Agile Coaching Ethics – Front AND Center

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Agile Coaching Ethics – Front AND Center

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Update: March 27, 2022

In the Ethics searches I did below of organization websites, I noted that I couldn’t find an ethics statement on the Scrum Alliance website. That’s not true. While it’s hard to find via a website search, it is there as a link at the base of every page. Here’s a link to it. And, while it’s not specific to Agile Coaching, it has broad ethical coverage.

An agile coach, who I’d never met before, reached out to me the other day to have a conversation. She was from India, working in Europe, and had a woeful tale that she shared with me…

It seems as if she had two similar experiences as part of different agile coaching teams. In each case, a lead agile coach (who was male, white, and experienced) misused their authority and positional power when collaborating with her and other female (white) coaches on their teams.

Apparently, those coaches/leaders were…

  • Authoritarian to the point of abusing their positional authority with women who reported to them.

  • Intimidating, overpowering, and dismissive to women, while also showing a different face in one-on-ones versus in public.

  • And, when confronted with their behavior, they ignored all feedback, and actually behaved even worse.

Because of the corporate culture around her, the poor coach felt that there was no place to go for help. So, she simply tolerated it until she found a way to leave the job.

As I said, this repeated itself one more time at another organization.

Why did she reach out to me? First, I believe she was looking for someone in the agile coaching community to vent to, to listen, and to hear her. And I tried to serve that role.

Second, and more importantly, she was looking to create transparency, in the hope that her story might effect change.

The change she was hoping for in this case was two-fold. First, she was looking for active ethics being implemented in the agile coaching community. Not simply being implemented, but when someone violated their coaching ethics, for them to be held accountable. For there being an avenue to have them “disbarred” from the profession in some way.

Her second ask revolved around raising the standards bar in the agile coaching community. So that it wasn’t easy for folks to become an agile coach, in name only, but in reality, be faking the role and not walking their talk. And raising the bar even further when it came to recruiting, hiring, and promoting agile coaches into leadership roles.

We closed the conversation with me promising to consider how I, given my privilege and platform in the agile coaching community, might be able to help in future prevention of this and similar bad ethical behavior amongst agile coaches.

I resonated with both of these ideas as I’ve been emphasizing the professionalism of agile coaching for quite some time. I guess though that I was naïve and thought that as a group, agile coaches were probably doing better with respect to their ethics, values, and behaviors than her story exemplifies.

Writing this article is my first step of action. Shining a light on some of the more egregious behavior that agile coaches (and others) can take on in corporate settings.

What bugs me the most about it being agile coaches is that there should be a higher standard of behavior amongst our profession. You see…

  • We are the role models and modelers

  • We are the change agents

  • We are the culture-shapers

  • We are the difference makers

  • We are the examples of what to do and what not to do

  • We are…

If I consider the Agile Coaching Growth Wheel, I see the exceptions here falling squarely in not attending to our coaching Self-Mastery in the center of the Wheel and Leadership as core competencies. In other words, these agile coaches in leadership roles were coaches in name only. Clearly, they had no understanding of their role, nor the increased responsibilities that being a leader entailed.

How do I know this? Because of their actions.

First comes raising our community awareness and firming up our ethics policies. Perhaps there is more we can add to the Agile Alliance’s work on Coaching Ethics? And kudos to them for being role models and leaders in this space.

And, I’d like to see the other major influencers in our community come out with similar aligned responses. Here’s a shortlist of agile coaching influencers and the results of a public search for “ethics” on their individual websites. As you can see, the results are, in a word, woeful!

  • iCAgile (searching a challenge, couldn’t find anything public-facing)

  • PMI (generic policies here – https://www.pmi.org/codeofethics, but nothing specific to Disciplined Agile or agile coaching.)

  • Scrum Alliancehttps://www.scrumalliance.org/code-of-ethics

  • Scrum.org (a few resources, but could be much more, but the BEST compared to the others in this list)

  • Scrum Inc. (nothing on ethics)

  • Scaled Agile (basically nothing public-facing on ethics, well, one podcast – yikes!)

Where are your public-facing statements and policies around ethics and behavior in our agile coaching communities?

Come on folks…this is shocking to me!

 The next step is for all of us to reduce our toleration of this sort of behavior in our community.

If I personally ever witness this sort of behavior in a peer coach, whether we be business partners or they are my client, I will call it out. I will shine a light on it. I will demand a change. I will find it intolerable. And, I will not work with folks like this. Period!

The next time you’re thinking about developing your agile coaching skills and mindset, please put ethics front and center in your education, thinking, and subsequent behaviors. Not only for yourself but in holding your agile coaching colleagues to a higher standard as well.

Realizing that talking about it is only a first step. Beyond what the Agile Alliance and others have established we need more and broader change-focused action.

We all have a moral obligation to be better as coaches. Our community needs that from us and our clients need that from us. And part of that being better is taking action when we see ethics violations and bad behavior.

To sum it up, I challenge all of us to—be better, tolerate less, and take personal action when it comes to our own and our profession’s ethics.

Stay agile my friends,

Bob.

Here are the current thoughts of the Agile Alliance working group on Coaching Ethics – https://www.agilealliance.org/resources/initiatives/agile-coaching-ethics/

Shane Hastie is leading this effort, which I absolutely applaud! If you have read their work, you must. And I would encourage you to support Agile Alliance in their efforts!

In what I personally an exemplar for our agile coaching profession, here are the ICF Ethics work – https://coachingfederation.org/ethics/code-of-ethics And notice that there is a pledge step in the ethics where coaches must confirm their intention to support them. This is reaffirmed every time you renew your ICF certifications.

Here’s my own ethics statement on Agile Moose – https://www.agile-moose.com/moose-ethics

And I’m rethinking whether I need to update them in any way based on this story.

Interesting thoughts on ethics by Mishkin Berteig – https://berteig.com/general/agile-coach-code-of-ethics/

Here’s an article called Just Saying It, as in just having ethics statements or saying it, doesn’t make it so. It takes vigilant and courageous action! https://www.agile-moose.com/blog/2020/7/30/just-saying-it

 

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