Toward an Agile Coaching Code of Ethics

Agile coaches usually assist organizations that know very little about Agile. These organizations actively seek authoritative guidance. It is safe to say that in almost all cases, the Client is in a vulnerable position. The client can very easily be taken advantage of. Now, to be very clear: The overwhelmingly vast majority of Agile Coaches in our community genuinely serve Clients, each and every day. Most folks in Agile Coaching are of high integrity and seek to serve. That said, the potential does exist for abuses of the role of Agile Coach.

A Coach may, for example, choose to take up the Scrum Master role or even the Product Owner role for ‘some time’.  This is called ’embedded’ or ‘integrated’ coaching.  It creates an ‘extended stay’– and some very real dependence. There are some in the Agile community who promote embedding as a completely normal aspect of Agile Coaching.

But wait. Is this something we are willing to validate as professional coaches?

The practice has several issues. First, the practice promotes an unhealthy level of Client dependency on the ‘coach’. Second, no one in the Client organization is learning anything useful about being Scrum Master, because the role is ‘occupied’. Third, when the ‘coach’ leaves, it is over, because little if any Client learning took place. The Client is not in a place of free-standing Agility.

We can do so much better than this.

The standards body known as the International Coaching Federation publishes the ICF Code of Ethics for Coaches . I believe this is a excellent starting point for discussing the construction of a Code of Conduct for Agile Coaching.

Take a look, especially pay attention to Section 2 Item 9:

Section 2: Conflicts of Interest
As a coach: 9) I will seek to avoid conflicts of interest and potential conflicts of interest and openly disclose any such conflicts. I will offer to remove myself when such a conflict arises.

I wonder if it is time for us in the Agile coaching community to begin having a crucial conversation … about Agile Coaching Ethics.

What do YOU think?


Here is some food for thought:

“What you tolerate, you insist on. What you insist on will be supplied.” – Michele and Jim McCarthy, SOFTWARE FOR YOUR HEAD


See also:

Previous Posts on Agile Coaching Ethics


2 Replies to “Toward an Agile Coaching Code of Ethics”

  1. This is a point well made. As a consultant/coach/mentor I observe this in many organisations. I would even argur that the true coaching is done infrequently as the majority of so “Agile Coaches” are actually Agile Mentors, if anything applying very directive techniques. This all has its place and I’m not arguing about the validity of this approach. This is the apporach used by american football coaches who call the play from the sideline. But those coaches cannot be seen to have any other interests otehr than that of the team. So I advocate that coaches in teams are eactly that – but are phased out over an agree number of itterations. There are many other more cost effective techniques to enhance learning and I think limjiting access to a coach. Now I feel the SM should in all honesty be perfroming much of that role for the team, they should have a range of leading and managing skills that will include coaching and facilitation skills, as well as good experience in delivering in an Agile fashion. But all too often this role ends up being a technical role rather than a people role.

    So I feel that yes we need to be clear on the role that we as trusted advisors to the organisation start to take eyes of the frontline teams and coach the more senior layers or the organisation in how to change strategy and thinking to align with the Agility of your delivery and execution.

  2. I wonder whether just an extension of “conflicts of interest” would already serve us very well? I don’t think we talk about this enough. and I think that’s because talking about values is hard. I don’t want to judge Ms. X for the way she induces dependency and thereby gains more $ from clients (and perhaps also weaker results) than with other methods. I’m a polite Canadian after all 🙂 But if Ms. X is poisoning the reputation of my profession, and short changing clients … maybe it is worth a crucial conversation.

Comments are closed.