2 common frustrations agile coaches experience

common frustrations


Over and over again, I see the same frustrations with Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters. There’s no shame in it! I’ve had my fair share of them as well. But getting past these frustrations has everything to do with becoming the most effective agile coach you can be. So, let’s break down two of the most common ones, and what you can do about them.

If you’d rather watch a video than read, check out my Youtube video on this topic:

Frustration 1: “They don’t listen to me”

Don’t be a victim here! It may seem harsh, but you are the coach. Try to detach yourself from whatever is going on and remember that you can’t force people to do anything. You can strongly suggest, but ideally you want to collaborate with people to improve their process. People won’t just trust and listen to you just because you are the coach. You didn’t gain any special status overnight and more often than not, you are in this position because a leader wanted you there, not necessarily the team. 


What you can do:

First things first, you need to determine if they are resisting you or an idea. If they are resisting you, ask yourself if you have taken time to establish a relationship with the members of the team before going around giving instruction. Your number one priority when you get started with a new team or organization is to spend time with the people, try to understand them, where they’re coming from, what has been done, what has worked, and what they think. You’d have to be extremely charismatic to be able to skip this step and even then, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Now, consider they are resisting an idea. Ask yourself if you’ve been repeating the same thing over and over again. This may sound annoying, but they say people need to hear the same thing up to 7 times before they decide to take action. You can probably improve your odds though by explaining things in a different way. 

Remember, not all people are compelled by the same argument. For example, let’s consider flow. Who really cares about flow when you give a lengthy, technical explanation on lean value stream? It’s boring! And when people get confused or feel distant from the topic, it’s easy to not care. But let’s say you frame the conversation about flow by talking about being overworked or overloaded – some people might care about their ability to promptly respond to last minute requests and do so with quality, without worrying about the things that get dropped to respond. Others may be mostly worried about working on high ROI items and only want to spend their time on doing the things that matter most. Each of these examples will carry their own arguments and the conversations with people will be very different, but all you are trying to do is help them either protect or establish the flow of their work. You don’t need to go all scientific on them.

The next thing you should do is check your SCARF! You can read about it here. The SCARF model was a game changer for me with my communication skills. Use it to assess your interactions: are they threatening? It can be very subtle, but we might be activating one of those 5 domains of threat or reward with people. Sometimes you want to appear knowledgeable, but you are actually coming across as someone full of hubris or authority. Or maybe you were kind but not clear enough. 

Lastly, remember you are working with human beings and agility and change are all about humans. Don’t try to come in and give direction when they are in the midst of delivering something and expect them to listen to you. Have some empathy and think about how you would react in those circumstances. In fact, whenever people are under pressure to deliver something, unless you are part of the team as a contributing member, it is your duty to get out of the way. This is not a great moment for coaching them forward. Use down time to speak with people. 


Frustration #2: “They aren’t making enough progress”

Says who? Is it your own idea of success or is it theirs? As agile coaches, we often have this picture perfect idea of what a great agile team looks like. But take yourself out of the picture for a few days and when you come back, you might be surprised about the many great things taking place. Distance allows you to see the new skills and progress more clearly. Before, you might have been too caught up in the details to see the big picture.

Distance can also be beneficial because it takes pressure off the team, allowing them to really experiment, try new techniques and ideas, and have conversations without you around. No matter how awesome you are as a coach, sometimes the team needs to have a “no eyes on us” experience.


What you can do:

Aside from re-evaluating your perspective, you should also consider what you are using to gauge the progress of the team. Is it some standard that you and the team agreed upon or is it some arbitrary idea that you put in your mind of what they should look like. It is not uncommon to think that agile transitions should go smoothly and quickly, or have an idea of what high performing agile teams should look like. But in reality, these ideas are usually far from the truth.

Just at a glance, you can’t tell if a team is high performing or not. Sometimes what you think could be a dysfunction is actually a very direct way that the team works together, and it works for them. Make sure not to get stuck in linear thinking. Progress is not a straight line and in fact, it’s more like a curve full of detours. Remember that change is a human process and has its own pace. The only thing you can do is make sure there is some progress being made in the right direction. 

To do this, have regular check-ins and discussions with the teams that you coach. Discuss progress based on the standards that were agreed upon. If possible, it’s great to have the sponsor or leadership that is hiring you in on these conversations so no one is wondering what progress looks like. Transparency is important as far as progress and expectations for teams, yourself as a coach, and for sponsoring leadership. Don’t check in too often though! Remember the value of distance, and in the case of measurement, distance is time. It will help you see patterns and progress more clearly. 


Again, I see these frustrations both with seasoned and new coaches. The key thing to remember though is that in order to grow as an agile coach, you have to grow a lot as a human being. Do the inward work, self development, and self-awareness that needs to happen for you to become the most effective, professional agile coach.

If you are interested in learning about how to coach for team development and success, check out my Agile Coaching Program! It’s a month-long course of learning by doing! We have recently amped up the conflict navigation, team development, and agile principles in practice areas of the course so it is truly better than ever. In addition, we are proud partners with ICAgile so you will receive a highly recognized certification upon completion that will set you up well for a career as an agile coach.