Agile Coaching – Building my mental model of a team

Introduction

This post follows on from Agile Coaching – Building my mental model of a person and also comes into play when I work with teams.

This is a basic model, but it’s been good enough so far
Structure

The one element worth expanding on is “Hierarchy”. The reason I find this valuable is simply because of how I engage with teams as an Agile Coach. I’ve never once been directly approached by a team requesting my services as a coach as their initial contact. It’s always been a request from their boss (or boss’ boss) or there’s some form of Agile Transformation in progress and the teams get access to coaches. This engagement often has an element of “something being done to the team”, albeit sometimes only a trivial amount. If I understand how they perceive authority, if necessary I can temporarily align myself with an element of authority they recognise, just so that they’ll listen to me, at least initially. It’s not a long term relationship builder, but it is a foot in the door.

Constraints

These are all of the constraints that the team has to operate under. This section of the model helps me build empathy with the team, and also helps me narrow down all the possible ways I could help them into the subset that’s the most relevant to them (otherwise I’ll waste their time). The “History” element is particularly valuable as that helps me get underneath statements like “It’ll never work – we tried that before”.

Purpose

There are two sets of purposes at play when working with corporate teams, typically because the reason the team exists in the first place is outside the control of any of the team members. This duality isn’t usually present in teams that have ultimate control over their destinies.

  • Why does the organisation want the team in place?
  • Why do team members think the team exists?

The “Inner Purpose” element is my representation of the internal monologue in the minds of the team members, combined with how well they form sub groups within the team. By understanding the differences in these two sets, I’m more able to connect with the team as a set of individuals, and also help them evolve towards a team that is as aligned as possible with their externally stated purpose.

I’ve noticed that the more divergent these two models, the more I find “us and them” language and behaviour patterns. I’ve also noticed that in some teams, the “organisation” part can include the team leader.

Behaviour

In addition to the expected benefits of understanding the current state behaviours in the team, I get an additional benefit – it can help me blend into the team, camouflage if you like.

When I first engage with a team, there’s that initial period where no one’s quite sure where this relationship is going. As I’m typically brought in by someone outside the team, I need to stick around long enough for me to be able to help them. The initial period is handled by the “Hierarchy” element described earlier, but there’s a limited window before that perception becomes damaging. If I’m able to integrate sufficiently into the team dynamic, any new ideas or suggestions I offer will feel to them like it’s (partially) coming from inside the team. It belongs to them a little more than if I was thought of as an outsider. That’s the dynamic that I need in order to sustainably help them. Coaching is a relationship after all.

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