Choose your Lean-Agile coaches wisely; watch for Organisational Psychopaths

I’m a big fan of Lean-Agile coaches and have a list of folk that I trust to help me run transformation initiatives. But there are some cowboys out there and, at the extreme, folk who pitch themselves as coaches but are really organisational psychopaths. That is why I vet my coaches.

Great Lean-Agile coaches

I’m a big fan of using Lean-Agile coaches. It is hard to do an organisational transformation at the best of times and impossible without help.

Some coaches are very good. Over the last 15 years or so I’ve collected a handful of people that have the Steven Thomas stamp of approval. These folk are very, very good (give them a call):

I’m sure there are others. These are just the ones I’ve worked with.

Vetting your chosen coach

Despite any previous reputation a particular coach might came with I don’t just let them loose. I have to trust them first. I have to be sure they know their stuff and that we we share a common theoretical and practical outlook. And that, personality wise, they can work with the team and myself.

The coach and I have to be aligned on approach and direction. That means, at the start of the engagement, I spend a lot of time with the new coach talking things through. Talking about Lean-Agile. Talking about where my team is. Talking about the organisation context. Talking about where I’d like to get to. Talking about specific issues we have and probing for possible solutions. Talking about the engagement, how it is going. Talking about next steps.

This is quite a time investment for me but still much faster than doing all the work myself and safer than leaving them to it. It ensures that both the coach and I deliver the same message, thus reducing the possibility of conflicting messages and ultimately making adoption more likely.

Pierre the Organisational Psychopath

I’ll call him Pierre. Not his real name, and he isn’t even French, but as the engagement with him reminded me of the the French Revolution I think the name is apt.

I needed somebody to step in a run a retrospective. The usual suspects weren’t available for one reason or another and I couldn’t be around either. So I engaged Pierre to run the retro. Because it was short notice and only a one off I didn’t apply my usual caution in vetting him. Mistake. Big mistake.

In his two hour engagement Pierre made a few mistakes that are unforgivable in a coach. He:

  • Made recommendations without adequate context
  • Alienated the majority of the team
  • Set one part of the team against the rest
  • Broke the delivery process

Quite a score really given how short a time he was in the building. Not surprisingly I won’t be using Pierre again.

Coaches have a huge amount of power. They can really help improve things. But if you are unlucky you’ll hire Pierre, or somebody like him, and things won’t be so happy. Vet your coaches.

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