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We must manage a lot of human urges when we start a new engagement as an Agile Coach.

We want to be of service. We want to learn everything we can. We want to be valuable.

Those are all great drives. More often than not, they can also lead to a sense of uncertainty, often coupled with a sense of overwhelm.

Over quite a number of engagements, I refined m approach to landing in an engagement and I’d like to share with you what my general pattern is that enables me to achieve the goals without the issues.

In this episode you’ll find the following stages covered in detail:

Firstly, we create an initial agreement with the sponsor on scope and approach. Here it is valuable to point out that we won’t make a commitment just yet before we have engaged with the teams.

We then canvas the area and ascertain what support is wished and needed. We co-create an initial high-level plan with the teams. We create an initial agreement with the teams on scope and approach, and permission to share our understanding with the sponsor. 

We circle back with the sponsor and if necessary we update the agreement. We then also work out what support we might want from the sponsor, and at what frequency and in what manner we should stay in contact.

Following this high-level approach you will end up satisfying the goals and enjoying the ride.

For more on these stages and how to remember them with a memory bridge, please dive into the episode. It is available in the original video, a full transcript, and an edited audio version, as well as some quote cards with our favourite sound bites.

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Full Transcript

- “Hello, welcome, this is Team Genius live. 

My name is Georg Fasching. In this video, we are going to explore the big, big subject of how to get started as an agile coach. Ideally, of course, without causing resistance, or disappointment, or being overwhelmed, coming right up. 

Hello, hello and welcome to Team Genius live. The weekly live cast on Tuesdays in the morning. Normally at 10:20 to 10:30 due to some hiccups. I hope you're all doing really well. I chose to do this topic this week because several of my coachees and mentees are in the process of starting a new engagement, or have very recently started a new engagement. And this is a subject that keeps coming up. 

So I thought I would share my playbook of getting started, that I have refined over. I don't know how many engagements. Several engagements over a few years, and that has proven to be quite effective and helped me a lot to relieve a lot of the issues that I had faced previously. So before developing this approach, it was not uncommon that there was a bit of friction let's say, in the way that I engaged initially with the sponsor and what I then saw with the teams. And what I had tried first was to make a good agreement with the sponsor, but I learned very quickly that the perspective that the sponsor had was not entirely matching the perspective that the team's had. 

So the other thing that I faced was that I, through the previous experience, either as a scrum master or a product owner or in product management previously, I saw a lot of improvement opportunity very quickly, and I got very excited, and sometimes I would go ahead and pursue improvements with some people but be a bit overly proactive if you know what I mean. The third bigger issue that I have faced more often than any of the aforementioned too, was that I got really overwhelmed with the amount of work that I've got to do. So if you're watching this live, feel free to drop any comments or questions also in the live chat, and I'll pick them up as we go through the call. If you watch this afterwards, feel free to post any comments or tips additionally, in the comments down below that will also be very much appreciated. 

So, these three issues that I've just mentioned are what I'd like to offer some strategies and principles around, to help you with a smooth landing in a new engagement. 

And the term landing is chosen purposefully because where I picked up a really nice, very short and simple recipe if you will, for getting started in any engagement, is I think it was on a course with Esther Dhabi, where I picked up the three L's of landing. The three L's of landing. And those were looking, listening and learning. The initial period is all about us getting to know the system, getting to know the organization and the people, and starting to form relationships and agreements and gaining a better appreciation of the journey that the people have been on, whom we're just joining. 

So with these three L's of landing, looking, listening, and learning, they're somewhat self-explanatory, but as I've initially applied them and then still faced some of the issues that I've had, I then added some of my own L's to the list. But before we go into the additional L's that I added to the list, let's look at the three L's that I picked up through the three years of learning a little bit more. So, looking around is to not only look at the transparency, what is actually being offered to us, but also look at what we're not seeing, and what we perhaps would like to see based on where we envisioned that the organization might go or might want to go. And looking is also around not only the artifact, but also the interactions between the people. How do they engage with each other, who is engaging with whom, at what frequency, and so on and so forth.

When we're listening to the people, we are not only listening to what they're talking about, but how are they talking to each other, again at what frequency, and what it is we can learn from that.

And that all feeds into the third L which is all about learning, right? Generally speaking, the work that we do is continuous learning. It is us who need to continuously learn, and it is also the people whom we are in service of continually need to learn. But definitely when we're starting a new engagement, we need to make sure that we are in a learning mindset on a continuous basis. 

So, trying to apply these three L's I was sometimes left with a bit of a sense of guilt because I had the feeling I wasn't really doing enough. And the reframe that helped me a lot was to recognize that before my arrival, it is possible that others may not have actually made as much time and space for others to really share what's going on, share what they're thinking and share how they're feeling about themselves and how about the work that they do and the organization at large. So just the presence that we're offering and the open ears, and the open mind that we're offering in itself is providing a huge amount of value. And another issue that could come up if we are in this learning mode in the first couple of weeks or so, is that perhaps a sponsor might get a little bit well keen on early results. And this is where some of my additional Ls are coming in to support this. One is around linking in with the system in order to start collaborating, and that is done through coaching agreements. And the first one would be done with the sponsor who is bringing us into the organization. And that would apply either as an external agile coach or an internal agile coach. And the internal agile coach, it would be a person we are in some sense or shape reporting to. 

The other L that is added to the list by me is around leveraging the system's strengths.

Wherever we go in the organization we always want to ensure that we recognize all the positivity that is happening, because that is what we can leverage with, what we can help the system leverage in order to make progress and help make improvements on those areas that are not as strong and help them overcome where they need to do some work. And it also helps for us to explicitly and openly appreciate the representatives of the system, the people and the teams for the things that are really doing well, so that there is a positive feedback cycle also happening on the things that are running really well for them. 

And another L that we'll add to the list is around leaving things for now that we see ought to improve at a certain point in time, but where we know from experience that it is better for the people to learn either some other things or to learn more about it themselves first. There are some things that are better experienced than told, and there is a fairly long list and through experience, you will have seen some of those aspects yourself also. And even when you tell people about these things beforehand, that is good for signposting and for sort of pre-framing, but in some of those cases, the people still need to have the experience themselves.

So it is good to recognize them, put them on a list on your roadmap of improvements together with the people that you're working on, but not actively tackle them yet. So, those I would say are the additional three L's that I might add to the list. So that would make it six L's of landing. So we had looking, listening, learning, linking, leveraging, and leaving. When we talk about leaving, that brings up another prompt, and this is particularly poignant for external agile coaches, but I believe also quite useful for internal agile coaches. When we start, we can start with the end in mind. And the end in our mind is that the people that we're working with are in a position where they can continue without us. 

So we should never really create a dependency on ourselves wherever we work, but we should support the teams, and the peoples,

and the systems development, and bring them to a state where they can continue without us and bring them to a state where the input that we can give them is fully taken advantage of, fully leveraged, but they can continue to improve without us. And then they should want to work perhaps with another agile coach with a different background, with a different set of tools, or experiences, or body of knowledge that they can bring in to take the team to the next stage in their development. So, if we start with the end in mind that we are here to serve the people, the teams, the system, for a period of time and help them to be tremendously and phenomenally better off than when we started serving them. That helps us to be more conscious and considerate in how we're approaching things so that we do not create a dependency on ourselves. Now, I've got a few other strategies and principles available here. 

If there is something that you've already found useful in what I've shared so far, feel free to drop a like on this video below. Would really appreciate that. And now let's carry on. What else do we have here? So, I talked about the sponsor. The sponsor for an external agile coach is the key representative who brings us into the engagement. Not necessarily for the... Thank you very much for the like, not necessarily for the agreement, the commercial agreement, but who actually on an ongoing basis, will bring... Is our go-to for ongoing updates. So that will be our sponsor. And that'll be the first person where we get an opportunity to practice the six L's of landing and get a good understanding of their perspective. 

So I mentioned that there was one time where I made the mistake of making an agreement with the sponsor based on their take on the situation.

And then I learned from the teams that the wider reality was actually somewhat different. And it made it a bit tricky to go back and say, "Well, yeah I committed to do these things based on your perspective. But what I actually learned was this." That was a mild discomfort and of course, we need to role model here that we are comfortable in facing that mild discomfort, but I could have avoided that. And the way that you can avoid these situations is where you are fully present for the sponsor, and fully listen to them and their perspective, and then ensure that you make a commitment to learn from everybody who is involved in this and then circle back and update them on your findings rather than committing to a specific course of action. What's a good way of or a good term to choose here. You're not an extension of the sponsor in carrying out a particular direction that the sponsor had in mind. You are here to help the system as a whole become more positive and become more productive and reach a higher level of performance and be of better service to the customers and improve employee engagement and all of these good things that we care for. 

And sometimes sponsors are too far away from where the work actually happens, as you will probably have noticed. So while they have very strong insights into their day-to-day, they may not have the same level of insight into the day of the teams. So, that's something important to note for the beginning and with everything that you're learning from there, it is great to form a coaching agreement with the sponsor. And while I covered this in my classes, this short video is not... It doesn't give enough context to give you all of that, but as a very quick framework if you will, to consider the things that could go into that, you could think about the five Ws in the house. So, why, what, where, when, who, and how. So, think about these things. When you come up with an overarching coaching agreement, and this is not a once done and never looked at again, this is an active thing that it can go back to when you catch up with the sponsor going on down the line. 

So, after the sponsor, this is where you will then get to the introductions to the people you will actually be working with. 

Usually that will be a set of teams. If you are being asked to look after more than three, four teams in the beginning, you might have experienced this previously, it is very difficult to be of good service to them. So, strive to do the best that you can with no more than four teams in the beginning. And as you get started, just get an overview of all the teams that are there and will at some point or another, be there for you to work with and come up with an overarching multi-month program of how you would cycle through the teams. If there is only one of you, or if there are others, then you can work that out together. Who's looking after which teams, but I have found it very very difficult to look after closely... To look after more than four teams in the past. 

There was an engagement where I was asked to look after a total of eight, nine or so, and I made initial introductions, and worked out what the level of desire was, and pull was in order to work with me as their agile coach and what the levels of maturity was. And we then worked out roughly what the program was and where it would start and where we would go to next. And another point of note that's really useful here is to offer any managers or leaders who work with the teams to do a one-to-one introduction with you beforehand, before you get to meet the teams. Some of them don't mind, and they would go "No, it doesn't matter, just meet us together with the team." And others really appreciate being met with first on a one-to-one basis. 

Once again, same thing as with the sponsor, there is no need to commit to a specific course of action. Usually what is common amongst the managers and the leaders is that they all want to see some sort of productivity improvement. So that's certainly something that you can agree on, but any real specifics should be avoided at this point, because you haven't really learned anything about the wider system yet just from a few voices of the system, but not really a representative sample yet. So then you get to meet the teams where you can offer your services. So, two things that are really crucial to bear in mind here is even in 2020, not every team has had an opportunity to work with an agile coach before. So don't assume that they know what an agile coach is, don't assume that you know what an agile coach can do, and don't assume that you know what you can do. 

So, it is useful to ask about that and then to offer a little bit of an explainer on what the agile coach can do, what you can do for the team 

and get some initial insights into where they are on their journey, and what their pull might be, how interested they might be in working together with you. And the other thing is that even if they have worked with an agile coach before, don't assume that the agile coach before you has had an appropriate level of experience or an appropriate level of training and education, agile coaching is still somewhat new. It's been around for some years now, of course, but it is a growing field and not everyone has accumulated the right level of expertise and has had the right level of training, or has even the right mindset. 

There are still, of course, some people out there who are early in the learning journey and that's okay, but when you start a new engagement, don't necessarily assume that the people before you have left large footprints of large shoes that you would need to fill. And on the flip side, don't assume that they've done a phenomenal job. Basically don't make that assumption, simply pick or meet the system roughly where it is, maybe a half step ahead, and do the best job that you can. So always work out what their experience is, and then offer a bit of explaining of what you can do to serve the team based on where they are today. 

So that would be another tip that I would like to offer here. When it comes to the services that you can offer the teams, be quite clear on what you can and what you can't do, what your background is, for example, I am very open about the fact that I am not a technical coach. I know enough to give a brief introduction to basic engineering skills. I could give an overview training of what extreme programming would look like, but there are very, very, very obvious limits to my knowledge when it comes to technology. And I'm very upfront about that. But so if there is a huge requirement for bigger architectural engagements and modern architecture approaches, I know a thing or two about microservices, but that's about it, and to be honest, I'm not even sure whether that's the best way now. I know that there is a thing such as containerization, but I'm not quite sure what that means and so on and so forth. You get the point, technology and the deep technical stuff, not my thing. So, here's a list of coaches that I can recommend when it comes to that. And the organization needs some information here. 

So rather than creating space for people to make assumptions about what you could and couldn't do, because you're getting started,

it's good to be upfront about that, and sure, hey, these are the same things that I really enjoy. This is my background, this is where I've experience in and I'd be delighted to serve you in your practice as a team. Here's some things that I can give you a little bit of an introduction, but we will soon see the limits of my knowledge, but no worries I can introduce you to some other people should the need arise, okay. So it's good to be upfront about that and really calibrate and have disagreement with the people and the teams that you're working on in order to ensure that you're getting off to a good start. So, then the last tip or strategy that I would like to offer you comes back to this overwhelm that we can often experience through all of this learning.

So, one thing is to actually keep a journal and keep notes of everything that you're learning at the end of each day to clear your mind and note down everything that you're learning. And then in collaboration with the teams to also work out, how are you engaging with the teams? Are you supporting their scrum master or agile team facilitator? Or are you supporting their product owner or both of them? Are you engaging directly with the teams? With the teams as a whole? Those are the things that you'll need to work out depending on where the pull comes from, from the teams and what the scrum masters or product owners are interested in receiving support on. Those are all the things that you want to curve out. 

Something else to include in your learning is whether the organization already has communities of practice in place. 

If they do, you could share your interest in participating in them. Some of them might not have communities of practice with them. They might get an appetite for it. You could help them start them up. Of course, if you are familiar enough about them, if not, there's some great work out there. For example, by Emily Weber, she's written a very nice book about it. To help people get started and further develop communities of practice. I'll drop a link in the description below. If they have them already, sometimes they've started, they've gotten a bit flat. So this is where you could offer to help them pick up again. Or you could also, if they are open and interested, offer that you do some little experience shares there, or little talks, or workshops, on new things that they might want to learn about more. 

But whether they're interested in that or not, at the very least, you might want to, of course participate in the community of practice. You might very well get to learn from some other people, some things that you haven't encountered yet, even if you're already on that. We can always learn something from everyone we meet. Now, to the last thing, which is about to overwhelm. I'm just, I'm relieved that I remembered the thing about the communities of practice. I wanted to ensure that I covered that with you today also. Now, the last thing is, as you canvas the system, you see all of these improvement opportunities and it is easy to get overwhelmed. As I said, this is the issue that I faced most commonly until I realized that, you know, I could just go back to the three magic words I've asked the team. I don't necessarily have to work out on my own where to start first. I might have an inkling, but ultimately it all needs to be paired with what's the pull is from the system, this is an easy place to start, right? 

Sometimes the teams who need it the most, they aren't quite ready to see that yet. 

They might need to be able to see from the sideway, as we're helping another team that is already interested in our services before they want to work with us. And that's okay. Usually they're more than two teams or so when an agile coach is being called in, so we don't have to start with the team where we feel they need us the most, if they are not ready to work with us just yet, we can work with another team that might not need us quite as much, but they are interested in working with us. So we can start there, do a great job that we can. And then before you know it, the other teams will be starting to open up and start to invite you in more. So that's a key thing that we also need to pay attention to. So in order to then, if you will, map out this program, we can do that together with the teams as I also mentioned earlier, and work out well, where's the need? Where is the want? And where's the fit? And based on that, come up with this program. And as you continue working with multiple teams, you will start to hear patterns of organizational impediments and systemic issues that it can then pick up with whoever is in a position to make some changes about the system and how the processes work. 

And of course, also with the sponsor, and whenever you agree in your individual agreements with leaders, managers, or teams, ensure that you uphold any confidentiality that you agree to. So whenever there is something that is being asked for by a sponsor or a leader, just ensure that you make that transparent with the team and share things that they agreed to, that helps you to increase the rapport and upholds the trust with the teams. And those are all the tips and strategies that I would like to share with you. There's a fair amount of things that are in here. So do feel free to watch this video a few times in order to bring it up in order to cover all the individual points in. 

There will also be a transcript available on the blog post. I have a bit of a backlog I'm still working through actually am now at episode two of Team Genius live. But over time, I will update the description with the blog post. By the time you see this, it might already be in there where you can read a full transcript of all the things also available and get an audio version as well. Now, this brings me to the last thing I would like to mention. If you are still here, that is a very clear sign that you are dedicated to your learning. I really appreciate you for that. It's something that we both have in common. I love to learn. And so I am close to launching in January 2021. A monthly learning club. So that will be two quality hours of learning, including some practice work, as well as some Q&A on whichever is the highest rated, most important topic that you and the other participants in the monthly learning club would like to learn about. It can be anything that is related to unlocking team genius across the organization. It could be leadership craft, it could be product craft. It could be team craft. Any of those areas are absolutely fair game. And I would be delighted to share what is useful in terms of strategies, principles, and tactics, to help you be awesome in those areas. So this is a monthly learning club launching in January 2021. 

That brings me to the end of this particular episode of Team Genius live episode 11, all about how to start a new engagement as an agile coach. Thank you very much for watching, and I hope you tune in next week for episode 12. All the best for now. And if you liked something and you haven't quite liked the video yet, feel free to do that now. And alternatively also consider subscribing to the channel for updates on when your content is available. 

Thank you so much, all the best for the practice with your team. Bye bye.”

==end of transcript==

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About the author 

Georg Fasching

A leadership team development specialist, International Coach Federation - Professional Certified Coach, with global product management experience since 2000, employing Agile & Lean since 2010, Georg Fasching guides leadership teams to delighting their clients, fulfil their people, and improve their prosperity.

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    1. Hey there Magda! Thanks; I’m glad you like it.
      The Monthly Learning Club is likely to come back in a different form later this year. I’ll make announcements on LinkedIn.

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