Are you an Agile Coach or a Play Stealer?

“Not everyone that’s a coach is really a coach. Some of them are just play stealers.”

~ Mike Lombardi (NFL coach)

This exciting statement Lombardi made in another context and quoted in the article “First Principles” really sums up the Agile coaching industry’s critical challenge. We have so many coaches now of every shape and size — team coaches, program coaches, and enterprise coaches. Then we have coaches with expertise in Scrum, Kanban, and scaling frameworks like SAFe, Disciplined Agile, etc. While agile is the new de facto, agile transformations struggle to find the right coaches to architect results and deliver outcomes.

Quoting from the same article further,

Every play we see in the NFL was at some point created by someone who thought, “What would happen if the players did this?” and went out and tested the idea. Since then, thousands, if not millions, of plays have been created. That’s part of what coaches do. They assess what’s physically possible, along with the weaknesses of the other teams and the capabilities of their own players, and create plays that are designed to give their teams an advantage. The coach reasons from the first principles. The rules of football are the first principles: they govern what you can and can’t do. Everything is possible as long as it’s not against the rules.

The play stealer works off what’s already been done. Sure, maybe he adds a tweak here or there, but by and large, he’s just copying something that someone else created.

The Differentiator

The ability to think and reason from first principles is the key differentiator between the ones we would call coaches compared to the play stealers. Both of them will have studied the first principles and need to be well versed in the different plays (the principles, the practices, and the scaling frameworks). Knowledge or rather availability of information to either of them is abundant, especially in today’s age of Google, where the internet is overflowing with suggestions for everything.

However, the difference between the coach and the play stealer becomes more evident when a play goes wrong.

While the coach has a better understanding of why certain strategies or approaches did not work, the play stealer is stuck in the mode that they were supposed to work, and often uses the classic agile retort of “oh the mindset is not there” or “they are not yet ready for agile.” They cannot adapt to the evolving and complex situation and propose an alternative way forward. Their past experiences or Google do not come in handy in those situations that demand thinking from first principles leveraging their common sense.

Multi-Disciplinary thinking

Transformations require the coach to have a deeper understanding and ability to operate from first principles not just with Agile but also with the first principles of change management, behavioral psychology, and other disciplines. That kind of ability only comes from field experience and not when you have become a coach by crashing your way through a week-long course and an exam. That can give you lots of plays to try out, making you a good play stealer, but not a coach.

Practice makes you perfect

So everyone wearing that badge of “Agile coach” need to ask themselves — What am I? A coach or a play stealer?” Do not despair if you know that you are a play stealer in your heart. Every coach begins as one and, with practice, focusing on the first principles, becomes a coach.

Practice at every opportunity and exercise that brain to think with common sense and first principles. You will be on your way to being a rockstar coach.

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Enabling Change,

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Hrishikesh Karekar

Hrishikesh Karekar

Enabling Change,

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