Qualities of Great Agile Coaches




I stumbled on a blog by someone I hadn’t heard before. His name is and the blog is Spikes & Stories.

Here’s the link to the post:

In it Tanner explores qualities of great agile coaches with a theme of their biases:

  • Bias towards learning
  • Bias towards action
  • Bias towards innocence
  • Bias towards honesty
  • Bias towards silence
  • Bias towards the team

I loved the premise of the post and feel inspired to extend it a bit. So adding a few additional biases to the mix.

Bias towards courage – Courage is one of the five Scrum core values, and to be honest, it’s my favorite. I’d start with they have the courage to coach, when the coaching is easy and when it’s hard. They have the courage to be honest and truthful and to say what needs to be said.

Bias towards clarity – They clearly and completely provide coaching feedback – mostly in communicating to folks. But it also relates to clarity in teaching and interacting with teams. For example, if a team does a mediocre job of handling their sprint challenges, the coach communicates to them around that level of delivery.

Bias towards basics – They have learned that “agile basics” in tactics and approaches are always important, even with more mature teams. When they focus on coaching a team towards mastery, they don’t

Bias towards the situation – Situational coaching can also be thought of as context-based coaching. These coaches are aware that every coaching context is unique, whether at an individual, group, or organizational level. So they carefully engage the situation with an open-mind and try to discover the landscape before reacting to it.

Bias towards self-awareness – They understand that understanding themselves first, is always a good step before coaching. Awareness of their strengths, weaknesses, and biases. I think a huge part of this is know when and when not to coach. That is, allowing teams to explore on their own and seeing what happens.

Bias towards management – They have experience three levels of coaching (team, management, and leadership) and realize that the middle-tier usually needs the most help. The challenge here is often these folks feel threatened, are defensive, or simply don’t want to be coached. So, effective “entry” should be the initial focus.

Bias towards thoughtful prescription – Often agile coaches shy away from prescriptive coaching, preferring a much more suggestive and softer, self-awareness approach. This can be effective for more mature teams, but what if your team is just beginning? This bias allows for more prescriptive coaching techniques where appropriate. In fact, embracing them…thoughtfully.

Bias towards experience – They are experienced inside and outside of agile practices. And they leverage this experience in their coaching. It helps with their situational or context awareness. It helps with their storytelling. And it helps with their advice. Most probably, it helps them have a strong base so that nothing really frustrates or shakes their confidence.

Bias towards storytelling – There is no more effective communication mechanism for teams than telling stories. Here coaches are comfortable with the format and are competent at finding and sharing stories that helps their teams reflect, improve, and develop.

Bias towards know when to say when – Not everyone or every organization is coachable at this precise moment in time. Many coaches look at it as a competition. That is, how quickly can they “turn around” an organization. I think your bias should be to perseverance and trying, but in the end, it is up to the individual and the organizational to be coachable. The Kenny Rogers song comes to mind here of – knowing when to hold them and knowing when to fold them. Sometimes you just need to allow your coaching time and move into another opportunity.

Wrapping Up

Just as Tanner didn’t capture all of the “biases”, I’m sure I haven’t as well. If you’re reading this, please add any of your favorite agile coaching biases in the comments. I’d love to read them.

Please leverage and strengthen your biases and stay agile my friends,


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. Contact: [email protected]