Coaching Organizations

Things I wish I knew before I became an agile coach

In late 2014 Daisy Pilbrow and I sent out a survey to the agile community. The survey asked agile coaches what they wish they’d known before they started coaching, what was challenging about the role, and what they’ve learned about themselves and others. With the replies Daisy and I hoped to create a short and inspiring recommendation that we could give to interns and new coaches at Spotify.

The survey received 30 replies. We analysed the responses and were able to identify a few patterns that we’d like to share with you. You can find all the responses in their full format here, but we have removed peoples names to protect their integrity.

What role did you have before you became an agile coach?


What makes a good agile coach?
A good coach is someone who:

  • leads by example
  • is patient
  • does no harm
  • assumes positive intent
  • is selfaware
  • is not afraid to fail
  • is resiliant
  • listens
  • cares about people
  • is curious
  • is humble
  • knows how and when to switch between roles
  • forgives
  • learns
  • is pragmatic
  • is knowledgeable about agile


What’s difficult about being an agile coach?

  • It is hard to quantify what success looks like
  • You succeed when others succeed and don’t get as much recognition
  • To constantly manage thyself
  • Knowing when to switch roles
  • Empowering others
  • Setting clear expectations
  • Leading by example
  • Assuming positive intent
  • The resistance you encounter (to agile, to change)
  • Asking openended questions
  • Learning from failure
  • Listening
  • Listening well
  • Building strong relationships
  • Recognising assumptions
  • Being pragmatic
  • The loneliness the role can have
  • Coaching teams
  • Staying humble
  • Giving feedback
  • Dealing with conflict


What advice do you have for new agile coaches?

  • Don’t try to coach a team by yourself – form alliances with other leaders
  • Set really clear expectations with people
  • As a guideline – always assume positive intent
  • Focus on what’s more important (don’t try to do everything)
  • Don’t always coach
  • Get to know the system you operate in before you try to change it
  • Learn how to listen well, fast
  • Learn how to ask powerful questions, fast
  • Learn your triggers
  • Become good at giving and receiving feedback
  • Start small
  • Absorb knowledge (books, studies, videos, etc)
  • Observe other coaches in action or pair with them

What book should I read if I become an agile coach?

We have left the survey open incase more people want to take it. We plan on revisiting the results later this year to see if we can identify other patterns, if we have received more responses.

Please reach out to me if you would like to discuss these conclusions, or if you have identified any other patterns that you believe we should include. I just can’t get enough of analysing data. :)

Thanks for reading!

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