Can agile coaches give advice?

can agile coaches give advice


Can coaches give advice? Well, it depends what kind of coach! The answer really lies in the stance and perspective of advising. 

The simple answer for professional coaches is No. It’s not how the framework propels their clients to success. But there is a difference between a professional coach and an agile coach

So can agile coaches give advice? Yes you can! And as a matter of fact, you are expected to, maybe even too much. You can give advice and that is actually what the advisor stance is. It is less telling though and more of an inquisitive role.

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

What does advising as an agile coach look like?

Here’s an example: People don’t have to scramble to understand why their work keeps bottlenecking or releases keep failing. As an agile coach, you can point to avenues to solve for this. You can share a checklist, your personal playbook, talk about the things you are observing, and share success stories of past successes. 

You don’t need to confuse people by asking questions like “what do you think?”, “what might we discover?” and then just disappear. These are great questions, but as an agile coach, you do more than just asking questions, no matter how powerful they are. There are moments in which pointing to ideas and solutions might be better than just asking questions and seeing if people gain an insight from it. 

Conditions for successful advising

Not all advising is good advising. There are some conditions that need to met in order to advise successfully as an agile coach.

#1 Not often

Don’t give advice too often. How often is too often? There’s no concrete answer, but if you are advising on something every day or if it is always about the same theme or with the same group, maybe you’re better off trying to coach those people and understand a bit more of what is going on. But if every week there is something new going on and you have insight, don’t withhold it! Give the advice gently and see where it lands. 

For example, you can’t just keep advising people not to take on too much work. This advice just isn’t useful. If people just don’t understand how nefarious it is to take on a lot of work, you are better off having genuine conversations and coaching. If they are already aware and are looking for solutions, try picking up a technique or two and do some backlog management to look at their process que and start from there. Don’t withhold information and go straight into the advice of a good technique. 

#2 Never unsolicited

Have you heard the saying “unsolicited advice is the junk mail of life”? It’s true! If a person is not experiencing a problem, or if they are experiencing a problem but they are in the process of figuring things out, you are better off letting them continue as to not disrupt their learning and thinking process. It can be very off putting and make people perceive you as someone who always tells them what to do. And to be frank, many times you don’t understand the circumstances of their problem in order to help effectively.

#3 Listen first

What is the problem, what is the nuance, and what really is at play here? In practice, very few things are what they really seem to be. Remember, those long-term problems where people are asking for advice have probably given it some thought already, and you’re not going to offer an awesome solution right off the bat. In order to be effective, you really need to be present and understand all the elements of what that person is going through. Is it really a problem? If it is, what is it that you know/don’t know? What have they tried already? 

#4 Give context

If you have an idea or solution, give context. There is a reason why you selected this idea so explain it and make it clear so the person can decide appropriately. 

Context can go further too. For example, let’s say there was a senior manager who is perceived as too strong headed by team members in their spoken interactions. You know by now that the SCARF framework is one of my favorite ways for learning and filtering my language. I even have a post on it – check it out! So, I explained what it was and gave an example to this senior manager. We took a specific difficult message that they had to deliver and we spent some time trying to craft it into the reward side of things and not threatening. 

If you really have an idea to give, you should be able to use the context of the person or show in which context you have used that idea or tool before. 

#5 Make it clear it’s not a rule

When you offer advice, the person doesn’t have to accept, it’s just an offer. Maybe you tested this idea previously in a specific situation, so make sure to let that person know those particular circumstances in which you have experience with it. Make it clear that this isn’t a magic solution that will solve everything. 

#6 Be inquisitive

Don’t take things at face value. You want to really understand how bad the situation is for the other person. Also remember the ethical side of it and consider if you really should be advising in this case or if there is someone better positioned to help. Keep an open mind. You might be of help even through your questions and attentive listening, and investigating with the person. 

A few words of advice on advising

Be mindful of the fact that you are an expert. You probably have a lot of techniques and insights that you have gathered over your career. You may be a master of your craft, but you are likely not a master of the context in which the problem occurs or where the person works. 

For example, maybe someone is asking about Gira labels and what that actually reveals is a problem with how to signal things across teams. It might seem like a simple fix and you remember a time when you helped a different team use labels in a certain way, but maybe this situation doesn’t require the same solution. It may justify a conversation or something different. Remember you are an expert in the concept or technique but not in the context. The other person is an expert in their context, even if they don’t know it. 

Additionally, giving advice shouldn’t be your first instinct. What should you replace that with then? Similarly as in coaching, get curious! Start asking questions: “what would that advice give you?” “Are you asking only me or others as well?” “Are you collecting insights?” 

Don’t get caught up in the drama. The person asking for advice might be in a hurry or in distress, but don’t let this affect you. Stop and think about if you really have any advice to give. I have been guilty of feeling like I have to take on others’ problems and solve them. Resist this and think about if you have good advice for the situation. Chances are you don’t! Respect this and be honest that in this particular case, you’ll need some time to think about it and if they can’t wait, they need to seek advice from someone else. 

Creating your advisor stance

Remember that advising is a stance and position of trust, influence, and partnership. You can’t assume that you have this, you have to build it. Pay attention to this. 

Questions to help you grow

  • What does advising look like to you?
  • How is it possible for you to give advice while maintaining a coaching presence?
  • How do you sound when you give advice? Would you word things differently?
  • Would you have a few go-to questions to avoid rushing into expert mode?
  • What do you need to know about yourself and how do you need to think to give impactful advice?
  • Are there places or situations that you’d rather not go to?

Impactful advice really depends on you knowing yourself very well and establishing that important partnership with your clients. It’s a very important step for you to grow and master your career as an agile coach, consultant, or leader. You may need to repeat this practice as well as you grow and change. 

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.