This post is an homage to the brilliant coach Lyssa Adkins, who explains the inexplicable work of the Agile coach in her book "Coaching Agile Teams".
It’s a bright autumn morning as I drive through les Alpes Maritimes to work. The road is narrow and tense with trucks heavy-laden from the quarry and impatient Frenchmen determined to overtake.
Cut simply into the mountainsides, the road turns often. I am heading eastward and with no clouds or trees to soften it, the rising sun is savagely bright when it appears. I drop the visor so I can see the road ahead. The quarry truck up front pulls-over and I relax into the journey. It’s one of the best commutes in the world and, like a fine wine, deserves to be savoured.
Listening in Agile Coach mode
The music playing is by The Who. It’s a CD which must have repeated four or five times by now. Even so, I know every track by heart, I grew-up listening to this music.
And I’m listening now. Really listening.
I hear the anger in Daltrey’s vocals and the power in Townshend’s guitar. I listen for Entwistle’s bass and hear the complexity in his playing. He creates a richly-textured, rhythmic platform which perfectly suits the musical punctuation of Townsend’s lead guitar, which in turn supports and emphasises the lyrics.
I’m listening actively now. Not singing-along in my mind, nor trying to work-out how to copy Pete Townshend, nor even listening to the song. I’m listening in “coaching” mode.
What I’m hearing is a high-performance team, working together as one. Each member is contributing fully and generously but they are not overlapping each other. Each is listening intently to the other members and monitoring the overall mix. Every member of The Who’s “team” is a highly skilled, talented musician.
The result is greater than the sum of its parts, which is the unique advantage of a team.
Then I start listening to the drums. Moon “the Loon”, as the Who’s drummer was known, played drums as a lead instrument. Instead of keeping time with thump, thump, cha as everyone else did, Moon battered and crashed a huge array of drums and cymbals as though the kit itself was an orchestral creature at his exclusive command.
The passion and energy are intense in this music. Every phrase sung is answered; this one by the cymbals, which earn a power chord retort from the guitar; that one by a tom-tom fill that lasts a whole bar.
Daltrey sings “Who the f*** are you?” and I notice he holds-back and swallows the f-word, so it’s indistinct. The year was 1978 and the Sex Pistols were the anarchists now. Rock was quite conservative by comparison.
I want you to be more like a rock group
Inspired by what I've heard, I wonder if I can share my new-found rock group analogy with the teams I’m coaching. Can I encourage them to “be more like a rock group”? To focus on the current task and have the courage to commit all of their energy to it?
As the road winds out of small village in the pine trees, I realise that unless I want them to smash their equipment like The Who did on stage, telling my teams to be “more like a rock group” was not going to help them one bit.
The people I work with are professional colleagues, co-workers and office-mates. They are progressing on their path to forming as “a team”. They want me to help them with the “how” of teamwork. How to prepare for the review meeting; how to split stories so they remain valuable and doable; how to balance management requests for status reports with the Scrum process.
As they master these tasks, and improve their delivery, they will become predictable and reliable teams. Some will reach high performance and produce truly astonishing results.
“Who are you?” Goes the song.
“You are my rock stars.” I answer, realising that many of my teams are already delivering impressive results.
And who are you?
Who am I?!
I’m their agile coach. I’m the lucky one that helps my stars shine.
And it’s the best job in the world.
Website for Lyssa's Agile coach book Coaching Agile Teams
The Who's 1978 song Who are You is the theme tune for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
It may have been inspired following a drinking session involving Townshend and two members of the Sex Pistols.