Get certified - Transform your world of work today


Bad Smells: Appraisals and Performance Reviews Influenced by Agile Coaches

26 June 2014

Agile/Scrum coaches should not position themselves in ways that will give them an authoritative role within the organization where they coach. Otherwise, organizations/people who get coached will not gain long-lasting learning. They will view coaches as "command and control" figures, and this will lower their chances of developing their own self-sustainable Agile practices and Kaizen culture. Short-term improvements that are based on directives and commands of such "coaches" -- this is what organizations may expect, at most.

In his book The Culture Game, Daniel Mezick very well describes the do's and don'ts of an Agile coach (Chapter 17). This philosophy neatly applies to Agile coaches who operate as consultants. How about coaches who are no longer consultants?

The situation becomes even more challenging for Agile coaches who join organizations as employees after operating for a while as consultants elsewhere. Here, coaches may get drafted into activities that would conflict with the basic rules of engaging as a coach. When such situations arise, a good, mature coach who is familiar with the do's and dont's of his profession and who has been through various stages of coaching (teaching, coaching, advising) should try his best to maintain his coaching integrity and professionalism in his actions -- resisting such drafting.

Here is an example of such a challenge: being requested to provide performance appraisal feedback to individuals who are being coached. (This is not to be confused with constructive one-on-one feedback that coaches are expected to give to their coachees as part of the coaching/mentoring/counseling process). Here the reference is made to a formal process that many organizations have in place for evaluating their employees in ways that may impact those employees' compensation and career development. Drafting a coach into such position will create a serious conflict of interest for that coach and will ruin his ability to influence the natural growth and evolution of learning among the people who are coached; this is damaging to a coach-coachee relationship.

Impartiality and neutrality of a coach is highly important. Only by remaining neutral and nonauthoritative will a coach be able to help the organization and its employees to self-discover, self-improve, and become autonomous in their journey to success. Even if a coach becomes a part of an organization, he should strive to preserve some key specifications of the coaching profession.

Comments and feedback from CSCs, CSTs, and other seasoned coaches and Agile evangelists are highly appreciated.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4 (2 ratings)


Brad Swanson, CST,CEC,CSP,CSM,CSPO,REP, 6/26/2014 9:00:56 PM
This is good insight for employees working as internal coaches - and for the organizations that hire them.
Gene Gendel, CEC,CSP,CSM,CSPO, 10/4/2014 8:56:00 AM
Thanks for sharing the view Brad!
Adam Polczyk-Przybyla, CSM, 1/6/2016 3:31:05 PM
Great article. I would add that there is also the question of "What does the team do if they are being failed by their coach/scrum master?"

Traditional approaches to performance management are detrimental to autonomous self-organising teams.

For the last year I have been working on an alternative. One that is lightweight, frequent and fair. It enables the regular exchange of competency ratings and meaningful feedback between teammates, enabling discussion and driving team improvement.

Competency based ratings and feedback flow in all directions with one goal only. To improve the performance of the team as a whole by developing each individual's competencies.

Because everyone is treated the same, it prevents Scrum Masters and Coaches from being put in the position described in the post.

It is the performance management tool that I wanted for myself as a team member and for my team as a whole.

You can find it at

You must Login or Signup to comment.

The community welcomes feedback that is constructive and supportive, in the spirit of better understanding and implementation of Scrum.


Newsletter Sign-Up