Meet the Coach: Giuseppe De Simone

Following the announcement of the public launch of agile42 in Sweden, we bring our series “Meet the Coach” to Stockholm to meet Giuseppe De Simone. Born in Italy, Giuseppe is a Certified Enterprise Coach and Certified Team Coach and his relationship with agile42 goes way back. We exchanged a few words while he plans for busy weeks ahead.

How did you start as an Agile coach and how many times did you cross path with agile42?

I attended my first Scrum training is 2009 and encountering Scrum has been a life-changing experience for me. The trainer of that class was a guy called Andrea Tomasini, so you can understand what was my imprinting into the agile world!

Then at beginning of 2010, I had the luxury to kick-off the Agile transformation in a big development organization of around 2000 people at Ericsson consulted by agile42. I got to spend 3 months in Greece, together with other 18 apprentice trainers and coaches from all over the world and 9 international Agile coaches and trainers, including many CEC/CSTs (Andrea Tomasini, Richard Lawrence, Bob Sarni, Dave Sharrock, Brad Swanson, Ralf Kruse, Björn Jensen, Roberto Bettazzoni and Paolo “Nusco” Perrotta). I had always believed in a more human work environment where colleagues could embrace each other as persons, collaborate and focus on doing the right things. I got so inspired by all of them and learned so much in those three months that I realized that Scrum could be a concrete actualization of my beliefs in a humanized and productive personal and working life.

After that experience I have always stayed in touch with agile42, considering them not only my mentors but a group of friends. In 2014 I became a Certified Enterprise Coach and joined Andrea as the only 2 Italian speaking CECs in the worlds: one more reason to stay connected. In 2015 I was invited as a customer to speak at the first agile42connect conference and there I met many of the other coaches and realized once more that this company could be the right professional community for me to belong to, contribute and grow together.

How is different coaching at a large corporation from freelancing or helping smaller teams?

There are commonalities and differences as well as learning on both sides. By working as an internal coach in a large corporation I definitely learned the practice of patience but especially the ability to dance with the system to help things move forward.

An organization is a complex network of people: it is extremely important to know the organization you are working with very well and look at it as a whole system:

  • Learn not only about the official and visible structure: learn much more about the invisible networks, the inner relationships among people, who is friend of whom, who is most sensitive to certain subjects and who counts more or is more decisive on certain tables, whether he has a formal power or only a subtle influential leadership. You cannot imagine what competitive advantage this will give to your effectiveness.
  • Act on different levels. Challenge the status quo and don’t limit yourself to the most obvious actions. Prefer actions who affect the environment around or the process to do things, instead of addressing directly a specific problem: they will have more and lasting impact.
  • Talk to people, with a preference for informal chats – coffee machines are a perfect place sometimes :). Try to find initiators and innovators to help you and sponsors to support you in difficult situations. And, whatever level you want to affect, consider acting also one level up.

These are abilities which I still find essential, especially when working with leaders at medium-sized or big clients.

On the other side, when you work as an internal coach, the risk is to find yourself soon become too embedded in the system and lose the outside perspective and the clarity of distance which are necessary to stay effective as a coach.

This is instead one of the benefits of working as a consultant and maybe on multiple clients at the same time, which also accelerate learning about different domains and meet a wider diversity of people and cultures. In the new endeavor, I have learned how to make an impact in a very short time.

What are the plans for the new Swedish market?

Our plan is to establish agile42 as a well-known brand in Sweden, a role model of customer collaboration and a synonym of high-quality education and high impact enterprise and team coaching. A growth in the market should just be a natural consequence as we are already observing in the first months of operation.

More long-term, my vision is to make agile42 the preferred partner for whoever wants to upgrade their organizational culture to something more fit to the challenges of 21st century and develop the leaders these companies deserve. In that way, we can contribute to change the world of work by helping individuals have more productive lives and organizations create more human workplaces.

You recently wrote a nice blog post about Agile Education at a primary school in Italy, what did you learn from that?

The blog post is about an experiment I did with my brother who is a primary school teacher in Italy.

During my years as an Agile coach and trainer, I learned that people find it difficult to pick up the agile principles and I know that this is a common experience for every Agile coach and trainer. This is because adults have many assumptions about work that have to be unlearned before they can take in new paradigms. By working in non-agile environments and cultures, we start taking things for granted and form mental models of mutually reinforcing components. Neuroscience tells us that it is basically impossible to break these models.

So my question was: What would it look like instead if you could educate people who have no preconceptions? And what if we create a more “agile friendly” brain wiring from the beginning, starting with school kids? How would they react? Does agile thinking resonate better with their mental models of the world? And what do they think about this all?

At the same time, my brother was interested in ways to innovate the school experience for his students and make their learning more effective.

So we used Scrum to create a learning environment which encompassed the following:

  • Being more adaptable to a kid’s specific learning needs
  • Being a meaningful experience involving feelings and physical emotions
  • Fostering self-development and co-education
  • Training skills which are crucial in the 21st century but schools and companies are not good at teaching

We managed to have a first-hand validation that using Scrum and teaching agile practices and principles in a primary school class is doable, that kids positively enjoy it, that they can learn skills they normally don’t in a traditional classroom environment but which are essential in modern organizations (e.g. self-organization, leadership, ability to replan, imagination, self-reflection, dealing with uncertainty and the unknown). And, most surprisingly, that their parents like it too.

I will speak about the experiment and the results at the upcoming XP 2018 conference in May in Portugal with a talk called “Growing Agile minds”.