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Enable people and teams to reach their objectives by drawing on their own knowledge and experiences

What is Coaching?

In an agile context, the word “coaching” is used in several ways: 

  1. Agile Coach - Among agilists, the word “coach” is frequently used to describe the role of an “Agile Coach.” This is someone who uses agile approaches to help people and teams reach their objectives or overcome challenges. An Agile Coach doesn’t just coach per se; they also advise, lead, facilitate and teach the teams they are helping. 

    Learn more about Agile Coaching in Professional Scrum
  2. To describe the discipline of “coaching.” Informally speaking, someone who coaches provides guidance to help others achieve their professional or personal goals. There are also professional organizations that provide prescribed courses of study to become a certified coach. These organizations have formal definitions of what coaching entails.

When we refer to coaching as a Professional Scrum competency, we’re generally discussing the discipline of coaching (not the role of an Agile Coach) and how coaching skills can be used to increase effectiveness and outcomes of a Scrum Team and its members. 

The coach’s job is to be a process expert, enabling those they are coaching to achieve their goals using skills such as developmental conversations, active listening and asking thought-provoking questions. Strictly speaking, coaches take a neutral stance with regard to how the person being coached achieves their goals; they do not share their experience, advice and opinions. (This is in contrast to “mentorship,” where the mentor DOES share their experience, advice and opinions).

We’re providing the following information so that you can learn more about the discipline of coaching and determine if further study is interesting to you. However, even if your interest is less formal, the following may provide inspiration for improvement of your coaching skills.

Coaching Principles

The various certifying bodies for coaching have strict guidance on how coaching is done and how a coach interacts with those they are coaching. The following are some of the elements of successful coaching:

Intentional - When a practitioner is coaching they are deeply involved and interested in a person or team’s ultimate success. However, coaches do not have their own agenda, they act on the goals set by the person or group they are coaching. 

Neutral - The coach remains unbiased and non-judgemental about the subject matter. They help people achieve their goals without steering them. Those being coached are guided to draw on their own experiences and capabilities to overcome challenges, rather than learning directly from the coach’s experiences. (This is a key differentiator from mentoring where the mentor actively provides advice based on their own experiences).

Agreed - Formal coaching requires permission or consent in the form of written agreements. These agreements include the goals of the engagement and coaching approaches, clearly distinguishing between what coaching is and what it is not. 

Systemic - Coaches listen actively to what is being communicated. They seek to find and allow for the voice of the system (or the whole group, or the unsaid) to be heard. Coaches notice trends and patterns in behaviors and interactions, then reflect them back to enable richer communication and more effective decision-making processes.

Ethical - Coaches create and manage a unique, safe and inclusive space. For this reason, it’s imperative that they maintain integrity and confidentiality. For more information, we encourage you to explore the International Coaching Federation’s Code of Ethical Conduct as well as the Agile Alliance’s Code of Ethics for Agile Coaching.

Traits of a Coach

Successful coaches demonstrate capabilities from both agile and coaching areas of expertise. In order to have a holistic approach to coaching, we suggest agilists develop proficiency in the following areas:

  • Supports the Team’s Self-Management - Self-management is founded on the assumption that everyone on the team has valuable ideas and is responsible for their own outcomes. When coaching, you have a responsibility to help uncover ways of developing self-management, including your own.
  • Models the Scrum Values - In the context of Scrum, sharing common values is central to building an environment of trust where people feel encouraged to inspect and adapt toward shared goals. When coaching, you have a unique opportunity to model the Scrum Values and bring awareness of their merit to the team. Here are some examples to draw on:
    • Courage: Challenge new ways of thinking and offer support in exploring them. 
    • Commitment: Encourage commitment to action and help build the right plan for accountability. 
    • Focus: Focus the team on the topic, and bring their attention to emerging thoughts, and inquire how they want to proceed. 
    • Openness: Model and promote openness, creating a safe and open space where everyone feels comfortable to fully express themselves. 
    • Respect: View your colleagues as creative and resourceful. Allow their solutions, ideas, and thoughts to emerge throughout the conversation.
  • Navigates Complexity… in Human Relationships - People are complex. Navigating this complexity requires emotional/social skills like listening, empathy, and building shared understanding.
  • Encourages the Team’s Growth through Empiricism - Empiricism is the growth of knowledge through experience. Empiricism is foundational to Scrum. When we help the team focus on a defined problem, apply small changes and use the evidence of what happened to build their understanding, they generate new solutions and options for themselves.

Coaching Skills 

Coaching requires you to leverage a wide range of skills. Successful coaching requires you to work with what is present and make choices in the moment. This means developing proficiency in many skills: 

  • Listening Actively - Recognize that people communicate with more than their words. Their context, identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs must be taken into account. Pay attention to their body language, mood, emotion and hear what is unsaid through their words and actions.
  • Asking Powerful Questions - Ask questions that are open-ended (cannot be answered by “yes” or “no”), neutral and short. The key is to choose questions that provide the opportunity for the person you are coaching to gain new insight or reframe their perspective. Powerful questions are best applied when you are also listening actively.
  • Reframing - Invite the person you are coaching to take an alternate point of view to broaden their range of solutions and consider multiple perspectives.
  • Reading and Working with the Emotional Field - Coaching requires that you actively monitor the atmosphere, energy, or mood of the coaching space. As it changes during the coaching session, try to bring curiosity and reflection on it into the conversation to deepen an understanding of what's going on. The emotional field is a phrase commonly used by practitioners who have studied Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC)™.
  • Normalizing - Create a feeling that the person you are coaching is not alone in the challenges they face. When used well, normalizing has the ability to reduce tension or frustration and open people up to new ways of thinking.
  • Supporting with Silence - Sometimes called “awkward silence,” this is a situation where you and the person you are coaching are both quiet and present, waiting for the wisdom and intelligence of the person being coached to emerge.
  • Taking a Meta-View - Seek to observe the situation from the highest perspective to see the whole picture, uncover new information and connect what previously seemed to be disparate information.
  • Holding Things Lightly - When you hold something lightly you acknowledge its presence and avoid allowing the topic or information to consume the conversation or overshadow the topic at hand.
  • Bottom-lining - Be clear and precise with your words in order to create a “mic-drop” moment. Avoid over-explaining or asking long questions that interweave too much context.
  • Forwarding the Action - Be intentional about how the person you’re coaching will move forward in action as a result of the coaching conversation.

Why is Coaching Beneficial for Scrum Teams?

Knowledge workers, particularly Scrum Teams, who are constantly navigating change and being challenged to innovate, can often benefit from the guidance of an external, professional coach.

Scrum Masters often take the role of a coach with their teams. However any member of the Scrum Team can use coaching skills informally or organically to help the team improve its effectiveness.  Examples include:

  • Using coaching skills during the Scrum Events - any team member can use coaching skills to help the team use their knowledge and experience to determine next steps
    • Sprint Planning - ask powerful questions to help the team determine how the work for the Sprint is going to be done.  
    • Daily Scrum - use active listening to uncover what challenges may not be expressly articulated during the Daily
    • Sprint Retrospective - use normalizing when the team is facing challenges in working together. It may be important for them to understand that they are not the only team to face these challenges. 
    • Sprint Review - use reframing to encourage stakeholders to consider a new perspective 
  • Using a combination of coaching skills to manage the complexity around collaborating or communicating within and outside of the team, particularly with building relationships with stakeholders


Other Resources About Coaching

This collection of resources from will help you learn more about coaching:

If you want to study more deeply on the roots of coaching, explore these resources from organizations who certify and accredit those who are investing in a deep coaching journey.