2019-03-25 16.30.23-1

Taking a developmental coaching approach in an Agile Context

Business today faces unprecedented challenges on multiple fronts. Competition is global; markets are being disrupted by activist investors, innovations, geo-political complications of global disorder and environmental challenges.
Over the past decade, organizations have identified the need to shift and adopt new ways of working that will help them face the uncertainty of their markets. I have witnessed large scale adoption of Agile and design thinking practices within organizations; adopting all kind of models aiming to infuse new principles and practices.

All of this is happening at an accelerating pace which leaders have to face daily. How leaders face these challenges has a crucial impact on business performance. While experience and expertise are vitally important for success, the conditions for future success demand going beyond not only what we know, but how we know it.

Today, study after study comes out calling for a new kind of leadership mindset. Key features of this mindset are self-awareness and the ability to create desired futures amid complexity. The adoption of an Agile mindset is no exception.

The need for developing a new kind of leadership is a driving imperative for business but with that comes the domain of complexity of mind. This is where the leader or team understands the underlying thought patterns, attitudes, assumptions or values that are inherent to the individual or that team. Quite often these are enabling leadership effectiveness. However, these elements can also be hindering leadership effectiveness or creating a negative impact and, in effect, cancelling out any positive impact the leader might be having.

I have witnessed competent leadership teams in the Tech Industry face painful failure as they were imposing new ways of working to their organization without investing in expanding their own frame, instead relying on existing limiting patterns and behaviours. This impact of such choice on an organization can have disastrous consequences.

Hence for leaders, the ability to transform their own internal complexities becomes an essential part of their leadership development and the overall effectiveness for the organisation.

That is why I believe there is a need for vertical development in conjunction with the collaborative processes proposed in an Agile environment, that tailored professional coaching is recommended at an individual and systemic level.

Research shows that adult development involves two kinds of development: horizontal development and vertical development.
Horizontal development is about learning, training, and development aims at giving people more information and know-how by adding new skills and competencies to their existing skillset and transferring current knowledge in a new area of application. This is where I see a lot of the energy spent in Agile transformation; primarily focused on horizontal development.
Of course, the new information can then be used to solve more problems at the same order of complexity. Thus, people grow within their current frame of mind. They become more proficient, effective, and resourceful at using all its potential and operating optimally from it. This is usually the quick win that organization look for when

It is key, yet not enough as the frame of reference in which the solutions are incubated may not be wide enough to create game-changing results. Vertical development transforms the way we look at the world and how we solve problems. One of the major benefits of vertical development is that it provides a balcony view of one’s current meaning-making, and increases one’s capacity for seeing the bigger picture. This is where the potential for impactful transformation lies.

Most developmental psychologists agree that what differentiates leaders is not so much their philosophy of leadership, their personality, or their style of management. Rather, it’s their internal “worldview” – how they interpret their surroundings and react when their power or safety is challenged. Relatively few leaders, however, try to understand their own worldview, and fewer still have explored the possibility of changing it.
They should because researchers have found that leaders who do undertake a voyage of personal understanding and development can transform not only their own capabilities but also those of their companies.
For that reason, I like to take a holistic approach so that all aspects related to change are explored.

In the work I do, I systematically invite the leaders I collaborate with to explore their developmental edge. To do so, I craft tailored coaching programs and use powerful tools such as The Leadership Circle Profile, the Maturity Assessment Profile or the Enneagram to offer a powerful perspective to start deep and meaningful shifts in the leaders I work with.
When going down the path of adult development, be prepared to challenge all that you know and all the assumptions you are holding. Growth means space needs to be created and that there is a lot of unlearning to do.
Nowadays, I always recommend hiring professional coaches to work in conjunction with the consultants supporting the transformation. IT organizations that embark on an Agile journey should have a solid relationship with their HR counterpart. The two will need to work hand in hand for a significant period of the time. What I believe is that HR is well equipped to find coaches that will provide individual and systemic coaching to the parts of the organization that are undergoing a transformation.
Adult development is an investment as it takes time; a lot more than just adopting new processes or tools. I recommend to have structured coaching programs and regularly measure their impact. Adjustments to these programs will be required overtime and it is normal.

Finally, if there is one recommendation, I can make is to pilot the new targeted mindset with the senior leadership first. If at that time, there is no resonance with the new mindset at a senior level, a wise move may be to wait until the senior leadership team is willing, able and ready.

Michael

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