May 19, 2021

Do we really need an Agile Coach?

Moritz Bleu
Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer / Agile Coach

I've been working in the area of agility since 2013 and feel blessed to have learned a lot about agile transformation and new work. Today as a co-founder of agyleOS I'm still developing knowledge in this field. One of my learnings, I'd like to share with you: The right question is not, if your organization needs an Agile Coach or Scrum Master, but about which skills are needed to transform your organization.

While I was reading the blog post “Failed #SquadGoals” of Jeremiah Lee, an agilist who worked for Spotify, Fitbit, Disney and Apple, I was inspired to write this article. Because Jeremiah describes, among other things, a phenomenon that I have often experienced myself and can be observed in many (agile) transformations of organizations. Questions like "Do we really need a Scrum Master or Agile Coach?" are an indication that one aspect of modern and agile work is highly underestimated: It is assumed that everyone has the ability to collaborate effectively with others.

The Achilles' heel of agile transformations

From my experience, I can say that this underestimation is often the Achilles' heel of agile transformations. Working agile has a lot to do with the ability of people to align and coordinate within a team but also beyond. Only when this succeeds will anything be able to grow from it.

Unfortunately, according to my personal observations, these individuals often precisely lack this competence. They rarely have the necessary ability or pragmatism to convey collaboration as a skill and to create and develop appropriate structures. De facto they are not suitable Agile Coaches, because they cannot do what the name describes: Coaching Agility.

Agility at its core has to do with strategy, tactics and teamwork

I see one reason for this situation in a very unclear picture that is drawn or discussed for this position in the agile community. This in turn embeds itself in a still very inconsistent definition of agility, which makes it difficult for newcomers to find orientation here.

Agility at its core has to do with strategy, tactics and teamwork and there ALWAYS must be someone who takes care of these aspects of the work and must bring the necessary competence. So, if you want to become and stay agile, the question should not be whether you need such a person, but the question is how many and with what skills.

Sometimes I felt more like I was in an esoteric course than in an Agile Coach Meetup

When I have looked for suitable candidates in the past, a high degree of empathy was very important to me. However, it was equally important to have a strong sense of responsibility and organizational talent, coupled with a healthy dose of pragmatism.

Since this job involves working with people, finding people with empathy is logical. I have also been able to get to know many very friendly and empathetic colleagues over the years and find that this quality also shapes the community to a positive degree and makes it very attractive. However, when it comes to professional exchange, I still often feel like a stranger, because I notice differences in our views when it comes to interpreting this task. There were moments when I felt more like I was in an esoteric course than in an Agile Coach Meetup. The discussions about holacracy and freedom from hierarchy, for example, often confused me and were in strong contrast to my own reality.

Without the right Agile Coaches, your organization won't be agile

Agile working requires clear structures, processes and (decision-making) hierarchies just as much as "classic" working. I would even say to a greater extent. Responsibilities, as defined e.g., in the Scrum Guide, must be clearly defined and collaboration must be organized. This is what an Agile Coach must want to and be able to achieve in terms of the company and its vision. Without the right Agile Coaches, the desired and necessary level of collaboration competency will not develop in your organization.

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