Scrum Alliance – Coaches Retreat: Coaching-the Coaches-Coaching







I’m a volunteer for the Scrum Alliance helping to facilitate Global Coaching Retreats. The retreats are for anyone who currently does or is interested in doing agile or Scrum coaching.

You can find out more about them here:

There is a retreat coming up in Cartagena, Colombia on May 5-7th, 2016.

More information here:

Now I want to share a funny story, at least to me, that gets to the heart of what attending the retreats is all about.

A Funny Story

I was the lead volunteer and facilitator for the Raleigh, NC retreat we held in the Fall of 2014. We followed our traditional format and formed Scrum teams around topics that each group had passion, energy, and affinity towards.

You have to imagine that most, if not all of the participants, were quite seasoned agile practitioners. Many were ScrumMasters and quite a few had done some coaching. We even had our fair share of professional coaches as attendees.

It might be a bit of an overstatement, but we had the “stuff” to form some really solid Scrum teams and get some real work done.


As I mentioned, we try to recreate a Scrum execution model within each retreat. We:

  • Form Scrum teams around a unifying topic or theme;
  • The teams brainstorm a backlog of work to do;
  • The find/elect a ScrumMaster and Product Owner for the team;
  • The cadence is a mini set of sprints over the course of 2+ days. There are sprints, stand-ups, and sprint reviews that are shared with the entire retreat;
  • And the goal of each sprint is to produce something – potentially shippable. Usually an artifact vs. software.

We’ve been using this format, with some variability, for 3+ years and it’s worked great. It allows each team to do a “deeper dive” into some meaningful area. So in that respect, it’s much deeper than Open Space approaches.

Back to my story

But back to my story…

I was one of the cross-retreat facilitators. One of the coaches who had joined a team ran up to me on the first day in a huff. Fred, whose name has been changed to protect him, was upset.

It seemed that his team was off the rails. They couldn’t decide on a goal for their sprint. There were wildly differing views and they couldn’t converge.

It also seemed that people were leaving the team to go to other (more effective) teams.

And Fred was frustrated about it. It seemed like HE had the answers for the team, but nobody was really listening to him. And he wanted me to help him take control.

After walking over to the team, I realized that Fred was a big part of the problem. He was being overly prescriptive to the team and not listening or considering other views.

What was even more interesting, at least to me, was that Fred was a CEC-candidate. Read that as a very seasoned and experienced coach.

But the funny part was this.

I think as coaches we often become accustomed to providing advice, suggestions or even occasionally telling teams what to do. But the position is from the sidelines and not from within the team. Many of us have lost sight of how challenging it can be to be part of a team.

As part of our retreat retrospective, we discovered at the retreat that we “coaches” weren’t all that skilled at being IN a team. That eating our own dog food, so to speak, was quite a bit harder than we realized. We had a lot to learn around being in a team and influencing from a non-coaching perspective.

And this was not learning solely in Fred’s team. About 50% of our Scrum teams, dare I say it…needed some sort of intervention and outside coaching.

And we’ve seen this sort of pattern emerge at most of our retreats. Even our most experienced coaches have some wonderful (and humbling) learning lessons as part of our retreats. The learning isn’t just part of the topic selected, but in team behavior and internals as well.

How funny (and cool!) is that?

Wrapping Up

I follow basketball quite a bit and there are a handful of great coaches that stand out for me. Gregg Popovich is one of them. Popovich is the longest tenured coach in the NBA, having coached the San Antonio Spurs since 1996 and he’s won 4 NBA titles. He’s also coached on the USA Olympic teams.

But for all of that success, I’m most enamored of Popovich for another characteristic. That is his ability to develop coaches. That’s why I’ve used the photo in this post. It illustrates the “coaching tree” that Popovich has left behind in his travels.

I know you’re asking what does that have to do with the Scrum Alliance – Coaching Retreats? We’ll perhaps nothing.

Or perhaps it’s the real essence of the retreats. It’s the acknowledgement that:

  • No matter how skilled we are as coaches, we can always learn more;
  • Having an open mind and being a good observer is a good stance for a great coach;
  • Eating our own dog food is hard. And that being part of a team and BEING coachable is challenging, but also part of being a good coach.

You see the retreats are for EVERYONE. And EVERYONE can learn at the retreat if they put on a humble, learning and open mind.

Even if you’re a Certified Scrum Trainer or a Certified Enterprise Coach, I encourage you to humbly register for and attend a retreat. Join a team. And be prepared to learn and grow! Consider the Coaching Retreats to be your “Popovich” in your agile journeys!

Stay agile my friends!


PS: Oh, and if you’re wondering who coached and mentored Popovich?

It was Larry Brown.

And if you’re wondering who coached and mentored Larry Brown?

It was Dean Smith.

Talk about Hall of Fame, coaching legacies…

So I guess a big part of coaching is…being coached 😉

Bob Galen

Bob Galen

Bob Galen is an Agile Methodologist, Practitioner & Coach based in Cary, NC. In this role he helps guide companies and teams in their pragmatic adoption and organizational shift towards Scrum and other agile methodologies and practices. He is a Principal Agile Evangelist at Velocity Partners. Contact:

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