Coaching Agile Teams - Lyssa Adkins Review and key lessons

Coaching Agile Teams Book Cover

Lyssa Adkins is a great command & control confessionaholic! Her experience on both sides of the delivery experience and the transformation she went through between the two is what sets her practical teachings apart from a number of coaches who have only ever experienced agile or green fields delivery. That experience and tuition she provides for coaches to 'navigate their teams' along the journey is a good reframe for any agilist thinking of becoming a coach. I'll endeavor to note some of the lessons and where I've tested out the recommendations as part of sharing my learnings.

The book covers two very important themes - the health of the coach and the health of the team - as stories and lessons are told. The fact that she looks at the health of the coach as a key stigma for the team is what makes this book a bit different from the others. In fact in many subjects the two are interdependent in much the same way organic and environment systems are co-dependent on each other. Even though coaching styles do differ I notice that the majority of coaches 'forget' to put their health first, and burn energy rather than be a source of energy.

A good example of the parrallels is the lessons Lyssa Adkins provides on Shu Ha Ri;

  • Shu: Follow the rule.

  • Ha: Break the rule.

  • Ri: Be the rule.

Coaches need to know the rules, when to break them and a coach needs to teach the team the same wisdom so that they aren't blindly going where the blind have gone before, or as Lyssa Adkins says performs "empty rituals".

" To surpass one’s master, one must first master the rules—fully. Then break the rules safely. Then create new rules that allow a deeper expression of the principles behind the rules. The progression rarely follows this three-step straight path, however. As shown in Figure 4.1, it’s not a linear progression."

Translation = Often great practitioners start coaching with a zealot approach because they are great achievers, they know miracles are possible and forget to listen and learn from the environment and people around them ;) Often it's not just a matter of grandstanding. Humility is such an important part of authentic coaching, having the courage to show humility is a good step towards earning respect as a people leader.

Lyssa talks about the key styles of coaching - teaching, coaching, advising - modelling & reaching. She also mentions that those styles are essentially the stages of coaching a team. Interesting terms to use, I quite like her definitions of 'modelling' rather than just saying coaches 'facilitate'. The language she uses to describe a coaches technique or behaviour adds an empathetic layer of accountability to the people we serve.

If you are a scrum master, tech lead, agile manager or an aspiring coach this books is a must read to create a more robust suite of coaching tools.