Nov 24th, 2018

Seven Habits of a Successful Agile Coach


Agilemania, a small group of passionate Lean-Agile-DevOps consultants and trainers, is the most tru... Read more

Agile Coaches have many Complementary Roles (Please refer to Lysa Adkins's Agile Coaching Competency Framework


The role of a coach is to help people make positive change Our focus is on helping people to understand the need for change, to explore the choices they make in reacting to change, to discover how they influence outcomes and to use the resources available to them to reach their desired state.

Human brains are wired to hate change, coaches must find ways to inspire or motivate teams and individuals to try new things. Following are Seven Habits of a Successful Agile Coach which enable conversations that provoke thinking in individuals as well as in teams (Below 7 habits below are useful when coaching 1-1 or in the context of team coaching)

  • Asking powerful questions
  • Engaged listening
  • Observing
  • Providing helpful feedback
  • Helping people explore options
  • Helping set goals
  • Challenging assumptions

Habit 1: Asking Powerful Questions

As a coach, having the right questions is more valuable than having the right answers. When people come up with their own solutions they’re more likely to follow through. A good question at the appropriate time can set change in motion for your clients by creating insight or inspiration.

Ask questions – in a curious way – that help people see that what they are doing may not be moving them toward their desired outcome. When you’re learning coach skills, you can be distracted by needing to “get it right.” Rather than following a script, a coach navigates the conversation via curiosity.

As with any communication, the more you focus on the audience the more confident and effective you will be. It takes the spotlight off you and what you’re doing and shines it on the clients and their needs. Keeping your attention –and the client’s – on the desired outcome is the key to both their success and yours. Here are the types of questions you should be asking-

Definition (The) ability to ask questions that reveal the information needed for maximum benefit to the coaching relationship and the client

Asks questions that reflect active listening and an understanding of the client’s perspective

Asks questions that evoke discovery, insight, commitment, or action (e.g., those that challenge the client’s assumptions)

Asks open-ended questions that create greater clarity, possibility, or new learning

Ask questions that move the client towards what they desire, not questions that ask for the client to justify or look backward Video:

Habit 2: Engaged Listening

Listening is the way we connect with people. They can tell when the connection is there and will be more open to sharing and try on new ideas with you. Engaged Listening helps us to give full attention to the words, nuances, and unspoken meanings of our clients’ communication. Levels of Listening (As per Co-active Coaching Book) Level I – Attention is on ourselves.

Dialogue is all about us, not about the person we’re talking with. Level II – Focus is on the other person, their words, tone, pace, feelings, and even what is not said. Level III – Goes way beyond words. Involves energy and intuition, all the senses.

Definition Give full attention to the words, nuances and the unspoken meaning of the client’s communication. The coach is more deeply aware of the client, his or her concerns and the source of the issue by listening beyond what the client is able to articulate. - International Association of Coaching

Habit 3: Observing

One of the key skills required for a Coach is Observing and Sharing Observations. The primary goal of coaching is to guide clients toward self-improvement through observation and guidance. A good coach must learn to observe and listen, keep your own biases in control, not jump to premature conclusions, and communicate well.

This naturally affects how you are aware of yourself, how you react to other people, and how others perceive you. Observe how the team works; challenge and question their assumptions and status quo, how practices are being effective/ineffective, hidden impediments, what’s blocking the team from achieving its goals, etc.

When you are working on helping your teams or trying out new practices and behaviors, you won’t have the time to stand separate from the situation and observe yourself. An Agile Coach in the Reflective Observer role will notice the interactions and reactions and, without judgment, provide you with a perspective you may not have noticed. Here is what a reflective observer (Agile coach) does-

Definition As a reflective observer, your Coach observes interactions between everyone within the organization, often opening up an external perspective they may not have noticed themselves before

Habit 4: Providing helpful feedback

As Coaches, Provide Relevant and timely feedback. Provide feedback on things done well, not just what needs improving. According to Roger Fisher and Alan Sharp, there are at least three different kinds of feedback:
  • Appreciation is the expression of gratitude or approval of another’s effort. It is an expression of emotion, designed to meet an emotional need.
  • Advice (or coaching) consists of suggestions about a particular behavior that should be repeated or changed. It focuses on the performance, rather than judging the person.
  • Evaluation is ranking the subject’s performance in relation to that of others or against an explicit or implicit set of standards.
Tips on How to give Critical Feedback:

Step 1: “Ask for Permission” – Just ask, “Can I share some feedback with you that I hope will be helpful?”

Step 2: “Current Behavior” – Be clear, concise and come armed with recent examples to illustrate what you’re talking about”

Step 3: “Effect of Behavior” – Go gently in sharing the effect that you see someone’s behavior has on you and other people and how it can impact their future

Step 4: “Desired Behavior” – State the behavior you would like to see more of. The more specific you are, the better. Simply put, prepare a feedback sandwich.

Since you already know the ingredients, this is how it should look like.

Definition The goal of giving someone feedback is to help that person/team with personal growth. It needs to be valuable and relevant to them. Ideally, uncovering blind spots which that person didn’t see before. It’s about them. Not you.

Habit 5: Helping People Explore Options

Dwell in Possibility As a Coach, you are helping to open the minds of your clients and teams. You help them gain a new perspective on what they might achieve. Some effective coaching behaviors:
  • Offers sincere encouragement.
  • Expresses or demonstrates belief in the client’s/team’s potential.
  • Demonstrates commitment to the client’s/team’s success.
  • Gives specific, positive feedback, referring to the client’s/team’s behaviour and performance.
  • Reminds the client/team of his/her/their capabilities, strengths, talents, knowledge and experience.
  • Inspires and evokes the client’s/team’s greatest potential.
  • Taps into the client’s/team’s desire to leave a lasting legacy, where appropriate.
  • Connects the client’s potential with possible opportunities and resources in the client’s organization.
Definition Recognizes and helps the client acknowledge and appreciate his or her strengths and potential.

Habit 6: Helping Set Goals

"My clients get focused and produce faster because they have a coach." We hear this far too often. Right? So what do these coaches have in common? The ability to set smart goals.


  • Help people set better goals and then reach those goals.
  • Ask their clients to do more than they would have done on their own.
  • Help their client to focus better so as to produce results more quickly.
  • Provide clients with the tools, support, and structure to accomplish more.
Some effective coaching behaviors:
  • Continually clarifies what the client intends
  • Perceives what matters to the client
  • Ask questions that reveal the client’s intentions
  • Bring the client back to what is important
  • Rephrases client intentions in a way that adds value
  • Questions intentions or assumptions, while respecting the client’s goals and preferences.
  • Offers resources to enhance the client’s ability to clarify intentions
  • Perceives or inquires, and responds to, changing needs and desires of clients
  • Aligns coaching points or intentions with the client’s values
  • Understands how the client’s values and/or beliefs support the intentions
Definition Helps the client become or remain focused and working towards intended goals

Habit 7: Challenging Assumptions

Get people talking about what they want.

Build out that picture of what their desired future state looks like.  The more visual and emotional this becomes, the easier it is to start taking steps to make it happen.  From this expansive place, it is easier to break down limiting beliefs and challenge assumptions. Don’t be afraid to challenge people and teams. Challenge their limiting beliefs, their excuses, and their assumptions. Challenging long-standing assumptions may appear difficult. But it need not be if you follow a few simple steps-

Want more for them than they want for themselves. Help them get past their comfort zone to find their growing edge. Coaches:

  • During a conversation, you’ll find a lot of assumptions and limiting beliefs coming in the way of the client’s progress. Always challenge the assumptions and beliefs of the Client/Team’s
  • As a coach, do not accept the client’s perceived assumptions, limitations, and obstacles
  • Coaches making assumptions of clients – Not a desired behavior
  • Questions intentions and assumptions, while respecting the client’s goals and preferences
  • It’s common for groups to make incorrect assumptions about what “they” (also known as “the powers that be”) will let them do. Encourage the team to explore the reality of organizational impediments and see what options for support may exist or could be created.
Definition A good Coach challenges your assumptions, organizational processes, and structure. He or she even risks getting “fired” as a result of challenging your status quo. Although it often hurts when someone challenges you with radical, new ideas and suggestions, it’s important to be open to change without falling into the trap of being defensive or unwilling to listen.


Lysa Adkins – Coaching Agile Teams Book

Sue Johnston – ICP-ACC Course Material

IAC Coaching Masteries


Agilemania, a small group of passionate Lean-Agile-DevOps consultants and trainers, is the most trusted brand for digital transformations in South and South-East Asia.

WhatsApp Us

Explore the Perfect
Course for You!
Give Our Course Finder Tool a Try.

Explore Today!


Agilemania Refer and Earn
Agilemania Whatsapp