Tag Archive for: coaching

Webinar | A Personal View on Professional Coaching

There are endless resources, tools, and guidelines for professional coaching, but what makes coaching so magical is that it is an intensely personal experience for the coach. And yet, the personal is often missing when people talk about coaching. 

In this webinar, ICF-accredited coaches, Pascal Papathemelis and Ebru Yalcinkaya share a personal insight into professional coaching. They talk about their journey, what they have struggled with, and what they have done to grow as a coach – so that you can, too. 

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How to Become an Agile Coach

Webinar | How to Become an Agile Coach

There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about what it means to be an Agile coach. Agile coaching companies have difficulties explaining the value they will bring to their customers, and the role is often treated like a multi-team Scrum Master. In this webinar, our hosts, Martin von Weissenberg and Magnus Kollberg, take a hard and in-depth look at the Agile coaching profession. They clear up some of these misconceptions so that you can find a clear and understandable explanation of what an agile coach is, what an agile coach does (and doesn’t do), and the value they can bring to organizations. They also give guidance on how to become one, sharing the relevant credentials and competencies you may need, as well as challenges you may face and how to overcome them. Lastly, they answer our audience’s most pressing questions.


How to Become an Agile Coach

There seems to be a large misunderstanding around what it means to be an agile coach. Coaching is well understood, and the largest providers of agile coaching certifications have converged and agreed on the definition. Still the agile coach is constantly being deflated into something like a multi-team Scrum Master, and agile coaching companies have difficulties explaining the value they will bring to their customers. What’s going on?

With this blog post, we’re going to take a hard and in-depth look at the agile coaching profession and straighten out some of the misconceptions. You will hopefully find a clear and understandable explanation of what an agile coach is and isn’t, what an agile coach does (and doesn’t do), what value an agile coach will bring to the organization, as well as some tips and tricks on how to become an agile coach.

What makes coaching so magical is that it is an intensely personal experience for the coach. For a personal insight into one of the most rewarding professions available, watch the recording of our Webinar: A Personal View on Professional Coaching.

Why you should trust me

I’ve worked as a professional agile coach since 2008, and have well over 12,000 hours of agile coaching and 1,500 hours of agile training under my belt. Every year I’m racking up between 600 and 1,000 hours of actual honest hands-on agile coaching, in addition to training, writing, speaking and mentoring.

I’m the proud owner of a Certified Enterprise Coach® (CEC) certification since 2015, and an active member of the team that reviews and accepts Certified Team Coach® (CTC) applications at the Scrum Alliance. In other words, other highly skilled agile coaches are of the opinion that I know agile coaching, and they trust me in guiding and assessing candidate coaches.

Further reading: Martin is one of the authors of The Hitchhikers Guide to Agile Coaching which you can download for free.

What is an agile coach?

An agile coach is a servant leader who helps organizations transform towards higher levels of agility. Agile coaches use coaching and facilitation techniques plus complex management methods to help the client organization see and understand what’s going on, find their own solutions to their problems, and enact those solutions.

What is an Agile Coach

Photo by Allan Mas from Pexels

According to Wikipedia, coaching has its roots in the word “coach”, meaning “…to transport people from where they are to where they want to be”. The coach is merely helping the client on a journey of self-discovery and improvement, and all solutions must come from the client.

In contrast, an agile coach is expected to bring both expertise and experience in the subject matter. This takes careful balancing between coaching, teaching and mentoring on one hand, and consulting, advising and contracting on the other. We could perhaps talk about “transforming” rather than “transporting”, as it implies that the coaching subject needs to actively change into something new and different.

Complex management methods are necessary because organizations are complex. I won’t go into the topic very deeply here, but the key point is that you can’t design a complex system up front. Instead you need to let it grow, observing what emerges and either strengthening or dampening what you see. An agile coach tries to “nudge” the organization towards a better way of operating (which presumably involves lean and agile methods), and the direction of change is more important than the goal. By doing interventions of various kinds, an agile coach can generate small but permanent changes in how the organization behaves. Often the results are different from what you imagined initially.

Agile coaches work at varying levels in the organization, but always in settings where there’s at least a handful of teams that need to organize themselves effectively. The field of work is large, including products and services, skills and roles, the organizational structure, IT infrastructure and workplace services, agile/lean management processes, the facilitation of strategy creation and implementation, and much more.

In a traditional organization, agile coaches are often positioned directly above the Scrum Masters in the hierarchy, or sometimes in a separate unit that provides e.g. process development services to other units. In flat or teal organizations the lines are more blurred, but agile coaches generally have the capability to take on larger responsibilities than Scrum Masters do.

What does an agile coach do?

An agile coach will coach, obviously, but also teach and mentor people. They help visualize what is going on, and act as mirrors to the organization, helping people see things as they are. Agile coaches facilitate work, lead workshops and meetings, and help people make good decisions. They also grow new Scrum Masters and new agile coaches, by teaching and mentoring potential candidates in the organization, by showing them the ropes (a.k.a. role-modeling), and by living the agile values.

Why is coaching so valuable for the target organization? 

Fundamentally, companies need to make more complex decisions at a faster pace than before, which can only be achieved using distributed cognition and decision-making. Scrum and Kanban, with their short feedback loops and focus on quality, will take you in the right direction. Without self-organization the teams just won’t fly: self-organizing teams are more motivated and more proactive, and they can make better decisions. This is exactly what companies need today, and agile coaches help them achieve it.

In order to become more self-organizing, teams need the right kind of leadership. We’ve found coaching, envisioning, conducting and catalyzing leadership styles work better than styles that are controlling, commanding, demanding or pace-setting. The latter styles are more effective in the short term, but pull decision power away from the team and to the manager. In the long term they will reduce the level of self-organization.

As most mid-level managers are under pressure to deliver, they do whatever they can to get stuff done. Coaches are needed to teach team members how to collaborate and make decisions, and to teach managers how to lead self-organizing teams and drive continuous organizational improvement.

Agile Coaching Skills

Being a successful agile coach requires a large number of different skills. Most people find it comparatively easy to learn e.g. agile and lean thinking and related practicalities. There’s plenty of books around, and you can find correct answers for many questions, and good trade-offs and guidelines for many others. In Cynefin terms, this is the ordered (simple or complicated) domain.

Learning the soft skills — how to become a good coach — is more difficult. Coaching is often complex and sometimes chaotic: you are listening and driving the situation forward by asking questions and choosing topics that serve the needs of your audience. You may need to challenge them or open new areas of thought. To do this effectively, you will need to act and react in ways that don’t necessarily come naturally to you.

Below, I’ve listed a number of skills that I think a good agile coach should have. Luckily these skills are widely applicable, and most people will find them useful regardless of where their careers take them. Every team leader will benefit from coaching skills, every product manager should understand the ideas behind Lean and Agile, and so on.

  • Coaching skillsThe International Coaching Federation defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential”. This requires a number of soft skills that enable you to engage in intelligent and structured conversations that help the client organization change for the better. This is difficult, and new agile coaches often lack the requisite coaching skills. (We’ll dig into this problem later in the blog post.)
  • Agile and Lean knowledgeThe theories, thinking models and practises you need in order to become (more) agile. Because agile coaches should be able to teach others, their own understanding must be very good. Luckily, Lean and Agile knowledge is not too difficult to pick up, and most people get it straight sooner or later. If you are working with a big agile model, keep in mind that the underlying assumptions may not be valid for all organizations.
  • Technical, business and leadership skillsAs an agile coach, you will find yourself in situations where you need to help a group of people with agile practices specific to their role. This could include deploying continuous integration, setting up a project portfolio board, or helping managers to understand servant leadership. You don’t need to be expert in all these areas, but the more you know, the larger your impact can be.
  • Facilitation skillsHow to make it easy for people to do what they need to do. As a good facilitator, you provide a clear process and guide people towards their goal without injecting your own opinions or content.
  • Teaching skills — An agile coach often needs to transfer a lot of new knowledge effectively, while respecting the fact that the audience consists of grown-ups. You also need to understand when some teaching is necessary, and how to assess the results afterwards.
  • Self-awareness, self-reflection and self-improvementA good coach is constantly looking for weak spots and is resourceful in finding ways to improve. For example, if you feel uncertain about your ability to deliver training (self-awareness), you might instead organize courses with a professional trainer. At the same time, you can ask for permission to observe them, or perhaps co-train and get some feedback (self-improvement).

The list is not whipped up from thin air. It’s based on the Agile Coach Competency Framework by Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd, with clarifications from Jon Spruce and Ben Maynard.

The difference between a new agile coach and an experienced one 

The difference between a new agile coach and a more experienced agile coach is that the latter has more techniques they can call on, is able to see deeper patterns, and is able to assemble and create new techniques on the spot. Based on my own experience from reviewing dozens and dozens of CTC applications, I’ve tried to conceptualize this into three dimensions:

  1. Width: How wide is your toolbox of methods and thinking models? This dimension is related to the Law of the Implement: if you only have a hammer, all problems look like nails. The more tools you have at your disposal, the better you can handle each situation. A newbie coach may have only a few techniques available, while an expert agile coach has a large library of methods they can refer to.
  2. Length: For how long have you collected experience? A newbie might need printed instructions, while a more experienced coach can run several meetings and workshops from memory. A true master is able to meld different methods and synthesize new approaches on the fly. This is also known as shu-ha-ri.
  3. Depth: How deep can you see? An agile coach should have the ability to see below the surface and identify holistic organizational patterns beyond the single-team context. If the team is not delivering running tested software reliably, they are often prevented by the constraints and expectations set by the surrounding organisation.

People tend to improve in all of these dimensions over time. Experience and learning comes through doing, but progress can be uneven and proceed in fits and starts. You can speed this up considerably by working in environments with an existing embedded agile mindset, where you will be able to observe good examples and pick up good ideas on a daily basis. Co-coaching especially can be very educational. Conversely, if you find yourself in an agile-in-name-only organization, you’ll find yourself picking up narrow thinking models and suboptimal methods.

As a CTC application reviewer, I should also mention that most problems tend to occur in two areas. Most of the rejected or deferred applications lack depth across the board: the capability to see larger organizational patterns is not there. The second most common reason is insufficient coaching skills.

Recommended online course: Agile Coaching Foundations

What kind of jobs can an agile coach find?

The vast majority of agile coaches work either as internal employees or as consultants, although there’s a lot of variation.

As an internal agile coach, your job is often to work with a specific department or a specific business unit, or sometimes a whole company, to help them become more agile. The line of business can range all over the map, but is often related to software development, IT or R&D. You can sometimes be a member of a specific department or business unit, or belong to a coaching department that provides services to other business units. The job is fairly stable, and during layoffs coaches are either the first or the last to go (which incidentally tells you a lot about the company). You also have an opportunity to follow the same company for several years to see the long-term impact of your work.

Consultants have more options, and I’ll list some of them below:

  • You can work for one of the many software subcontracting companies that deliver “agile projects.” The work often revolves around helping your software development teams become more efficient, or teaching and coaching clients on how to work with an agile team. Sometimes you’ll also provide management coaching or agile transformation services for clients, e.g. in parallel with a digitisation project carried out by your software development colleagues.
  • Being a freelancer might be an interesting option if you’re conscientious and business-minded and have a good personal reputation. It’s difficult for one-person companies to get large transition engagements, so freelancers often accept subcontracting assignments or join a cluster of like-minded people who can feed work to each other. The downside is that it can be difficult to find time for self-improvement (i.e. reading books and taking courses), and there may be limited opportunities for co-coaching with others.
  • There are “boutique” consulting companies such as agile42 specializing in, for example, agile transformations or strategic agility. With increased mass (say, more than half a dozen coaches) comes increased stability: you can afford to invest in self-development and take time out between gigs. You will also generally see larger and more interesting client cases than a freelancer would, and have colleagues who you can mentor or get mentored by. (I personally think this is the sweet spot, but I’m probably biased.)
  • Virtually all big consulting companies employ some agile coaches. Customer engagements depend on what the account managers sell. These companies are often working with one of the big agile frameworks (DAD, SAFe, LeSS, Spotify model, what have you), or have created their own methods and approaches. On the upside, there is often a step-by-step deployment process that brings clarity to everyone, and there are other coaches to work with and learn from. On the downside, the pre-defined engagement processes may be strict and leave little room for coaches to experiment and learn.

Be aware that some companies advertise for an agile coach, but then provide a role description that is closer to that of a Scrum Master, Agile Project Manager, Jira/TFS expert, or some kind of Agile-Do-It-All. This always indicates that the company doesn’t understand what an agile coach actually is. Many good coaches tend to refuse to accept such constraints. On the other hand, others can see it as an interesting challenge. It’s your choice.

There’s another common anti-pattern where an agile coach is expected to handle the operative duties for three or four teams in an organization, without Scrum Masters. By limiting the scope of the role and ensuring that the coach is busy running Scrum mechanics, the organization loses out on virtually all the benefits that an agile coach can bring in the first place. Again many good coaches refuse to take on this kind of assignment.

Beyond the opportunities listed above, you may occasionally find more specialized work. Agile training outfits sometimes have an agile coach on the roster, offering in-depth coaching courses or post-training support to the students. Venture capitalists have been known to hire agile coaches to e.g. roll out lean startup techniques. Management consulting companies sometimes need coaches with agile experience, to coach senior executives. And you might occasionally find a job ad from the Scrum Alliance or another non-profit in this domain.

How much does an agile coach earn?

The salary for an agile coach varies quite a bit. As a rule of thumb, an agile coach should look for wages similar to those of a Senior Project Manager or development manager, while an experienced lead agile coach or head coach should have a position similar to a Head of Department, with the appropriate compensation.

In flat or teal organizations, agile coaches can draw on their facilitation and coaching skills to show the value they are contributing to the company, which helps negotiate a good wage. As a freelancer, you should take what the market will bear. You bring a huge amount of value to your clients, so price your work accordingly.

That said, some of the main factors for the salary include:

  • The cost structure of your country: For example, a coach in South Africa or India gets paid less than half compared to a coach in Northern Europe, but the costs of living are correspondingly lower.
  • Whether you are an internal coach or a consultant: Internal coaches have compensation schemes similar to that of the other employees: a base wage plus perhaps a small (10%) annual bonus. A coach working for a consulting company can have a lower fixed wage, but a higher provision-based component. A freelancer is of course fully dependent on what they can invoice.
  • Your level of experience, capabilities and credibility: As a junior agile coach or Scrum Master replacement, you will get bottom money. An established and well-reputed executive management coach can command fees that are substantially higher.
  • The agile certifications you hold: Certifications are important, not only for the learning journey but also for the signals they send. By proving that you have the requisite knowledge and experience, you can land more interesting and better-paying engagements. On the other hand, you may also be seen as overqualified for simpler jobs. We’ll cover the topic of certifications in depth later.
  • Whether you are also a (certified) trainer: Having two lines of business is better than having just one speciality and many agile coaches also work as successful agile trainers. Training and coaching are two separate skill sets, but they complement each other nicely and can open opportunities for theory-informed practice.
  • The company culture: Regardless of whether you are an internal coach or a consultant, you will find that some companies have a better understanding the value and the benefits that an agile coach can bring. This will have an impact on the salary.

How to become an agile coach

Becoming a good agile coach is a long journey. There are no shortcuts, although you can speed it up by keeping in touch with the best people you can find. Below, you will find some ideas and suggestions.

The journey to becoming an Agile coach

Photo by Sharefaith from Pexels

Cultivate self-awareness and self-improvement

This is the basis of becoming good at anything, in fact. At all times, reflect on your own performance in the small and the large. Note the choices you are making, as well as the situations where someone else saw a choice that you didn’t. What went well, and what should you do differently next time? These are things you can reflect on immediately, while you grab a coffee after your meeting, or later in the gym, or on your commute.

Whenever possible, get direct feedback from your clients, teams and stakeholders. Consider using something like the return-on-time-invested (ROTI) method to get immediate feedback at the end of every meeting or workshop that you facilitate. You may want to talk to people you are working with to understand what you’re doing well and what you need to improve. How about collaborating with other agile coaches to get to-the-point feedback and second opinions? At the end of a time-limited assignment, you might want to conduct a formal “exit interview”. It can also be useful to sit down and think back over the last year or two, although it requires a bit more discipline. How are things working out for you? What changes do you need to make?

Coaches thrive in a human-centered team culture with a coaching leadership style. One implication is, unexpectedly, that your boss shouldn’t be your only source of feedback. A good leader of coaches would ask you to get your feedback mainly from the people you serve or work with. They would also task the whole team with figuring out their strengths and weaknesses together, and to come up with a strategy for improving their skills. Insofar as they throw in their own feedback and opinions, it’s just one data point among many others.

Enroll in ongoing education

Education comes in many different forms. This includes reading articles and books, talking with experts in the field, participating in conferences, observing masters at work, taking formal training, enrolling in post-graduate studies, or generally trying to achieve a self-assigned goal. You can also work towards a relevant coaching certificate, as that gives you a more focused checklist or curriculum.

Learning happens automatically to most people, but you can speed it up by applying focus. Take a moment to identify your current areas of interest, and then work to get an index of what is available. Who are the authorities in the field? What books have they written, what models and theories have they created? Whose work are they building on, and who is now extending their work further?

Get yourself a basic (agile) coaching certification

Even a basic certification will be beneficial, if it’s of the right kind and backed by a credible organization such as the International Coaching Federation, the Scrum Alliance, ICAgile, or any of the other associations mentioned in this blog post. agile42 offers the following agile coaching certifications:

Remember that not all ideas and concepts are equally reliable. Some work is well researched and backed up by logic and empirical results. To mention a few, I have high trust in the Lean product development concepts presented by Donald G. Reinertsen, and in Karl E. Weick and his work on organizational psychology. The same goes for the Cynefin sense-making model and related concepts by Dave Snowden.

Other ideas rest on shaky or non-existent foundations. For example, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) have both been debunked as pseudoscience. I can’t recommend making them the basis of your career.

There’s a number of coaching schools that fulfill these criteria and are generally accepted in the agile coaching industry, including:

When it comes to Scrum, Kanban, Lean, various scaled processes etc. there’s a large number of trainings on offer, with and without certifications. When choosing an agile training, keep the following in mind:

  • The best trainers are also practicing coaches. The combination of practical experience and theoretical knowledge is hard to beat.
  • The Scrum Alliance sets the highest bar for their trainers: it’s notoriously difficult to become a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST). For this reason their Scrum courses are generally better than the competitors.
  • If you want or need certification, be sure that you pick a good certification authority. A good certification is an asset; a bad certification is a liability.

Get coaching experience

It’s been said that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. Some people say that the effort must be thoughtfully and diligently applied, while others think it’s more of a general guideline, and yet another group contends that all of this is just a gross oversimplification. Regardless, we can all agree that you must invest time, effort, practice and reflection to become an expert. So start early — preferably yesterday — and remember that it’s never too late to turn failures into learning experiences!

Try to maximize diversity in your work. This means working with all kinds of industries and technologies, small companies and multinational enterprises, startups and NGOs, in your home country and on the other side of the world. Each additional environment and business domain you get acquainted with will give you new challenges and new experiences.

In most industries, for example, you will find constraints and regulations that force people to work in certain ways. For example, banks and insurance companies must cope with heavy regulation and the desire to be perceived as reliable by their clients. Mobile games are less regulated and people will accept some level of defects. The embedded software in a pump at the bottom of a well may never be updated, while updates to a web app can be automatically tested and deployed as soon as the developer hits Ctrl-S.

Gaining experience requires self-reflection and improvement, as mentioned above, but also a certain amount of audacity and serendipity — a willingness to get out of your comfort zone and try new things, even though you might not succeed at first. As agilists we should be well prepared to work in small batches, inspect the results and adapt for next time. Einstein has a number of great quotes on this topic, including “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new” as well as “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

As you are collecting experience, make sure that you get to do actual agile coaching. This is not the same as being a Scrum Master for a team, or driving the Product Owner community. Coaching Scrum Masters and leaders in multi-team settings requires deeper and wider knowledge, including the ability to teach and mentor people.

What certifications are relevant?

There’s a lot of certifications that sound like they could be useful for an agile coach. But how do you know which ones are worthwhile and which are not? Why spend a lot of money and time on some specific certificate, when you can get another certificate quicker and for a fraction of the price?

The answer is in signaling, a concept originally introduced by Nobel-prize economist Gary Becker. He argued that it’s very difficult to understand the talents or skills of any person, so prospective employers would use university degrees as a proxy. Your B.Sc. or M.A. or Ph.D. sends a signal about you — and so does just being accepted into an Ivy League university, even if you drop out later.

Having a good agile coaching certification signals that you know your stuff. It tells people that you have invested significant time and resources in learning the right skills. It shows that a review panel, consisting of expert agile coaches, have inspected your credentials, assessed your skills, and found you worthy.

Recommended for you: View agile42’s agile certifications

Becker’s distinction between elite and non-elite universities is also useful. In this case the “Ivy League” of agile coaching institutions consists of only three organizations: the International Coaching Federation, the Scrum Alliance and the International Consortium for Agile.

Other agile coaching certificates can certainly be found, ranging from the questionable to the outright embarrassing.

What coaching certifications should I avoid? 

Certifications related to a specific process framework are considered mildly suspicious. Coming in with a pre-defined solution is in conflict with the principles of coaching, meaning that those certifications are weak or confusing signals. People who don’t know better may be impressed, but those in the know will look for further signals.

Avoid all coaching certifications that can be had immediately through a multiple-choice online exam. First, coaching is a complex skill that is extremely context-dependent, and there is no automated way of assessing your skill level. Multiple-choice questions are totally inappropriate for the job: the questions are either leading or the difference comes down to nitpicking semantics. Free-form answers and essays work better, but can’t be graded by computers. They must be assessed and graded by human experts, which increases the cost and the lead time.

Second, people can and will cheat on these tests. If you get stuck on a particularly difficult question and ping a friend about it, who will ever know? If you buy the answer sheet online, or pay someone to do the exam for you, who will ever know? And if you did the exam honestly and properly, who will ever know?

Such certifications are not only worthless, they are a liability because they send the wrong signals. People will think that you are either ignorant or gullible, or trying to fool them.

Pure coaching certifications

The International Coaching Federation is the gold standard for systemic coaching globally. There are a number of regional organizations that apply the same level of rigor, including the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) and the Association for Coaching (AC). If you can present even an entry-level certification from any of these, then people will take it as given that your skills are sufficient for agile coaching.

Certifications specific to agile coaching

There are two reliable sources of agile coaching certificates: Scrum Alliance and International Consortium for Agile.

The Scrum Alliance provides two certifications directly applicable to agile coaching: Certified Team Coach® (CTC) and Certified Enterprise Coach® (CEC). They are both pure competence assessments with a self-guided learning journey, and there is a lot of overlap in the requirements as well as the application process. You will need to structure the learning process yourself, working on your own to ensure that you meet the requirements — sufficient coaching skills, hands-on experience, training and outreach, and so on — and stay in contact with mentors who can give guidance and advice. When I applied for the CEC, it took me two years.

Together with the Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST), the CTC and the CEC are considered “guide level” certifications by the Scrum Alliance. This comes with certain rights and obligations: CTCs and CECs are for example allowed to confer CSM certifications through coaching, just like the CSTs can do through training. This also means that the Scrum Alliance applies stricter criteria than others.

It’s worth mentioning that Scrum Alliance is a non-profit organization that doesn’t have the goal of making money. They can afford to take a serious approach to certifications, and this is clearly visible especially at the guide level.

The International Consortium for Agile, also known as ICAgile, is backed by several good names in the agile coaching industry. They are generally considered a reliable and reputable provider of certifications. Similar to Scrum Alliance, they provide two relevant certification tracks, Team coaching and Enterprise coaching. In contrast with the Scrum Alliance certifications, ICAgile is more structured: you need to take three specific courses, and then pass a competence assessment. There is little overlap between the team and enterprise track though, the courses are for example totally different.

Do you want to become an agile coach?

Great! Regardless of where you are, making the decision to start is the first step of the journey. Dig up the Agile Coach Competency Framework and do a self-assessment. Where are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Browse our training, pick a skill, and keep moving on your journey.

Archetypes for change – Leadership coaching in complex times

I wrote an article (08/2020) for the Coaching-Magazin Online about "Archetypes for change - Leadership coaching in complex times" and I'm happy to share the content with you here on our blog. The different archetypes are part of our ORGANIC Leadership® framework which we support organizations with.

Archetypes tie together in an intuitive and powerful way a diverse range of concepts that affect leaders and organizations. This article examines the concept of leader and organizational archetypes. Starting from the root of archetype in myth and narrative and combining this theoretical literature with leadership theories and psychological literature on behavior, it discusses the coaching of leaders through the process of changing themselves and their organizations by understanding their relationship to certain archetypes and the effects of their behavior.

If you want to read the story online, you can do so from Coaching-Magazin Online's webpage.


Introduction: what is an archetype?

Archetypes are part of stories: they represent structures or character types that stand for, or even represent, collective ideas, ideals, characteristics, fears, and desires. Some archetypes are almost universally recognizable, such as the self-sacrificing hero, or the loving mother, while others are more culturally specific. It is important to note that archetypes are not stereotypes (Snowden, 2005). People or situations are not shoehorned into them and they are not used for categorization. They just emerge out of repeated collective representations in stories, and we might recognize them when we see them. They also continue evolving as stories are retold or new ones are added into the canon. Because that makes them essentially pattern abstractions with a personality, archetypes can be incredibly flexible and practical: they are instantly recognizable, but rooted in different specificities.

The roots of archetypes go back to ancient Greek philosophy and Plato, who envisioned a world of ‘ideas’, ideal types whose specific reflections make up the real world. They were then picked up in Renaissance philosophy. In the 20th century, the psychoanalysis pioneer Jung gave them clearer shape and much of their modern understanding, identifying archetypes with prototypical images of the world that we all carry around with us, and which are so inherently bound to us that they keep surfacing again and again in our stories. These days, archetypes often feature in narrative research and literary criticism, informing approaches that seek to take a big-picture, comparative view of the word (Campbell, 1968; Frye, 2001).


What do archetypes have to do with coaching, leadership, and organizations?

It is clear then how archetypes might be relevant in approaching a book or film, but what do they have to do with coaching leaders? In fact, there are two major connecting points: one has to do with stories themselves, and the other with the kind of understandings and representations that archetypes can support in an organization.

Narrative has of course become a dominant theme in organizational coaching in recent years, with leaders often encouraged to take courses in storytelling (see, for example, Choy, 2020 or Denning, 2005). In fact, narrative goes far deeper than that. The unstructured, natural stories that are told every day around the coffee machine, the stories of success and failure that circulate and justify organizational practices and choices, the elaborate mythology and grand narratives that make up and support organizational values, all these are part of what constitutes the all-important organizational culture (see, for example, Ravasi & Schultz, 2006 or Gabriel, 2004). And archetypes, once we start looking, are one of the elements that crosscut across different levels and connect them, appearing in different forms in all kinds of stories.

By seeing and understanding those archetypes, a point of access in organizational culture in all of its complexity becomes available, which means that we can start affecting it. Archetypes bring together different elements in a natural way. Those studying the art and science of organizations know that the attitudes of leaders in an organization, the underlying culture and structure, and the response of others to those behaviors are connected: directly, indirectly, and sometimes in ways that we cannot immediately see. Understanding archetypes means that these connections are built into our perceptions and interventions without reducing the complexity of both organizations and leadership.


Complexity theories of leadership

Mentioning this embeddedness of leadership in partly visible and partly understood networks leads us to necessarily discuss a complex approach to leadership in general. Leadership theories can help us understand what archetypes contain. Given the characteristics of archetypes and the way they are used in coaching (to be more specifically addressed in the next section) it makes sense to turn to complexity theories in particular (Uhl-Bien et al., 2007). Complexity leadership theories were developed as a response to the changing world of work, from a more structured and mechanical to a rapid-based, adaptive one that is primarily built on human knowledge, relations, and capacities. This modern world of work moreover operates in dangerous, constantly shifting markets, sped up even more by technology. Complexity leadership draws from complexity science, which focuses on large, dynamic systems of interconnected components that evolve over time and are in a constant state of change, even without external inputs. In organizations, those components include people and their networks, which brings complexity to a whole other level.

Leadership for an evolving dynamic system should be evolving and dynamic itself or fall behind and desperately try to maintain control of the uncontrollable. In this environment, flexible leadership (now meant as a quality and a dynamic, and not as a position of power or a job description) can create the right conditions to enable responsive evolution, and therefore resilience, and trigger the evolutionary potential of the system without directing it, focusing on speed and learning over efficiency and process control. In order to achieve that, a high degree of well-connected autonomy will be necessary.

Because coaching a dynamic is generally rather difficult, in this article reference will often be made to leaders themselves, with the understanding that they are especially well-placed to influence how leadership is exercised. The rest of this article will focus on how coaches can facilitate through archetypes the emergence of coherent autonomy in a context that enables evolution.


Complex-friendly movement through change and coaching for awareness

So how do coaches put that to good use in the process of organizational change, and what does it mean for coaching leaders through it? There are processes for extracting the archetypes that are present in different parts or groups of an organization (see for example Snowden, 2005): contrasting those reveals unarticulated, sometimes critical, variations in perspective. Here, however, we will propose using a series of pre-existing, high-abstraction organizational archetypes that can then be given specific form into the context of application. These high-level archetypes bring together leadership attitudes, organizational expectations, and culture, as well as levels or types of structure and autonomy present in the organization.

The last point is critical, because the range of autonomy levels represented in archetypes makes them an ideal transition tool. The proposed archetypes start from The Expert, characterized by a leader who is the primary decision-maker and communicator with the team. Relationships are one-to-one with the leader and the culture is focused on control. All five high-level archetypes proposed will not be outlined here, but they move in increasing levels of autonomy from The Expert, through The Co-ordinator and The Peer (includes collective decision-making, solid feedback loops, increased responsibility for personal action and a collaborative culture). Finally, at the higher levels of autonomy there are The Coach and The Strategist archetypes, where ultimately leadership is distributed instead of concentrated on the person of the leader, in true complexity fashion, and the leader as a person acts as a strategic conduit between the team and the organization.


Identifying relevant archetypes and using them to better understand autonomy

So how does a leader, a team, or an organization know which archetype they can identify themselves with, and use that knowledge to intervene and gradually increase the level of autonomy, and therefore adaptability and speed of reaction, in the organization? As a coach, the process can start with facilitation: in a workshop, people from diverse perspectives share stories of success and failure in the organization and then map those on to archetypes. This shows the coach, not only which archetypes are more typical of the organization, but also which ones people feel more comfortable with and which they consider more effective. Comfort levels are something to take into account in leadership coaching, because pushing premature change will only get rejected and lead to conflict.

Using the most common and successful archetypes as a guide, leaders can start seeing a possible evolutionary path, from the existing conditions to greater autonomy and interconnection within and between teams. The path however is not to the archetype representing the highest possible level of autonomy: it is to the next most autonomous archetype from the one the team is at right now, whatever that is. This is where leadership coaching becomes most crucial, because the key to triggering change are leadership behaviors.

For the practicalities of coaching, leadership behaviors can also be distilled down to six major categories, which of course subsume a whole range of actual actions. These behaviors exist simultaneously in various dimensions, from the perspective of the leader, to the perspective of the team, to ideas of how work gets done and what constitutes success. These overarching behaviors can be described with words like directingdemandingconducting, or catalyzing. Behaviors and archetypes are mutually reinforcing and feed off culture: a leader’s behavior shapes the culture and archetype, while at the same time being affected by it.


Coaching leadership through behavior and contextual awareness

From a coaching perspective then, the first step would be coaching on Emotional Intelligence (Beldoch, 1964; Goleman, 1995), observation and awareness. Beyond the debate on the general validity of Emotional Intelligence as a concept, it is used here as a tool that can be particularly helpful in making connections: the leader can observe the way their own emotions trigger their actions which in turn shape the impact they have, so that they realize this chain for themselves and, through practices such as journaling or regular coaching and reflection sessions, build the capacities for observation.



With awareness heightened, conscious behavioral change can be possible. Going back to the evolutionary path that archetypes have helped us recognize, coaches can associate the present and the desired archetypes with specific behaviors (which are already part of an archetype’s constellation). Each archetype involves multiple different behaviors and these partially overlap between different archetypes, so for the leader the key is to start adopting some of the new behaviors of the desired archetypes, while maintaining those among the old ones that are still present in the goal archetype. This continuity is an important element for change to be accepted and happen naturally. So, for example, if an organization or group is trying to move from The Expert to The Co-ordinator archetype, a leader might still use demanding-type behaviors, but they will no longer be dictating every detail, and will instead move to a higher-level co-ordination. As the leaders’ behavior changes, the structures around it will start shifting as well, as people and structures around them respond to the changed leadership behavior and new rituals and practices (that can be reinforced to support the change) emerge. The key here is that instead of forcing organizational structure to change in appearance only, the leader uses this heightened awareness and sense of direction to change their own actions and practices, and magnify that impact.


The letting go of control and its rewards

This process sounds theoretical, but in its application on the ground it has the advantage of making the abstract immediately specific and graspable by honoring existing knowledge through the intuitive connections embedded in the idea of archetypes. This means that the leader isn’t being aggressively guided to unravel everything and break it down into constituent parts in order to make a difference, but they are being given a way of seeing things that offers power and understanding over their own actions.

The implication here is that the leaders’ control primarily extends to themselves and what they do, as well as what they are able to observe, which sometimes might be hard to accept. It means that leaders will have to recognize that deliberate changes in organizational structures, or stating ideal company values might have very little effect. They will have to recognize that their control over others’ actions (except in the most direct and damaging way) is very minimal. The coach can encourage that process by emphasizing why it is worth it for creating the kind of impact most leaders dream of having on their organization through the cumulative power of small interventions. So what they can do is take action themselves, encouraging the direction they have chosen, as the archetype of their organization changes more smoothly around them, alongside the stories people tell.



Beldoch, Michael (1964). Sensitivity to expression of emotional meaning in three modes of communication. In Joel R. Davitz et al. (eds.), The Communication of Emotional Meaning (pp. 31–42), New York: McGraw-Hill.

Campbell, Joseph (1968). The hero with a thousand faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Choy, Esther (2020). What Is Leadership Storytelling, Anyway?. [online] Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/estherchoy/2020/01/26/what-is-leadership-storytelling/#313d19f07b17 [Accessed 23 July 2020].

Denning, Stephen (2005). The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

Frye, Northrop. (2001). The archetypes of literature. In Vincent Leitch (ed.), The Norton Anthology: Theory and Criticism. New York: Norton.

Gabriel, Yiannis (ed.) (2004). Myths, Stories and Organizations: Premodern narratives for our times. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lavine, Marc (2014). Paradoxical Leadership and the Competing Values Framework. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 50(2), pp.189–205. https://doi.org/10.1177/0021886314522510.

Goleman, Daniel (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.

Jung, C. G& Franz, Marie-Luise von (1964). Man and his symbols. New York: Dell Pub. Co.

Ravasi, Davide & Schultz, Majken (2006). Responding to Organizational Identity Threats: Exploring the Role of Organizational Culture. AMJ, vol. 49, pp. 433–458, https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2006.21794663.

Snowden, David (2005). Stories from the Frontier. E:CO, 7(3–4), pp. 155–165.

Snowden, David (2002). Narrative Patterns: Uses of Story in the Third Age of Knowledge Management. Journal of Information & Knowledge Management, 1(1), pp. 1–6.

Tong, Yew Kwan & Arvey, Richard D. (2015). Managing complexity via the Competing Values Framework, Journal of Management Development, 34(6), pp. 653–673.

Uhl-Bien, Mary; Russ, Marion & McKelvey, Bill (2007). Complexity Leadership Theory: Shifting leadership from the industrial age to the knowledge era. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(4), pp. 298–318. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2007.04.002.

Prioritising with Cost of Delay

This week the “Meet the Coach” webinar series delved into the interesting topic of “Prioritising with Cost of Delay”. The presentation went really well and we had many people listening, once again. It makes us happy to see so many people returning to our webinars, with new faces joining all the time. We hope to see you all again soon! 

Whether it is for large initiatives or items on the product backlog, prioritising work is something many organisations are struggling with. Some choices will have different impacts for certain stakeholders. Often it is hard to keep things objective, since there are opinions, ego’s, status and emotions involved. Ordering by value is not always as linear as you would expect. In many cases we are comparing apples with oranges, for example how do you compare an initiative to attract new users with quality improvements?

In the webinar we looked at different aspects related to comparing items and I explained the concept of Cost of Delay and how it can be used as a prioritisation technique. Below you can find some of my suggestions from the webinar. 




If you missed out on the webinar, don’t worry! We have the recording available for you. Feel free to share it around with friends and colleagues. The recording of the session is available on YouTube. If there is anything we can help you with regarding this topic, feel free to contact us.



As mentioned in the webinar, if you want to learn more about Cost of Delay, or how to work with stakeholders, how to make choices and how to be a good Product Owner – join a training with us! 

The Product Owner journey starts here.

Take the first step on the journey by attending Certified Scrum Product Owner training.

In this training you will learn the theory of the Scrum Framework and work through tools to enable great Product Ownership. The CSPO course is appropriate for aspiring Product Owners, business analysts, managers, project managers, and organizational team leaders seeking a deeper understanding of the Product Owner role, and how to improve Product Ownership in their organization. 

If you are already a CSPO, take the next step and deep dive with Advanced Certified Scrum Product Owner training . All upcoming trainings can be found online. Please bare in mind that in order to receive an A-CSPO certification it’s required to hold a valid CSPO certification with Scrum Alliance and validate at least 12 months of work experience specific to the role of Product Owner (within the past five years).

We run all our trainings both remotely and in-person! If your organization would prefer a private training, we can even look at customising the training for you. Get in touch and we can discuss the best solution! 

And don’t forget about the coaching. At agile42 we do a lot of role coaching, and the support we can give your Product Owners will help their daily work. 

I have shared the slides used during the webinar below: 


Here you can learn more about the Business Value Game. The Business Value Game is a tool for estimating the Business Value in software development projects, it helps Product Owners and Stakeholders in sharing information related to Business Values in a relatively short time. It avoids anchoring by asking each Stakeholder to play their estimate card so that it cannot be seen by the others and then all cards are exposed at once.

Here you can order the Planning Poker Cards. Planning poker is mostly used to estimate the effort or the relative size of tasks in software development. The members of the project team come together and estimate each item in a few rounds using the planning poker cards until the team reaches consensus on the size of each item or task.


For more webinars and recordings, please look here!
Hope to see you in the next ones! 


How to plan and create a structured approach to coaching?

Observational Coaching

Starting out as a new agile coach is difficult. Where do you go? How do you start? Learn to leverage a structured approach to coaching that defines a way to prepare and execute coaching activities. This starts with making observations and identifying what behavioural goals you would like the coachee(s) to achieve.

As coaches, our opinions and unconscious biases can mislead or misdirect those we are coaching. This bias occurs when an observer expresses their thoughts and expectations about a situation through tone, word choice, and body language in a way that influences the behaviour of people whom they are observing.

A classic example:


This is known as Observer Expectancy Effect, where our own ideas, biases and preconceptions would cause the thing we are observing to take particular actions.

Right about now, you’re probably thinking “Well I wouldn’t do that! I’m a professional!”. Bad news is that WE all do it. We can’t help it because it’s largely unconscious. Consequently, it is important that we are aware and careful of this effect. To help us avoid jumping ahead of ourselves, we can leverage a coaching structure.

Team Coaching Framework™ (TCF)

Team Coaching Framework™ is a structured approach to coaching which aims at limiting or negating the impact of any observer bias we may bring to the table while improving team performance. Through a structured approach, coaches and scrum masters will be able to better target their efforts and create demonstrable improvement in teams.

1. Make observations – what are we seeing

E.g. Conversations in the daily scrum centers around the scrum master.

Does this sound like an observation to you?  In fact this is an inference. An inference is where we add our own conclusions to observations.  When we look at the actual events (i.e. making an observation), we may see every member of the team talking to the scrum master or team members speak primarily to the scrum master and occasionally to each other.

2. Formulate hypothesiswhy are we seeing what we are seeing

One of the most common problem is forming a hypothesis that closely matches our preconceived idea on why we are seeing what we see.  For example, for a dysfunctional daily stand up, we may jump to the assumption that the team doesn’t understand the purpose behind this ceremony.  However, could it also be that the scrum master is seeking to control the stand up? In order to avoid making assumptions, we want to form multiple hypotheses and tackle them one at a time by starting with the easiest ones first!

More often than not, we unintentionally validate the hypothesis by seeking for actions that prove it and filtering out evidence that disproves it.  This is known as confirmation bias.  One way to avoid this is to specially look for information that disproves the hypothesis and highlight any hidden assumptions.

3. Set goals – where do we want to get to

Begin by asking yourself these questions:

  • What would things be like if the team improved?
  • What would the behaviour look like?

Based on your answers for the questions above, set yourself some SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound).

4. Determine the leading and lagging indicators – how do we know we are getting there (leading) and how do we know we have achieved our goal (lagging)

E.g. As the owner of an e-commerce site, your goal is to increase sales revenue by 30%.  If your website traffic remained the same, how likely are you to reach your sales revenue goal? In this case, website traffic serves as a leading metric that tells you whether or not you’re heading in the right direction. On the other hand, sales revenue is a lagging metric that allows you to know whether or not you have indeed achieved your goal.

5. Choose tools – which tools can help you reach your goal

Any action you take that potentially influences how the team or individual behaves is considered a tool.  (Refer to the coaching card example.)

Coaching Card

Coaching card is a template that walks through the TCF (make observations, formulate hypothesis, set goals, determine indicators, choose tools). agile42 coaches have created a repository of over 80 coaching cards that you can use. Please visit the Team Coaching Framework App – https://tcf.agile42.com. Feel free to use the templates or create your own coaching cards in the app.

Tips & Tricks:

– Formulate hypotheses as a group: Other coaches may come up with hypotheses you would never have thought of.

– Pair with other coaches or scrum masters: Extra pair of eyes may result in a different set of observations.

– Share coaching cards with your team: Create transparency into your coaching. You can apply coaching cards to your 1-on-1 coaching conversations with team members.

– Use coaching card as a retrospective tool with your team:

  • generate data from team observations
  • generate team insights on observations they see
  • generate a team goal of where they want to be
  • generate a team action on how to get to the goal

– Create a “continuous improvement backlog” using coaching cards: Track which hypothesis have met the lagging and leading metrics and can be put to “done”.

Coaching Card Example:


The scrum master takes a very controlling role in the meeting – walking everyone through the three questions.  He is quick to delegate work and ends the meeting by asking if everyone has “enough work for today”.


1) We think that the scrum master has not internalized the mechanisms he is expected to use. He may have difficulties understanding the role and the dynamics between scrum master and dev team.

2) The team may be afraid of taking responsibility and is happy to hand it to the scrum master.

3) Scrum master may not be familiar with mechanics of Pull versus Push.

***Pick one of the hypotheses to invalidate. (Recommendation: Go with the easiest one first.) It is important that we are trying to invalidate and NOT validate in order to avoid confirmation bias.


The goal is to make the team members talk to one another rather than only the scrum master. (i.e. they plan their Sprints and workdays as a team.)


Leading indicators:

  • What percentage of questions in the stand-up are posed by the scrum master compared to team members?
  • How often do the team members say “us” and “we” rather than “me” and “I”?
  • How often does the scrum master NOT ask if everyone has work for the day?
  • Ask the scrum master to skip a daily stand-up. Silently observe the meeting when the scrum master is not present. Do the interactions change?

Lagging indicators:

  • All work items are pulled by team members, not pushed by the scrum master
  • The scrum master listens more than he speaks

Coaching Tools:

i) Teach the scrum master in the role.

ii) Role model for the scrum master. Offer to run the daily stand-ups a couple of times, then explain to him what you did and why.

iii) Gently move the scrum master outside the circle in the daily stand-up. If team members still turn towards the ScrumMaster, move him all the way behind the speaking team member.

iv) Help the team create a pull policy.

Join us on May 6th in Vancouver for the very first ORGANIC agility conference to learn about the Team Coaching Framework™. Build your own coaching card and walk away with practices you can apply immediately to improve team performance.


We are also starting a series of Coaching Card workshops in North America where our coaches will walk you through the process of creating a coaching card. Add yourself to the waitlist for the next workshop session >> Link

Tag Archive for: coaching

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Agile Coaching

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Agile Coaching

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Agile Coaching

agile42 coaches are happy to publish the first version of the introductory reference for new Agile Coaches as well as experienced ScrumMasters

What is this guide?

With this book, we wanted to create an introductory reference for new Agile Coaches as well as experienced ScrumMasters. It contains much of the theory that we teach our new colleagues at agile42, and hopefully lots of insights for new coaches. This is the book we wish we had when we started out as agile coaches, and it’s now available to download free of charge.

About the authors

The agile42 coaches are experts. We take great pride in our tradition of coaching, which is continuously being adapted to the needs of the company and teams. Our approach is simple, but not easy, and here are some of the tools we use.

Copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Agile Coaching signed by agile42 coaches

The book is primarily about coaching, but not so much about agility. We are not going to explain e.g. why it makes sense to slice large work items into smaller independent pieces, or how to choose between synchronized and unsynchronized releases. There are plenty of good books around for those purposes. We assume that all readers have adequate working knowledge of all things agile.

Instead, we are going to teach you the basics of listening, how to maintain a structured conversation without inserting content, and how to facilitate conversations in teams. We’ll talk about how to help a group of people form an effective team and how you can help create heedfulness and synergy in a team. We’ll present structured means of collaborating on a team with ScrumMasters, development managers and other agile coaches. We’ll cover why change makes people nervous and discuss different ways of overcoming that.

All of this and much more is now available in one book. Becoming an agile coach is a journey that has no end… and that’s why the name of this book is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Agile Coaching.

Since this book was written by a team, we have chosen not to stand out individually. Instead, we have been writing this book as if it were software developed by a team. However, we can disclose that the main culprits include a number of CECs, at least one CTC, and a couple of CSTs. This is the very first public release and it will be improved and expanded with the feedback of the community. We are happy to show it to the world for the first time.

The agile42 coaches are experts. We take great pride in our tradition of coaching, which is continuously being adapted to the needs of the company and teams. Our approach is simple, but not easy, and here are some of the tools we use.