Agile coaching myth 3: All teams are coachable.

Agile coaching myth 3: All teams are coachable.

This is an interesting one. It’s something that I have learned the hard way over decades of working with individuals and teams in agile and scrum environments.

Not everyone is coachable. Not every team is invested in becoming better and accepting the coaching and mentoring that is necessary to improve.

When you work through your coaching training and certification path, you will learn that not everyone is coachable but there is always a part of you that thinks it doesn’t apply to you.

Of course, I can be the change maker. Of course, I can make a difference.

You will learn, often through bitter experience, that this simply isn’t the case.

In some circumstances, there is absolutely nothing you can do to make people accept your coaching expertise, help or intentions. There is a myriad of reasons why teams and individuals are not willing to accept your help or expertise.

You are the wrong coach

It may just be that you are the wrong coach.

You are just not able to build rapport with individuals or the team. The chemistry isn’t present and nothing you do can change that.

They don’t trust you. They don’t like you. They don’t see you as credible. They don’t see the value in working with you when they have so many other competing priorities and tasks.

It is interesting because you may not know why you are the wrong coach, and the team themselves may not even understand why you are the wrong person for the job, but it is clear to everyone that you aren’t the right person for that environment and their unique application.

If that is true of you, you aren’t going to be able to build rapport or relationships within the team, which means you won’t be able to coach them.

That isn’t a bad reflection on them or you, the chemistry simply isn’t there and you are best served allowing someone else to have a crack.

In one-to-one coaching and team coaching engagements, there is often a discovery session upfront. It is designed to understand whether there is an opportunity to work together and whether the engagement is going to be a great investment for everyone involved.

Use this period to understand whether you are able to contribute value to the environment or whether your time and efforts will be wasted. It isn’t something you should take personally if you aren’t a great fit for the team, it is simply a discovery that should inform what you do next.

The organization isn’t a great fit for coaching

Sometimes the team simply isn’t open to coaching, and there may be a myriad of reasons for that, but it is best to acknowledge that early on.

At other times you may find a team that is under pressure from management to deliver and they dare not invest a moment in anything else other than delivery.

You can analyse the dysfunction of that and come up with heaps of reasons why your coaching would help but it doesn’t change the reality of life for those developers, and they simply won’t have the time to engage in coaching sessions collectively or individually.

It isn’t safe for those teams to invest time in coaching and explore opportunities to improve.

People are hired and fired based on their ability to deliver against deadlines and so the team simply won’t be open to the idea of coaching and will politely yet firmly decline your attempts to coach them.

Acknowledge that the organization isn’t a great fit for coaching and if possible, identify whether you have an opportunity to work with management and leadership teams to change the culture of the organization so that coaching at the team and individual level becomes safe in the future.

A team that believes they are perfect

Sometimes, you come across a team that genuinely believe that they are perfect.

They genuinely believe that they are crossing all the t’s and dotting all the I’s, and simply don’t require a coach.

This belief structure may be supported by a line manager or leader within the organization, reinforcing the team’s belief in their superior capabilities, which makes it incredibly hard to get them to commit to continuous improvement and innovation through coaching.

If the team are forced to work with you, you will experience resistance and low engagement. People simply don’t believe that you are able to help them and grow frustrated by what they believe to be a waste of their time and resources.

Attempting to coach in such an environment is counter-productive and will simply frustrate you.

You are better served identifying a team or group of individuals who are invested in becoming better and are actively looking for help in the form of coaching and mentoring.

A team that isn’t ready for coaching

Finally, there are the teams that simply aren’t ready for coaching.

As a coach, you walk into every engagement believing that the individuals within the team environment have the knowledge and the skills they need to thrive. You believe that they have the capability and competence to become truly great.

You need to have this belief system to effectively help the team improve, so it is a good thing, but you will find that you do encounter teams where that simply isn’t the case.

As you dig, you may discover that individuals on the team simply don’t have the adequate level of knowledge and skill to perform their role, and you may discover mountains of red tape that prevent the team from moving forward.

In that circumstance, you can help the team identify the knowledge and skills they need to acquire and develop an action plan to acquire those skills and knowledge, but you can’t immediately work with the team because you’re going to go around in circles.

The team simply aren’t ready for coaching, and they first need to acquire a number of things before you are able to work with them effectively.

Sure, you can work with individuals on the team to map out what needs doing and why it is important to them as well as the organization, but you aren’t going to help the team improve and acquire high-performing habits.

They just need to get things done first before you can contribute value in the environment.

A great agile coach is a blend of teacher, coach, mentor, and consultant so you may find that the teaching side of things is necessary in this kind of environment, and great, you can set about doing that.

You may find that working through the basics with the team and actively teaching them about agile, high-performing teams, and what is necessary for a team to thrive will be beneficial to the team, but you won’t be able to coach.

Identify early on whether the team have the necessary knowledge and skills to perform their role, and make your recommendations based on what you discover. It may be a great opportunity for you to return later when the team have acquired the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed.

If you are interested in becoming an agile coach and value mentored, coach-driven skills development in your journey to mastery, visit our Growing Agile Coaches page.

For more information on John McFadyen, visit or connect with John on LinkedIn at

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If you are already a scrum master and want to upskill to a more advanced level of knowledge and agile coaching capability, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM) course page.

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John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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