Agile and ICF Coaching – A Perfect Marriage?


Having noticed an increased in the number of Agile Coaches coming to my ICF-Accredited coach training programmes, I decided to do some exploration of these two professional paths to understand what appears to be an interesting and complementary relationship.

What is Agile Coaching?

The Agile Coaching Institute defines Agile Coaching as “a collaboration with people in a thought provoking and creative journey using coaching approaches with an agile mindset and principles to help individuals, teams and organizations be the best they can be”.

Interestingly, this aligns well with the International Coaching Federation’s (ICF) definition that “coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”.



A few of the similarities in approach and philosophy between Agile and ICF Definitions of Coaching


The synergy noticed in the respective definitions, extends further when looking at competency frameworks. As can be seen in the diagram below, elements of the ICF definition of coaching can be clearly seen and referenced in the Agile Coaching Competency Framework.

Agile Coaching Competency Framework. Source: Agile Coaching Institute (see reference 1)

The competency framework for Agile Coaches was created by Lyssa Atkins and Michael Spayed in 2011. Furthermore, the article: Developing Great Agile Coaches Towards a Framework of Agile Coaching Competency – Part I published in alignment with the IC Agile Coaching & Facilitation Track by Michael K. Spayed, Co-President and Lyssa Adkins, Co-President (see reference 2), positions a clear link between the Agile Coaching Competencies and references the ICF Core Competencies as the appropriate model to follow.

Intentionally, the Agile Coaches framework was not a competency model as such, as it did not define specific behaviours, skills, knowledge or levels of proficiency. However, the creators of WhatIsAgileCoaching.org and the creators of the Agile Coaching Growth Wheel (see reference 3) believe that more definition of the competencies is required in order to professionalise the world of Agile Coaching. Given that the ICF’s credentialing process for coach practitioners is viewed as the gold standard of professional coaching globally, the relationship between these two paths seems evermore aligned.

Agile Coaching Growth Wheel. Source: Whatisagilecoaching.org (see reference 3)

The Agile approach describes five levels of development (Beginner, Practitioner, Journeyperson, Craftsperson and Guide-Innovator). At each level there are descriptors that align closely with elements of the ICF Core Competency Model and ICF Code of Ethics:


Having explored these two paths theoretically, I then consulted with some experienced Agile Coaches who decided to deepen their coaching skills with ICF Accredited coach-specific training. I asked them a few questions and here is what they told me about their decision and thoughts how the two paths align and together offer a powerful skills package and offering to their clients:

As an Agile practitioner, what drew you towards the decision to train on an ICF Accredited coach-specific programme?

I remember deciding to train "properly" as a coach nearly a decade ago. I had dabbled with coaching and discovered it to be transformative in people's thinking. This insight led to a more in-depth reading into the subject and further practice with the teams and individuals I worked with. What my continuing practice showed was that first of all, this was a skill worth investing further in. The impact of a few timely conversations significantly outweighed the benefit of the consulting work that was going on at the same time. People deciding their own actions and then taking personal accountability for them meant that there was less resistance to the changes needed and momentum was able to build much faster. The second realisation that my naive practice brought about was that coaching isn't as easy as it sounds. To get better at coaching, I would need to go to the experts and learn from them. This insight led me to search around for coach training, and the most credible was the ICF Accredited programmes.

What are the benefits for you, as an Agile practitioner, to do this training?

The initial training course was genuinely life changing. In only a few days, I had my eyes opened to a whole new way of communicating with others and being with myself.

As an Agile practitioner being able to bring the skills of a coach into the role meant that I could create space for my teams to explore topics more in-depth and develop insights and actions into the root causes of issues such as team dynamics and conflict.

However, the training did more for me as a person than as an Agile practitioner. Through the course, and further training over the years, I have learned to continuously challenge preconceptions about myself and others; to keep all aspects of my life is far better to balance; be more empathetic; to listen without judgement and many other things that before I would have dismissed as superstitious nonsense.

I believe that these new skills have been critical to my success, both personally and professionally.

How do you see yourself integrating your skills from your ICF accredited training into your work as an Agile practitioner?

For me, one of the first steps in integrating my training, and something I continue to consciously practice today, was to ask more open and powerful questions not only in coaching conversations but in daily life. This subtle change in language has made an incalculable difference over the years; people are more open in conversations, more willing to engage and talk about the topic at hand; and more able to see the fuller picture by doing so.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Coaching has become a bit of a buzz word in the Agile world over the last few years; many Agile coaches talk about coaching, while few seem to indeed practice. This diffusion means that the word has become less clear and more overloaded, neither serving us as a profession nor, more importantly, our clients and employers. To have someone like yourself join the conversation can only help both coaching and Agile coaches; both in terms of clarity about what coaching can be, as well as how we can best include good coaching practice into the Agile coaching toolbox.

While coaching isn't the only skill in an Agile coach’s toolbox, it is a crucial skill and one the profession needs to create the positive change in the world of work that we seek.

John McFadyen (see Acknowledgements)

As an Agile practitioner, what drew you towards the decision to train on an ICF Accredited coach-specific programme?

The ICF Coach-Specific program has a foundation built upon ethical practices. An ICF Credentialed Coach understands and consistently applies coaching ethics and standards. Agile Coaching on the other hand, does not yet have formal ethical standards that coaches must comply with. The ICF Credential is based on focus on the whole person rather than focussing on an individual from within a framework (Agile) or even the framework itself. The emphasis with Agile is sometimes too much on process and productivity, delivery, markets, value, but with less acknowledgement of the human element – the person delivering all these. There needs to be more focus on the person rather than tasks, tools, processes and framework.

I would like to highlight the following, which helped me decide that the ICF program is really suitable for me. There are several (and I mean several) Agile frameworks and practices and, out of all of the Agile Practitioner bodies, only Scrum Alliance and ICAgile have Coaching as part of the advanced curriculum and have a structured Coach training program. The other bodies “fill in the coaching gap” on an ad hoc basis. The default position for the Agile bodies that do not have a Coaching curriculum is to cross reference to the ICF definition of Coaching. It is interesting to see the Scrum Alliance are now restructuring along the lines of Agile Coaching Retreats, for participants to “Experience the Art and Science of Agile Coaching”. Maybe that realisation is now at the fore.

What are the benefits for you, as an Agile practitioner, to do this training?

1. The ICF program offers a wider and more structured training program and applies to a wider client base (of which Agile Practice is a small subset). This will help my coaching development and practice.

2. The ICF structure provides me with a much better and clearer journey to Coaching maturity.

3. The ICF Core Competency Model introduces a very high and consistent standard that I and other practitioners must live by.

4. The ICF offers a globally recognised, independent credentialing program for us Coach Practitioners. This on its own is second to no other consideration for me.

How do you see yourself integrating your skills from your ICF accredited training into your work as an Agile practitioner?

  1. Embracing the spirit of the practice, rather than viewing coaching as simply a part of my job.

  2. As a skilled ICF credentialed coach, I will be able to offer my services to organisations and individuals, either as an External or Internal Coach.

  3. I will be able to offer top quality professional Mentoring services within the Agile community.

  4. I have a personal desire to be Great Coach: coaching is a powerful process not only for my clients, but also for myself.

  5. My Continuous Agile Learning journey aligns with the ICF attribute of being a lifelong learner.

Anything else you'd like to add?

  1. The prestige that comes with the ICF Credential (ACC, PCC, MCC). In the Agile world, the standards relating to individuals designating themselves as “Agile Coach” range from no standards, to competency-based standards (as you have with ICAgile), to very high standards (as you have with the Scrum Alliance).

  2. Having ICF Credentials is the best way for me to demonstrate that I possess the highest standards in the practice, set by the world’s most renowned and recognised Coaching Organisation – The International Coaching Federation.

  3. Finally, I would like to use one of your quotations from your book: Becoming a Coach: The essential ICF Guide: “Your coach development is a journey —not a destination”.

Femi Odelusi (see Acknowledgements)

As an Agile practitioner, what drew you towards the decision to train on an ICF Accredited coach-specific programme?

As an Agile Coach there are a number of roles that you fulfil such as Agile Practitioner, Facilitator, Advising and Facilitated learning, and of course as the names imply: coaching. This element needs further learning if you wish to fully develop as an Agile coach, particularly across the enterprise more generally. I researched coaching and took advice from more experienced Agile Certified Enterprise Coaches both of which led me to the International Coaching Federation and to Tracy Sinclair Ltd.

What are the benefits for you, as an Agile practitioner, to do this training?

Essentially to enhance and develop my coaching skills to supplement my Agile skill set. Ultimately to become a Certified Enterprise Coach on the Scrum Alliance programme of which there are less than 30 in the UK.

How do you see yourself integrating your skills from your ICF accredited training into your work as an Agile practitioner?

Seamlessly, as many of the elements are complementary and completing the course will enable me to be a more effective coach generally which I can incorporate within my Agile Leadership role.

Anything else you'd like to add?

I would say, and I'm sure from a corporate perspective this is also likely to be true, I want to see an Agile Coach become more professionally recognised. As currently some individuals do a 2-day course to become a certified Scrum Master then refer to themselves as an Agile Coach. Perhaps more of a tie up or partnership between the ICF & the Scrum Alliance as their programme could be enhanced by a closer relationship which would encourage practitioners to become better coaches.

Philip Awbery- Maskell Certified (see Acknowledgements)

Conclusion

In summary, it appears that there is indeed a good potential marriage between Agile and ICF coaching, at both a theoretical/philosophical level as well as a practical and competency-based level. It also appears that this relationship is still in its early phase of development and there is opportunity for further alignment and clarification.

Our business is dedicated to helping organisations improve their performance through developing internal coaching capability and coaching culture. Research shows a clear correlation between organisations with strong coaching cultures and their ability to handle change effectively. Effective change management is in turn a characteristic of a high performing organisation.

In order to deliver outstanding consultancy and professional development services to you, we also specialise in offering high quality accredited coach training, alongside coach mentoring, supervision and advanced development for professional coaches. Put simply, we teach, develop and support great coaches and leaders so that they can work and add incredible value in organisations. We are keen to further explore the Agile-ICF “connection” and welcome more Agile Coachers to our ICF-Accredited programmes!

Acknowledgements:

Acknowledgement and appreciation go to three colleagues for their contribution to this article:

John McFadyen:

Agile Certified Coach, Certified Scrum Trainer, Certified Team Coach, Certified Enterprise Scrum Instructor, Certified Enterprise Coach, Certified SAFe Program Consultant, Certified Scrum Master, Certified Scrum Practitioner, Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO).

Founding partner of the Agile Centre: https://www.agilecentre.com/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmcfadyen/

Femi Odelusi:

ICAgile Certified Professional (ICP-ATF and ICP-ACC), Certified Scrum Professional (CSP-SM), Advanced Certified ScrumMaster (A-CSM), Certified SAFe® 5 Scrum Master and Agilist, Certified Agile Leadership (CAL 1), Certified Scrum@Scale Practitioner, Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), Certified Scrum Master (CSM).

https://www.linkedin.com/in/femiodelusi/

Philip Awbery-Maskell:

Certified Agile Coach @Randstad UK,

ICAgile Certified Professional (ICP-ATF and ICP-ACC), Certified Scrum Professional (CSP-SM), Certified Agile Leadership (CAL 1), Advanced Certified ScrumMaster (A-CSM), Certified Scrum Master (CSM), Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), LEAN SS BB | MoP® | MSP® | PRINCE2® | ITIL®-Expert

https://www.linkedin.com/in/philip-awbery-maskell-8335a72/


References:

1. https://agilecoachinginstitute.com/agile-coaching-resources/

2. https://www.agilecoachinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Agile-Coaching-Competencies-whitepaper-part-one.pdf

3. http://whatisagilecoaching.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Agile-Coaching-Growth-Wheel-Guidance.pdf

4. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/new-perspective-agile-coaching-competency-framework-kessel-fell/ also: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kesselfell/

Tracy Sinclair is a Master Certified Coach (MCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). She is also, a trained Coaching Supervisor, Mentor Coach and ICF Assessor. Tracy trains coaches and works with managers and leaders to develop their coaching capability. She works as an international Corporate Executive and Board Level Coach, a leadership development designer and facilitator working with a wide range of organisations. Tracy also specialises in working with organisations to support them develop coaching culture. Tracy has co-authored a book: Becoming a Coach: The Essential ICF Guide published in 2020 which provides a comprehensive guide to coaching for coaches at all levels of skill and experience, the psychology that underpins coaching and the updated ICF Core Competency Model. In this same year she founded Coaching with Conscience which exists to have a positive impact on society and our environment through coaching. She was named as one of the Leading Global Coach winners of the Thinkers50 Marshall Goldsmith Awards of 2019. Tracy was the President of the UK ICF Chapter from 2013-2014 and has been an ICF Global Board Director since 2016, serving as Treasurer in 2017, Global Chair in 2018 and Immediate Past Global Chair in 2019. She currently serves as a Director at Large on the ICF Global Enterprise Board.

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