The Dreaded, Embedded Coach…

There’s a disturbance in the Agile force.  Consultancies and coaches who look for clients with a vacant coaching parking lot.  A place where coaches can roam the halls by the hour and bill for it without actually adding value.  I call this Embedded coaching and it’s something we, as coaches have a responsibility to eradicate.  Embedded coaching is great for people who want to make money and, from the business perspective, I can understand the draw.  I mean, if an organization is willing to continue to pay money and not realize value, why not?  Embedded coaches aren’t great for organizations who really want to improve nor is it great for Agile coaches overall.

Now, there can be several reasons why a coach isn’t adding value.  Things like:

  1. The coach isn’t a good fit for the organization and/or the team(s).
  2. The client really isn’t certain what they want to achieve so, then, the coach isn’t either.
  3. The client isn’t willing to be coached or do any of the heavy lifting so there aren’t results despite the best efforts of the coach.
  4. The coach isn’t good.
  5. The coach ceases to be a coach and becomes a player.
  6. The client doesn’t take advantage of the coach when he/she is there.
  7. The coach has embedded.

Dan LeFebvre (aka: Coach Dan), a coach whom I admire and respect a great deal, offered a definition of an embedded coach:

“I define embedded coaching as someone who is there 5 days a week working with a handful of teams or may be occupying the SM or PO role (either explicitly or implicitly by usurping the actual SM or PO authority) while being called the coach.” – Coach Dan

It’s the embedding I want to focus on.   I have a theory there’s about a 6-9 month maximum span of efficacy for a coach.  Granted, if the organization or number of teams is large and/or the problem is incredibly complex (transformation) more time may still be valuable and warranted as long as value is being added.  The reason I say this is because the more time you spend in a place, the harder it is to remain completely objective.  You come to expect and excuse certain behaviors – the “it is what it is” mentality can creep in (if you’re not very careful).  And, it’s after this time a coach is in danger of becoming embedded.

The embedded coach attends events and meetings, throws out some advice or observational feedback and vanishes down the hall.  He doesn’t collaborate – he pontificates.  He throws out a thought-provoking question and makes noises of interest in the responses, shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head.  Meanwhile, clients wonder “What, exactly, does he do and how is he spending his time?   At this point the client is wasting money and the coach is wasting time.  Not only that, the value of a coach and, perhaps, Agile is called into question as well.  And, this (calling into question the value of coaches and Agile)is NOT okay.

Coach Dan also offers the following for your consideration:

“I think coaches should work with the teams for a sprint or two then exclusively work with SM and leaders to improve their ability to operate with the agile mindset. Enterprise coaches also focus on establishing what I call the 3 necessary mechanisms to re-enforce agility: 1) impediments removal mechanism where slowdowns in the flow are rapidly identified, escalated and resolved; 2) building the capacity for internal coaching through internal people opting-in to the coaches role or through communities of practice; 3) agile portfolio management where the entire product/value flow is pull-based rather than push. A possible fourth is the “opt-in” cultural aspects that all good self-organizing systems need to truly multiply the effectiveness and delivery of value.” – Coach Dan

Dan Mezick, another coach whom I admire and respect, contributed the following Coaching Values which, I believe, are worthy of mention and introspection.  He also details supporting principles.

In serving our clients, we have come to value:

Creating Independence over generating billing
Championing Learning over avoiding risk
Building Relationships over building transactions
Inviting Participation over assigning responsibility

Ideally, coaches have chosen this profession because they love it and, happily, are able to support themselves and their families.  As coaches, we owe it to the profession and the clients we serve to ensure both are set up for success.   There are things we can do:

  1. Align on the goals of the engagement and the definition of value.  Meet regularly to openly discuss the progress and re-align.
  2. Ask the client “What value have I provided this week?”.  If he can’t answer, immediately diagnose the root cause together and agree on actions.
  3. Actively communicate what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and the results – realized or expected.
  4. Don’t establish a need for physical presence 5 days a week where you become a regular fixture of the environment and are taken for granted.
  5. Be honest and true.  You know when you’re not adding value.  Remove yourself with offers of alternate coaches or course of action.

Thank you for your time.