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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Partners in Agile - Pair Coaching

As an Agile Coach I need to provide good coverage with large adoptions as well as appeal to or connect with different personalities so I can help guide the client to success in Agile.

Most of the adoptions, implementations, and transformations (there's a difference between all those) I have worked on have been solo gigs for me.

This last gig two of us were brought in to work together with this client after the group had a particularly strained experience with coaching. We realized right off the bat we'd need to walk very softly and coach where each individual and team were at the moment we interacted with them rather than try to round everyone up and create a baseline or offer something they'd already done. One example, no training; we couldn't use the word. We had to figure out how to train them without telling them we were training them.

This was something we were both interested in doing as it was outside our norm and luckily we were both of the same mind--any new experiences for us are good. It makes us better coaches in the long run, pulling us out of our comfortable groove. It put us very much on par with our client. Except that we had faith in Agile and the client was starting to lose that faith; if they'd ever had it.

Initially, because it was such a large group we tried bringing in two other coaches to help with the load and ensure we met the client's timeline. Unfortunately, they were not a good fit for where the client was and could not adapt themselves to coaching in the moment.

And I'll admit, after hearing the stories of the coaching experience this client had, we were wary. We didn't want to lose the client because another coach told them they had to do it the "right" way. So we scrapped that idea and forged ahead, just the two of us... and about 400 hundred people in multiple teams and units across the globe--who were not doing traditional software development. These were support, operations, and other internal end user service groups and teams.

At first, since we'd never worked together before, we chatted about what to do, when, and how, and checked in with each other before doing something with a team or individual. We had a stand up every day to assess where we felt the group was and what they needed. Very soon however, we didn't have time for those formal scheduled stand ups and ended up having informal debriefings with each other at the end of each day--standing in the parking lot.

Eventually, we found a way when passing in the hall or stopping for lunch to pass on information to each other about a team or individual who might need focused coaching from the other as we felt the personalities didn't mesh or they needed something the other had a better handle on or more experience.

We learned what our strengths were through each other's eyes (not always what we thought they were), supported one another when we felt frustrated, and celebrated our successes with high fives and little happy dances, and generally became better coaches.

Because sometimes two coaches are better than one. We were likened to yin and yang. We complemented one another and were truly in flow when working together. I'm much more a planner and my partner is a doer. He doesn't need to think too much about what he's going to do or say and just let's it happen in the moment. I felt a little like we were walking a tight rope with no net underneath the first few times we did this. But I got used to it and eventually liked it.

Now I'm much better at flying by the seat of my pants; his forte. I learned to trust myself more and because my coaching partner had such faith in my ability I did too. He was also great at making me feel I had done well when trying something new.

I supported him when he took flyers and eventually realized that I was helping him because he wasn't always sure either. For example, he made up a new activity for one group that was suffering several maladies, including lack of immediate leadership, and feeling lost. It worked and not only did the team love it but the VP of that group did too. My partner told me later, he wasn't sure it would work but it came to him that we needed a way to help them break the hierarchical logjam without using the term stand up which this team wouldn't do.

We hosted sessions locally and globally, in person and via teleconference, without a script, and invariably got rave reviews for our mingling of experiences, stories, examples, and approaches. Many people thought we'd worked together a long time to achieve the ease and close collaboration we exhibited.

It was truly a perfect storm of unique backgrounds, cultures of origin, specialties and strengths, and it energized the people we worked with helping them to find success in adopting Agile practices and concepts.

It was the best gig I've had to date. My only regret is that we can't pair up on every contract.

My sincere hope is that I can find other coaches with whom I can pair and find something similar in my upcoming opportunities.

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