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Agile Coaching Notebook

This notebook contains a list of tools and techniques I’ve picked up from various sources and found to be useful. For each tool or technique, I’ve written a very short summary to remind me of the technique, and provided links to for information. There are also links to books, videos, conference materials and other resources I have come across in my travels.

Think of this notebook as a “card catalog” of useful tools and techniques.

Coaching Resources

Conferences & Events

Tools & Techniques

Check-In

  • Its often good at the beginning of a meeting to do a short “check-in” exercise to get people focused and into the meeting. It allows them to switch context from whatever they were doing before.
  • One exercise is the the “6 word check-in”:
    • Pick a subject and ask people to make a statement of 6 words or less om the subject

Remember the Scrum Values

  • Focus: Because we focus on only a few things at a time, we work well together and produce excellent work. We deliver valuable items sooner.
  • Courage: Because we are not alone, we feel supported and have more resources at our disposal. This gives us the courage to undertake greater challenges.
  • Openness: As we work together, we practice expressing how we’re doing and what’s in our way. We learn that it is good to express concerns so that they can be addressed.
  • Commitment: Because we have great control over our own destiny, we become more committed to success.
  • Respect: As we work together, sharing successes and failures, we come to respect each other and to help each other become worthy of respect.

Improv with Agile teams

Click, and Rewind

  • Click: “simple and stupid, therefore effective” - if you don’t understand something say “click” to step out of your role, ask for an explanation, then say “unclick” (ie. interrupt and “return from interrupt”). When coaching in pairs, coaches can “click” to ask what the other coach is doing.
  • Rewind: ask to have the last few sentences, or questions “struck from the record”. To change or remove something you wish you had not said, or to change your mind.

Yes and …

  • Defined by psychotherapists in 1950s
  • Used a lot in improv
  • Instead of saying “yes but…” say “yes and…”
  • This creates a different dynamic in the conversation.
    • Brings a more positive attitude
    • Brings ideas to the conversation
    • Makes improvements, solves problems, vs creating new problems
  • “Yes, and…” makes me stop and think and be more positive… it helps me keep the conversation moving forward

Appreciative Inquiry

  • 4D - four phrases
    1. Discovery - “what is the world like right now? What is good?”
    2. Dream - “what should the world be like? What do you want it to be?”
    3. Design - “what could the world be? What are the options to make it better? What could be done given the reality?”
    4. Define - “what the world will be like? Decide what is really the option you will take to make a step forward?”

Solution Focused

  • The Magic or Miracle Question - “How will you know when the problem has gone away?”
    • You go to sleep tonight and a miracle happens during the night and the problem goes away.
  • The Scaling Question - “For you to be happy, what is good enough?”
    • If 10 is perfect, where do you need to be to be happy/OK?
    • And where are you now?
    • So if you are already at X, why are you already at X? What are the good things that make your score be greater than 0?
  • The Mirroring Question - “How does someone else (a stakeholder or friend) know that you solved the problem?”
  • “What do you want to achieve?”
  • Don’t ask about problems, don’t focus on the problems, keep focused on the solutions.
  • Exercise called “remembering the future” … but you need to give the coachee the time to get to the perfect future. Let then take the time, rather than trying to force it.

Real Options

  • Book Commitmentt. Based on Lean
  • Decide at the last responsible moment. (you close options when you make decisions too early)
  • Options vs Commitments… when you make a Commitment you change an option to a commitment.
    • Why you buy a concert ticket, you create an option to go to the concert, but you still have the option to not attend.
    • Options have value. But not taking an option (eg. going to the concert) has an implication in terms of loss of value.
    • Options expire. At some point they lose all value, or are no longer valid
    • (So its the same as stock options)
    • When you actually go to the concert, you make the commitment.
  • Questions to ask:
    • What are you options? (List options)
    • What is the least valuable option? What is the most difficult option? Pick the fanciest (messiest, complex, difficult, but potentially high value) option.
    • Who are the stakeholders? (List stakeholders)
    • Who are the stakeholders you trust?
    • Invite your seeker to make the assumption that they can trust all stakeholders. Invite them to describe what the option looks like. Does this assumption change other options in some way? Does it open new options?

Use Social Pressure for Breaking Working Agreements:

  • Don’t use economic pressure, or status pressure!
  • Write down the working agreements, post them on the wall and point to it when it is being broken (i.e. point to the agreement not the person)
  • The leader or the team (not the person breaking the agreement) has to sign a song, tell a joke, do push-ups, do a “silly walk”, etc.

Remember Norm Kerth’s Retrospective Prime Directive:

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.
At the end of a project everyone knows so much more. Naturally we will discover decisions and actions we wish we could do over. This is wisdom to be celebrated, not judgment used to embarrass.

“Change-up” your retrospectives, use at least 5 different techniques.

Teaching Agile Basics in 10 Minutes or Less

Tribes (team building)

  • “Will all members of my tribe who come join me”
  • Can use non-work related questions as an ice-breaker for team members to get to know each other - create connections and a shared understanding.

Constellation (team building)

  • make a statement, people stand closer or far away depending on how much they agree with the statement - how they feel
  • Not for consensus, not a vote, not for making decisions - its to sample the grpup’s view, provide information to the team.

Facilitator’s Stance

  • Self-Awareness, Self Management + Group Awareness, Group Management
  • Hold the Group’s Agenda (not your own)
  • Honor the Wisdom of the Group
  • Maintain Neutrality
  • Stand in the Storm
  • Uphold Agile Mindset and Practices
  • Don’t Judge
  • Stand by the Outliers
  • Hold the Process, Articulate the Rules, Create a Sense of Safety.
  • “Provide More Love in the Space”

Impact Feedback (vs Performance Feedbackl)

  • Performance Feedback: based on mutually recognized expertise or authority
  • Impact Feedback: based on being a human who was impacted
    • Impact feedback can be used by anyone who has been impacted by someone else.
  • Example: When you come in late to meetings, like today, I see the meeting being disrupted and needing to start over. For me, this is fatiguing and I’m not sure if I can count on you. I just don’t know when you’re going to be here and when you’re not.
  • Characteristics:
    • I statements
    • mutual vulnerability
    • provides an opening for a conversation
    • may involve a request

Journey Lines Activity (team building)

Ask a Powerful Question

  • Powerful Questions:
    • are open-ended.
    • are not asked with a “correct” answer in mind
    • invite introspection
    • may revel additional solutions
    • almost always lead to greater creativity and insight
  • Send a person in the direction of discovery not to a specific destination
  • See The Coaches Powerful Questions for a PDF of Powerful Questions
  • See the Coaching Agile Teams book for a list of Powerful Questions

Shu, Ha Ri

Problem-Reacting vs Outcome-Creating

  • Problem-Reacting - Reaction Focus - Make the anxiety go away
    • React to reduce conflict
    • Solve problems
    • Make things go away
    • Get back to normal
    • Go from negative back to zero
  • Outcome-Creating - Action Focus
    • Create what matters most
    • Get concrete results
    • Bring things into being
    • Go from zero to more positive
  • Reactive:
    • Coordinating individuals and tasks
    • Acting as the expert
    • Being invested in specific outcomes
    • Knowing the answer
    • Controlling
  • Creative:
    • Coaching for collaboration
    • Being a facilitator for the team
    • Being invested in overall performance
    • Asking the team for the answer
    • Letting the team find their own way

Values Survey Module (VSM) - Categorizing Cultural Differences

  • Often we are required to coach across cultures. This can be a real challenge, as different cultures have different values.
  • The work of Geert and Gert Jan Hofstede breaks down cultural differences, and can help provide us with some awareness.

Dealing with (Team) Conflict

Conflict within teams is natural and needs to be worked trough, not suppressed. It is most important to take a systems view of conflict… look at the environment, processes and underlying causes. You need to stay out of the “he said, she said”, or “I’m right and you are wrong” sorts of discussions… they are nonconstructive and just make the situation worse.

Conflict challenges us to grow as people, to mature our emotional, social and systems intelligence.

  • Assume that there is an underlying reason for the conflict, and resolving it is an opportunity for growth
  • Focus on the team (or system) container within which work occurs
  • The discussion moves to the systems level when love and trust is present.
  • “Conflict is the result of an urge or need to change”. See conflict as a desire for change, not something to be ‘managed’ or tolerated
  • The coach needs to act as a facilitator, rather than a mediator or tie-breaker:
    • Don’t take sides
    • Ensure all voices are heard
    • Ensure the conversation is respectful - one of love and trust
    • Don’t “triangulate” - don’t become the third person is a conflict, or become a middleman. Keep “monkey off your back” - don’t become the owner for someone else’s conflict.

Conflict and other stressful situations can be much more easily navigated when there is a base level of trust and love within the team. So its important to attend to the team’s positivity, and to build up the “emotional bank account” on an ongoing basis so the back account will be well-stocked when conflict arises.

Develop Conflict Protocols:

  • Agreements make when we are cool and rational so we can handle the times when we are not
  • Need the consent of the full team
  • Leader takes facilitator/coach role in holding accountability to agreements

Help the system process the conflict using Deep Democracy and other practices.

  • All the different voices (all the different perspectives and topics) need to be heard. Help the team see conflicting positions as important voices of that system.
  • “No one had the right answer” - Nurture a healthy and genuine respect for different perspectives
  • “Everyone is right” … but only partally
  • Embodiment of the Buddhist “Right View”:
    • effective self-organization requires all the information in the system (or as a physicist might say, the field) needs to be represented.
    • everyone has a piece of the truth, a perspective that is important to understand.
    • conflict is not something to be managed or merely tolerated; it is a manifestation of the system’s diversity (and therefore its intelligence) and is emblematic of a positive change urge within the system (of something trying to happen).

All Voices Heard Techniques (Deep Democracy Practices)

  • See Deep Democracy for background information
  • Roman Vote
    • Someone makes a statement. On the count of 3, people hold their thumbs up, sideways, down. Invite people the people with thumbs down and sideways to talk.
  • Consensus Check
    • Someone makes a statement. On the count of 3, people hold up their fingers:
      • 5 fingers: I love this idea I wish I had thought of it myself
      • 4 fingers: I’m happy with this idea, and I’m glad we came up with it.
      • 3 fingers: I can live with and support this idea (this is the definition of consensus)
      • 2 fingers: I have reservations about this and would have trouble supporting it
      • 1 finger: I have grave misgivings, I can neither live with nor support it
    • Invite the 1 and 2 finger people to talk.
  • Consent Check
    • “Does anyone object to <statement?”
    • Use this when you are fairly certain the group is in agreement about the statement and/or the stakes are low
  • Vote with Your Feet
    • Make a statement, like “Did you get value from the sprint retrospective?” People stand on an imaginary line from 1-5 or (1-10) to show how true the statement is for them.
  • Note that a variation of the “voting” techniques is to do them “blind”, so the team does not see what others are voting. This may produce more honest results, at the expense of the team not seeing their collective state.
  • You can also write the votes or views on stickees first.
  • Make space for unpopular or minority voices
  • See also the use of Constellations

Use the Conflict Dynamics Model to process conflict

Crucial Confrontation & Difficult Conversations

  • We make assumptions, don’t run with assumptions, do a reality check… find out what’s really going on!
  • “So why did you do such and such?” vs “Tell me what happened?”
  • Check your adrenaline… don’t let it get the better of you. Use neutral tone. The more you have a charged tone in your voice will create charged emotions in the other person, and maybe a counter attack
  • Ask questions.
  • Use “I felt”, “I got xxx” …. put the emotions on yourself, not on the other person.
  • Understand the difference between assertive and aggressive communication. Be assertive, not aggressive. Don’t attack
  • Don’t “should” on people. “Have you thought about…”, “I wonder if ….”. “I would appreciate it if…”
  • Be prepared before for a crucial confrontation or difficult conversation.
  • See the books: Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability (The latter used to be “Crucial Confrontations”, the new edition was renamed)

Building Trust

  • The definitive work on Trust in an organization is Steven M. R. Covey’s (the son of Steven Covey of 7 Habits fame) The Speed of Trust. His work is very practical and directly applicable to building trust and effective high-performing teams. It should be in every Agile coaches toolkit.
  • I have a full post on this topic at The Speed and Currency of Trust

Other Resources

A Bibliography of Books of Interest

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