Coaching Rightness

As an Agile Coach, you are anxious to add value.  You have armed yourself with all the indicators of team dysfunction, all the techniques for managing conflict, all the bad behavior patterns to watch for in Agile ceremonies and ways to address them.  But with all this knowledge of what can be wrong with a team and how to fix it, there is one tool, stuffed in the corner of your tool bag, that can get neglected: recognizing what is right.

When you’re a hammer, to you everything looks like a nail.  When you’re an Agile Coach, you of course must find things to coach, right?  Sometimes the most courageous thing a Coach can do is not exposing the deep, unspoken problem that everyone is afraid to voice.  Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is to believe in them, focus on what is right about them, and their own ability to act.

What, after all, are you trying to do for this team?  You are trying to make them self-determined, self-organizing, confident enough in themselves to be decisive, and to trust and collaborate with each other.  You’re trying to increase their rightness.

The team’s capacity to address things that are wrong is proportional to how much rightness they have.  In a truly high performing team, wrongnesses don’t stand much of a chance.  They evaporate quickly in the bright light of the team’s smooth operation.  For such a team, looking hard for things wrong would itself be a wrongness, introverting the team away from its forward motion.

It is by making the team more and more right that you accomplish their independence and competence.  When you focus your attention on what is wrong, what needs fixing, you will inevitably find it.  There are an unlimited number of things that you can and will find.  You are the hammer, seeing nails everywhere.

Don’t misinterpret that to mean that a dedication to continuous improvement is a bad thing.  Not at all. A good Coach seeks to improve the team’s ability to continuously improve itself, and their capacity to do so.  That is measured in and enabled. by the team’s pride in quality and confidence that comes with success.

Recognizing and strengthening rightness is more than giving acknowledgements in standup or reviews.  There are number of specific actions you can take to do this.  For example:

  • Having members of the team demo and discuss their contributions to the product at Reviews
  • Taking them to client sites where they see their product in action, helping organizations in major ways
  • Introducing them to clients who tell about the value of the product to them
  • Probing with powerful questions not just in sorting out a situation or relationship needing fixing, but to bring about awareness of achievement when something goes right, that the team member or team just did something that was actually quite remarkable
  • In retrospectives, being just as rigorous about root cause analysis of things that went right as those that went wrong, and logging actions to reinforce them. Maybe nobody quite noticed that when the system was down and they took a hack day, they ended up with their most productive sprint ever.

But the first and foremost thing you can do is look.  Look for the strengths in your team.  And look for what you can believe in about each one of them.  If you can do that, and realize that the real power is theirs, and that you are just there to help them unleash and channel it, you’ll be a great coach.

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