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I want to share my point of view and definitions concerning some of the competencies involved in agile coaching and how I use them in my work with organizations and clients. This post has no pretension of holding a universal truth.

The role of an agile coach has to be defined for each organization and is an ongoing conversation in making sure value is being delivered to the organization, more on value in another post.

I have worked in agility for the last 10 years and for me as well it has been a journey to understand the differences between some of the competencies.  My goal with this article is to demystify and explore their nuances and highlight how they diverge and intersect. I am a firm believer that until the nuances are understood, it is impossible to deliver the right value at the right time.

Whether you are a leader seeking the right kind of support or a professional in one of these fields, understanding these distinctions is key to choosing the approach that best aligns with your objectives and values.

This article reflects my own views and none of my partners of other companies I am associated with.

The Competencies

I’ll take the definitions of the competencies as appearing in the Agile competency framework website and the definitions I teach with The Agile Company at the enterprise level.

Coaching

Agile competency: Ability to act as a coach, with the client’s interest determining the direction, rather than the coach’s expertise or opinion.

The Agile Company: Proficiency in engaging an organization by skillfully applying foundational professional coaching skills, having developed a strong coaching presence, and extending into an awareness of systems coaching.

The key focus while I am using my coaching competence is NOT to provide solutions, recommendations, or experience. My focus is to have my client (take it at large, the whole organization, its leadership, or the individual inside the organization’s system) discover what they have to discover while I maintain a safe space that encourages self-discovery and personal growth. I am here to help people discover their own insights.

In my point of view, this is the most “agile” competency of all. It encourages people to be self-organized and self-managed while being in a safe. As a professional coach I abide by the 8 core competencies defined by the ICF

Mentoring

Agile competency: Ability to impart one’s experience, knowledge, and guidance to help grow another in the same or similar knowledge domains.

The Agile Company: Broad experience in enterprise agility to be able to effectively mentor at all levels within the organization, especially at the leadership level. Mentoring is growth-oriented.

The key focus, while I am using my mentoring competence, is again not to provide a solution but to share personal experiences and let the client decide how it resonates or not with the current situation they are facing.

Due to the overlap between a mentoring and a coaching conversation, I can see those two competencies being misused quite a lot. To make things simple, as soon as I share my experience I am in the mentoring space and not in the coaching space.

The mentoring competence shares also a lot with the next one, the consulting.

Consulting

Agile Competency: Does not appear in the framework.

The Agile Company: Broad experience in enterprise agility to be able to effectively advise at all levels within the organization, especially at the leadership level. Consulting is direction-oriented.

The key focus while I am using my consulting competence is to provide expert advice and solutions to specific problems or challenges in a particular field. I diagnose problems and prescribe solutions.

In my experience, this is a competence that is easy to fall into and not get out. I can easily fall into the advise monster as coined by Michael Bungay Stanier in this brilliant TEDx talk.

There is nothing wrong with consulting when it is necessary, the problem arises when it is the competence used by default.
Spoiler: I am not an expert, I don’t know everything.

Teaching

Agile Competency: Ability to offer the right knowledge, at the right time, taught in the right way, so that individuals, teams, and organizations metabolize the knowledge for their best benefit.

The Agile Company: The knowledge of effective design principles to guide the organization in creating an appropriate enterprise education and training program.

The key focus while I am using my teaching competence is to educate the organization, teams, and individuals about specific topics or skills. I teach on concepts and practices I have knowledge of.

When I teach, my attention has to be focused on “what’s in it for them to learn” and to make sure I vary my teaching style.
More on how I teach when online here

Facilitating

Agile Competency: Neutral process holder that guides the individual’s, team’s, or organization’s process of discovery, holding to their purpose and definition of success.

The Agile Company: Proficiency in designing and executing large group and executive work sessions. Helping a group work more effectively together, guiding discussions or processes without taking a stance.

The key focus when I am using the facilitating competency is to maintain my neutrality in each moment. That’s rather easier said than done as my advice monster is always lurking.  As a facilitator, I have to manage the team or group dynamics and ensure all voices are heard. As in teaching, while I am facilitating I monitor the team’s or group’s energy, tailoring my approach and reflecting to the team or group what is happening. When I facilitate I hold the frame but the group or team decides on what is happening.

Illustrative Scenario: A Business Challenge

Imagine a startup struggling to scale its operations agilely. The team is enthusiastic but lacks experience in scaling methodologies. I am in a conversation with one of the Leaders. I can adopt different responses based on the different competencies we just saw. Those responses can lead to varied approaches and outcomes.

As a (professional) Coach

Approach: “Would you like to discover more about what it means for you to scale?”
When in agreement to proceed ahead with a coaching conversation then I can ask questions such as:

  • What is the real challenge for you?
  • What do you hope to achieve by the end of our conversation?
  • What do you think is hindering your scalability?
  • What are the options for you to leverage your current resources more effectively?

Outcome: People identify their own strategies to overcome scaling challenges.

As a Mentor

Approach: Share a personal story of supporting a business in its growth, discussing specific strategies and pitfalls.
Outcome: The leader gains insights from the mentor’s experience and applies relevant lessons to their situation.

As a Consultant

Approach: Analyze the business operations and present a strategic plan to address scalability.
Outcome: The leader implements the consultant’s expert recommendations.

As a Teacher

Approach: Teach the leader about scalability principles, market analysis, and business growth strategies.
Outcome: The leader learns about scalability and applies these new skills to their business.

As a Facilitator

Approach: Lead a workshop with the startup team to discuss and brainstorm solutions collaboratively.
Outcome: The team collectively develops a plan of action, leveraging diverse perspectives.

The Importance of Pausing to Choose the Right Stance

Before responding to a situation, I benefit immensely from taking a moment to assess which stance would be most effective. This pause allows for:

  • Reflection on the Needs: Understanding the current state and needs of the team or individual.
  • Strategic Thinking: Considering the long-term impact of the chosen approach.
  • Adaptability: Shifting strategies based on the evolving dynamics of a situation.

The ability to pause and evaluate ensures that the response is tailored to the specific context, maximizing the benefit of the intervention.

Thinking on Your Feet: Tips for Agile Coaches

  1. Stay Calm and Centered: Practice mindfulness or deep breathing to maintain a clear head.
  2. Listen Actively: Focus on understanding the core issues before responding.
  3. Draw from Past Experiences: Reflect quickly on similar situations and your responses to them.
  4. Ask Clarifying Questions: When in doubt, seek more information to better understand the scenario.
  5. Develop your self-awareness: Often, the gut reaction may just result in adopting your default approach which may not always be helpful.
  • What is really the current situation?
  • What do they really need from me?
  • If I don’t know or I am not sure…. I ask them

Conclusion

Practicing agile coaching is complex and multifaceted, embodying various competencies to suit different needs and situations. Understanding these competencies is crucial for both leaders seeking support and professionals aspiring to help and support the organization. By choosing the appropriate competency to use, an organizational or agile coach can effectively guide a team and organization toward growth, agility, and success, by making the most of each unique situation.

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