Coaches! I’m talking to YOU

I know some amazing, wonderful and inspiring coaches.  I value them and am better for knowing and learning from them.  Then….there are “coaches”.  These people are not really coaches. They’re imitations.  In the spirit of keeping it positive, let’s review what coaches behavior should look like.  I would also like to take a moment to thank them for, once again, teaching me what NOT to do.  I guess I should also apologize.  I’m sure this will make some unhappy.  It’s not meant to.

Let’s begin shall we?

1.  Coaches will support the team on their journey rather than berate a team for “doing it wrong”.

2.  Coaches will coach individuals individually rather than in front of the team.

3.  Coaches will notice when a team member has disengaged and do something about it.

4.  Coaches will be humble.  It’s ALWAYS a learning experience for everyone.

5.  Coaches will apply the rules they ask teams to follow to themselves.

6.  Coaches will coach rather than pontificate.

7.  Coaches will enjoy guiding you rather than lecturing you.

8.  Coaches will remember what it was like before they called themselves “coach”.

9.  Coaches will not call themselves a coach until they deserve it.

10. Coaches will leave the Scrum Master alone so as not to muck up what she’s got going on with the team.

Enjoy the view from up there, guys.  It’s a sure thing you’re going to fall and you’re so high up there, it’s going to hurt.  Ouch!

Don’t you just love skeptics?

I actually do.  Especially when they’re on my team.  There’s nothing I relish more than showing someone that, yes, Scrum actually works.  I love them in class when they ask all kinds of questions trying to get me to say “You’re right.  Scrum and Agile won’t work for you.  Keep on keepin’ on.”  I think, in order to really get Agile to work, the people have to change.  Scrum forces the change but, at the end of the day, it’s still the people.  And when you have a team that is excited and doing well and a skeptic joins and tries to crush their Agile will to live, well, the new team member is in for surprise.  You can’t be skeptical when a team is producing, offering help, learning and having fun.  It’s hard to be skeptical when you feel great about your work AND you’re not on a death march anymore.  Also hard to be skeptical when you discover risks sooner and before it really, truly hurts.  What I love most about the skeptics is they become the BEST advocates.  Yep.  I love the skeptics.


I believe a team needs trust to be high-performing.  This isn’t new news nor is it a unique opinion.  What does trust on a team look like?

  • Team members are open and respectful with one another.
  • There are no “bad” conversations.  The lens a trusting team applies is one of “this will help us be better than we already are”.
  • The environment is happy, safe and focused.
  • Team members look out for one another.
  • Team members are allowed to have “bad” days.
  • Team members, no matter how difficult or challenging the work is, like being on the team.  In fact, the more challenging the better!

There’s more that what I have posted above but, it’s a start.  As a Scrum Master, when there is a lack of trust on the team, it’s vital to help the team establish it.  It’s not an easy thing to do.  I’m curious what others have done to help a team build trust.


Recently, I conducted a retrospective with the team which was interesting and more revealing than expected.  I gave each team member a piece of paper.  The top half was divided into two sections:

1.  What my team mates can expect of me

2.  What I expect of my team mates.

The lower half was left blank.  Each person filled out their own top half.  Once everyone was completed, I had them pass their paper to the left.  Once passed the timer (2 mins) started.  The person with the paper could review what was at the top but, they had to write what they, personally, expected of that person and attribute their name.  Once all the papers made it around the room everyone took some time to review what had been written and share some observations.

What they found was they all had more in the “what team mates can expect of me” than what they expected of their team mates.  Across the board, everyone expected honesty and trust. The expectations others had written were revealing in that some were compliments such as “Continue to bring your energy to the team every day.”  Some were clearly not compliments like “Let other people complete a sentence.”.

It was a very open, honest and constructive conversation.   No one was hurt or insulted.   What was really cool was it didn’t stop in the retro.  Some people had their own, one on one, conversations and relationships were built.

I’m hoping this was a good first step in establishing trust on this team.  We’ll see….

Foundations Are Important

Foundations are what people build on physically and mentally.  If an investment isn’t made in establishing a solid, built-to-last foundation you’ll be hard-pressed to add anything on top of it successfully.  Seems reasonable, right?

Yesterday was a tough day for me.  I started coaching a team recently that had the benefit of a consultant coach for about six weeks.  This team was chomping at the bit to “just get going”.  I had been told they had been in training, workshops and all kinds of other things prior to my arrival and so I, incorrectly, assumed the foundation had been established.

Lesson #1 (for the 100th time):  Don’t make assumptions.  Trust but verify.

So, two weeks ago, they started sprinting.  As you can imagine, it was a solid, foundational learning experience.  Planning was done(ish).  They had been instructed to use Scrumban.  Admittedly, I am far from an expert in Kanban and know even less about Scrumban so I wasn’t certain about how to go about helping this team.  I went to do some on-line research and consulted with some coaches I trust.  I learned that attempting a hybrid from the get-go might not be a good idea, but a committed team could work through it.  I crossed my fingers and hoped they knew what the heck they were doing.

Lesson #2:  Sometimes, you risk losing an excited team by not trusting your gut.

It was really hard – for them and for me.  I found myself at a loss for what to do and they were clearly very frustrated with the process as was I.  Back to consulting with trusted coaches who advised me to take them back to Scrum or Kanban.  Based on what I read about Kanban and not having the experience with it, I opted for Scrum both as a better fit for them and for me.

Lesson #3:  Building a solid foundation on top of a crappy one isn’t ideal.

I worked with the necessary people to get a full day away from the work to invest in some training and establish a foundation.  Yesterday was the day.  First question out of the gate after the goals, agenda and we’re going back to Scrum intro….. “Doesn’t the team decide?”.  Yes.  Yes they do.  Once a team has been presented with what each framework offers and can make an informed choice, they can certainly choose.  This team didn’t choose Scrumban, it was prescribed.  I wasn’t allowing them to choose Scrum either.

Lesson #4:  Trusting yourself and others takes guts.

We worked through the agenda.  A background on Agile.  Review of Scrum.  High-performing teams.  Story writing.  We powered through.  I powered through.  I was tested at every turn.  At the end of the day I was exhausted, frustrated and, frankly, a little beaten.  This morning, I wasn’t looking forward to going in to work.  Here’s what happened:

  • A team member watching me slog through getting all the stories and tasks into the spreadsheet and up on the board offered to learn how to do it and them completed the last 25% of it for me.  Bless her.
  • A team member put a large post-it on the wall for people to share their “Bold” Agile actions.
  • Another team member put a different one up for members to share how they were “fertilizing their roots”.  We did a review of the high-performance tree in Lyssa Adkins amazing book “Coaching Agile Teams”.  (LOVE that book)
  • The team was positively chatty today.  Generally, they’re all clammed up and it’s stifling.

Lesson #5:  Being challenged is a good thing.  It makes you give it your all.

On to more learning now and if someone can please tell me more about Scrumban, I would really appreciate it.

Final Lesson (for this week):  Don’t start without the foundation.  This applies to teams or to Scrum Masters with a new methodology.