Developing Agile Coaching Capability in Asia

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Developing Agile Coaching Capability in Asia
Authored by Hwee Queen ChongCo-authored by Erika Gonzalez, Andy Koh and Ash Patil Why and…

Authored by Hwee Queen Chong
Co-authored by Erika Gonzalez, Andy Koh and Ash Patil

Why and How 
Asian Organisations Should Develop 
an Internal Agile Coaching Capability  

Business agility is the ability for whole organisations to respond to change quickly and with benefit. To achieve business agility, organisations must scale and implement Agile at the enterprise level. Scaling Agile goes beyond simply replicating Agile ceremonies and practices across an increasing number of teams/departments.

Rather, it is about changing the fundamental DNA of an organisation – mindsets, values and behaviours on top of artefacts and ceremonies. 

Change requires many things to be aligned and in place within the organisation. One of which is to ensure you have clearly defined and recruited the necessary Agile roles into the organisation. 

A core role in scaling and sustaining Agile at the enterprise level is the Agile Coach. Agile Coaches act as change agents to scale and sustain enterprise-wide Agile implementation. They help leaders and teams adopt Agile ways of working and embed Agile practices and behaviours across the organisation. 

They do it through on-the-job coaching, facilitation and mentoring that are tailored to teams and to different phases of the organisation’s Agile transformation roadmap. 

Why develop an internal Agile coaching capability? 

Scaling Agile in a sustainable manner 

Having internal coaches provides greater consistency and certainty of the organisation’s coaching capability. It reduces the risk of the capability disappearing as compared to if the change and capability is enabled only through external expertise. Internal Agile Coaches can interact with teams and wider parts of the organisation at a deeper level and on a more frequent basis.

This allows them to more effectively role model Agile behaviours and mindset across all organisational levels. Such consistent sharing of practices across the organisation is key to building organisational capability. As a result, internal Agile coaching capability has the potential to drive positive change and unlock organisational agility in a continuous manner. 

Stronger alignment to strategic business outcomes 

Leveraging their tacit and implicit knowledge of the organisation’s culture, goals, processes and structural relationships, internal coaches support teams on aligning work to strategic business outcomes. They also help product owners and leaders to prioritise initiatives and manage dependencies by building a holistic understanding of the obstacles and opportunities within the organisation through their work with different teams.  

Empowered ownership of your Agile transformation 

Agile transformation is a continuous improvement journey. Developing an internal Agile coaching capability creates an internal sense of ownership, expertise and confidence which helps to sustain and grow Business Agility in the organisation. 

With internal Agile Coaches, the organisation acquires in-house capability of resolving fundamental behavioural issues and cultural biases; the improved ability to form, coach and sustain self-managing teams and the increased aptitude to generate a high-performance culture where people feel valued.

Such empowered ownership creates perpetual motivation for continuous scaling and improvement of your Agile transformation. 

How can you start developing an internal Agile coaching capability? 

From our experience, developing an internal Agile coaching capability is challenging for organisations in Asia due to knowledge gaps on how to identify, recruit, train and support Agile Coaches. This is attributed to unfamiliarity with Agile roles and a limited talent pool in the region. Here are some ways to get started: 

Define the role and career path of an Agile Coach 

To ensure Agile Coaches possess the right capabilities and levels of competency to support Agile adoption at scale and to unlock value across the organisation, organisations need to develop effective job descriptions and design a career path for Agile Coaches.

This entails identifying key dimensions of the role, creating coach competency matrix design, detailing the career and role maturity progression pathways and standards for key Agile coaching roles, and establishing coach performance evaluation and measurement. 

Having a clear career path is fundamental to the success of an internal coaching capability. It keeps aspiring coaches motivated and committed. This also helps the internal Agile coaching capability to grow in tandem with the organisation’s transformation rollout to ensure a smooth transition, adoption and maturing of Agile practices across the organisation at each phase. 

Develop an effective recruitment plan 

To ensure your organisation has the required coach resources needed to sustain and grow scaled Business Agility in the organisation, make sure to develop your recruitment plan in line with the organisation’s transformation plans.

Review and redefine your talent sourcing channels, interview processes and candidate evaluation matrix to support the recruitment of Agile Coaches. An Agile Coach has many hats, from being a coach to a facilitator to a teacher and a mentor. He or she also needs to bring different skills across technical, business and transformation domains.

A good Agile Coach should know which hat to wear in what situation and this implies your interview process should be dynamic, utilising various categories of questions to effectively evaluate potential candidates.  

Build talent internally 

Developing talent is a way to engage and retain employees, especially when the organisation embarks on a transformation. While leadership can provide recommended candidates within your organisation for the new roles, caution must be exercised that you are not fitting a square peg into a round hole. 

This is especially so in Asian organisations which tend to have a strong command and control culture. Instead of assigning people to the role by default, create opportunities for internal candidates to find out about the new roles and self-select from inside the organisation.

This helps to mitigate the risk of misfitting Agile coaching roles with people who lack the requisite skills to foster team agility, much less to scale and embed Business Agility at the organisational level. 

Establish an Agile Coaching Community 

Building an Agile Coaching Community provides a safe space for knowledge exchange and engagement amongst Agile coaches where they can ask questions, corroborate ideas and accelerate learning.

This prevents organisational silos from forming among coaches who work across different teams and allows impediment patterns and best practices across the organisation to surface.

As Agile Coaches benefit from each other’s experience at the individual level, an elevated Agile Coaching intelligence and effectiveness will also be achieved at the organisational level.  

At a leading energy producer in Kazakhstan, contributing about 30 percent of Kazakhstan’s total oil and gas output, Adaptovate supported the client to setup an Agile Centre of Excellence (CoE). The main purpose of the Agile CoE was to a) ensure consistent delivery of agile practice and behaviours across all business units and b) maintain and evolve the Agile Coaching community to support [email protected] initiatives across the business  

An organisation will face challenges when building up its internal Agile coaching capability. Agile Coaches might get too entrenched in the teams they are coaching and risk losing objectiveness or becoming a bottleneck to the team’s self-organisation and empowerment.

Agile Coaches might also lose effectiveness if subjected to an organisational structure and culture that impedes Agile ways of working. Despite the challenges, recognising the need for such a capability within the organisation is one of the first steps to empowering your Agile transformation.  

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