why?
  • Have you considered X?

Learn the context of the team operations and introduce your questions and observations as part of a conversation with individuals as well as the team. You are there to learn and help them and by taking the time to learn about the team environment, you will earn respect and trust.

Remember, you aren’t in charge. You have no authority to tell people what they should and shouldn’t do.

You need to approach your team as an equal, as someone who is there to help the team identify and discover new opportunities and explore how those opportunities can be exploited.

So, take your time and introduce concepts, ideas and observations in a way that is helpful and useful to the team.

Maybe your idea is brilliant and the team adopt it straight away, maybe they have tried it before, and your concept is dead in the water before you even start.

Having conversations with the team will help you to understand where and how you can contribute the most value.

Breadth of Experience

This is a tough one for newbie agile coaches because you can’t walk into the role and instantly have a great depth of experience. It needs to be earned over time and shaped by your experience.

What newbie agile coaches need to remember is that there is no wrong way to do any of this stuff.

Each application of agile is unique and each environment finds their own unique way to agility. Your role is to help them make the evolutions that matter and discover the best way of working for their unique team environment and work application.

There are many, many great ways of achieving agility and there are new ways being created all of the time. There isn’t a single path to agility, a best practice if you like, that ensures your team will succeed.

It must be discovered.

There must be experimentation. You and team need to develop hypotheses and either prove or disprove those hypotheses.

Growing through evidence and making decisions based on data and feedback will make sure that everyone is on board with the evolutions. Will make sure that everyone on the team buys into what you are attempting to achieve.

Remember, just because you have attended a scrum master course or completed an advanced Kanban course, it doesn’t make that ‘the way’.

It simply means that you have great knowledge of that opportunity and are well-positioned to help the team discover whether that is a great answer to the challenges they face or whether it is an opportunity for them to grow.

It may be. It may not be.

It is important that you aren’t deeply entrenched in the dogma of Agile and are instead open, transparent, and willing to work with the team to discover what is best for them.

I want you to remember that there are a lot of tools, frameworks and models out there.

The one you have learned is a great addition to your toolbox but it is only one tool.

It is only one of many ways to achieve an objective and so you need to invest in continuous learning to expand your knowledge of other tools, models and frameworks.

Don’t become personally attached to a single style, tool or framework. Be open to working with your team to experiment and potentially even adapt some of those tools and models to best serve your team. Over time, you will develop a breadth of experience and have proven expertise in helping teams adopt the best solution for their unique application.

If you are interested in becoming an agile coach and value mentored, coach-driven skills development in your journey to mastery, visit our Growing Agile Coaches page.

For more information on John McFadyen, visit or connect with John on LinkedIn at

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