What it's like to work in agile42
Following a lengthy engagement with a client overseas, coach Javier Pérez Fernández reflects upon agile42 working style and company culture
I joined agile42 almost 2 years ago. When I started my journey, agile42 was one of my main references for learning. So when I had the chance to work for the company, I must confess that I was very excited, nervous, and, why not say it, also terrified, because I was going to work with people that I considered my mentors. Many things have happened since then. I would like to share a story that shows well what working in agile42 is like, a small piece of agile42 culture.
The starting point of this story is just before summer 2017. One of our customers contacted us for a special request. We had worked with them several years ago in their German and Hungarian offices. We were proud that they became independent and that they could continue with their agile transition by themselves, thanks to their internal coaches that we helped grow. However, they were facing a big challenge that they couldn’t deal with: it seems that their 50-people unit in Bangalore was doing all the scrum ceremonies as they should, but it was not working. The cultural change was not there.
In agile42 we pair coach as much as possible. Given the fact that we don’t have offices in India, we decided that coaches from two different agile42 offices would pair coach in Bangalore. Mike Freislich from the South African agile42 office and I were the ones that were going to take care of this special request.
I was especially excited because this engagement was the first that I would be involved in from the beginning. Mike was the experienced one, but for me, there were several unknowns. Two are especially important in order to understand this story properly.
- I had never collaborated with Mike at a customer before. We would need to do extra work before going to India.
- It was the first time that I was going to coach outside Europe. I would probably need to research and adapt more than ever.
Before starting in India – Creating a safe space
I had already worked with Mike during our internal Coach Camps, which we have every 2 months. But for this engagement, we knew that we were forming a new team, so if we wanted high performance, we needed to strengthen our trust in each other… We invested some time doing this. It was not that he or I didn’t think that the other was capable and a good coach. It was more that we were going to spend two months in India and we knew that we would have to collaborate a lot if we wanted the engagement to be successful. A conflict between us was inevitably going to come, so we needed to create safety between us too. In order to do that, we invested some time showing our vulnerabilities to each other and sharing what we personally wanted to achieve.
Working at the customer – Hypothesis-driven
I feel at home coaching multicultural teams. During the last few years, I have done it in several companies and locations in Europe.
Mike had already a lot of experience in agile transitions. However, the fact that we were going to coach outside of our usual environment was an additional challenge.
We would definitely need to inspect and adapt more than ever.
After our first calls with the customer sponsors and reading a lot about Indian culture, we created a completely new ad-hoc training for setting the basis for the customer to be able to drive its cultural change. We flew to Bangalore feeling confident in our plan for the first week.
During the first two days, we interviewed, not only the sponsors but also people from the teams. We were also observing how the teams work. Usually, we would have done an organizational assessment beforehand, but that was not possible this time. When we finished the interviews, we realized that our great plan was not good at all, and the first of our four planned days of training was next day. We had to adapt!
Mike and I decided to completely redesign the training and we created another ad-hoc training from scratch. It was a really risky decision since we had never co-trained before and we had different ideas on how to do it. We argued a lot. However, we managed to find a solution by 1:00 am. After having filled a wall with post-its several times over, I must say. :) The training preparation was really difficult for Mike and me. We needed to discuss a lot and we had to learn to work together. It was key for navigating this conflict that we both knew something about the team dynamics and that we had reinforced our trust previously. We highly respect each other and we were ready to provide and receive honest feedback, knowing what the other considered his strengths and vulnerabilities. Mike and I became a great team that day.
And this was just the first example from this engagement in which we constantly inspected and responded. It was not going to be the last time. We could write about many new situations that required us to adapt and how we solved them, but maybe in another post.
Here I wanted to show what working in agile42 is like, so I focused on just one.
The most difficult for us was when we realized that the leadership at the customer also needed training and coaching, in order to make the engagement a success story. We were able to coach individuals and teams very well, that’s what we were there for. However, delivering training for the leadership was a really huge challenge.
agile42 autonomy and advice
So we faced again a tough decision. Should we deliver the training or not? We were there just to coach the teams. And we thought that we had to go one step beyond. Before taking any decision, we asked all the other agile42 coaches for advice… We listened to Andrea Tomasini, Dave Sharrock, Peter Hundermark and others. We received a huge amount of input. We reflected on it, we talked, and finally, we decided that we would deliver training for the leadership. This training couldn’t be like a CAL training, but it included enough for the leaders to understand the following:
- They should change their leadership style if they wanted to enable the teams
- There is no blueprint for changing the culture. They should formulate hypotheses of why the teams were not working as desired, experiment with solutions and reflect about their learning, so they could decide if they really wanted to roll out a solution.
Finally, we couldn’t implement ETF, but we developed a bespoke solution for them to support it and coached the sponsors and the leadership team to use it.
Final result and considerations: agile42 culture
The engagement was successful. Nowadays, the customer continues its agile transition based on the coaching they received from agile42.
Personally, I learned a lot and I developed capabilities that I did not know I had. Mike and I developed ad-hoc tools for the customer that deserve a separate post. It was really rewarding.
It is great, isn’t it? We delivered great service to the customer, while I grew as a person and as a coach. There are three aspects of agile42 that definitely support this:
- agile42 people provide safe spaces. It is ok to share fears or vulnerabilities because your colleagues understand them and help you cope with them. That is how Mike and I started the engagement and it was key to succeeding.
- Empirical driven: agile42 doesn’t bring a blueprint to the customer and just try to implement it. We really try to identify what the customer needs and then we adapt our coaching, as we did in Bangalore, where we were continuously adapting.
- Autonomy: agile42 allows each of us to take decisions and to do what seems right. We can always ask for advice and some of my most respected coaches will give us a hand. Besides Andrea, Dave, and Peter, who I mentioned before, Atul Khanapure also supported us during our engagement in Bangalore.
I guess that “care” would be the word that summarizes why agile42 is a great place to work. Care, not only about what our customer needs, but also care about developing creating safe spaces for our colleagues, so each of us can grow faster and better as coaches.