The coaching team

Quick Thoughts

23 January 2017 • Written by Ceedee Doyle

People sometimes get confused about the difference between a Scrum Master (SM) and an Agile coach. This isn’t surprising since you’re thrown into a whole new way of working with new terminology and often new people to work with.

Think of it as a sports team – like the Black Caps. To be a great team, they need to have players with great potential, but they also need support, training, coaching and leading. That’s where the coaching team comes in. However, we all know there’s a big difference between the team members, the captain and the team coach.

Captain – The captain works with the team day-to-day, both before the match and on the field, in the heat of the battle, giving individuals a supportive word, helping the team run the pre-arranged sequences and making things go as smoothly as possible. No one would deny that a great captain will also coach the team due to their knowledge, experience and personality traits. However, they’re not a coach for the team, their role is much more hands-on.

Coach – The coach is there to help with training, to become a high-performing team and have the facilities and people around that the team need so that they can be constantly improving. A coach has usually been a team member or a captain and preferably has a few battle scars and seen a few different environments where things either worked or didn’t – but have enough experience to pull on so that they can help wherever the team is right now.

Similar, but different with an Agile team

A Scrum Master is there to guide you on the day – help tweak the daily stand up so that it’s meaningful for the team, alter the board to show the information the team wants to concentrate on, facilitate the core meetings, get the team working together and exhibiting the core values. However, unlike a sports team captain, they are a servant leader. If the team collectively want to do something, the SM is there to support it happening. They DO NOT tell the team what to do. But they are with you through thick and thin.

An Agile Coach is there to give you solid training – to see where, from experience, things are working and where they’re not, work on the gap between where the team is now and where they could be, coach individuals and make sure that they are getting the environment and support they need from the management, other teams and technical specialists.

The coach is like a proud parent teaching their child to ride a bike; they will generally guide you fairly strongly for a number of sprints while you’re learning this new skill, to get things up and running or going along the right path but, ultimately, the team should be able to run on their own and require less and less hands-on training so that the coach can leave them to it – to take their hands off the bicycle and let the team show off their skills.

The roles can overlap so that SMs coach individual team members and coaches can get in and facilitate sessions, but they work together in a complementary way to help you, the team, be the best you can be.

So, are you getting what you need in the way of support and guidance? If not, bring it up at the retrospective, everyone wants to make it smooth for you, the team.

For more info, read The ScrumMaster IS NOT an Agile Coach and the ScrumCrazy wiki classification of different levels of coach. I also love my friend Jake’s description of How We Built The All Blacks (high-performing teams) and this blog post that links to a whole lot of other discussions on the topic.

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