Nightmare – Central teams consisting of coaches

Some weeks ago I engaged in a nice conversation with Stephen Parry and Tonianne DeMaria Barry about coaches and how they could harm the organization.

They came up with an interesting perspective. In their opinion, central teams consisting of coaches are quite harmful for the organization.

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 13.38.19

Stephen defends they (coaches) will perpetuate themselves making everyone dependent on them.

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 13.38.39

This has a huge impact on the organization. According to him, this creates a clear statement that coaches are the only ones responsible for improvement. Other people outside of a team will not make any efforts to improve anything because it is simply not their job. This will create a culture where continuous improvement job belongs just to a few pre-selected people who work in that particular team.

Honestly, when I saw these statements I was a bit confused. I am a coach myself and I belonged to one of such teams in past. If I look back, I believe I am highly respected by everyone whom I worked with, however, I understand the point of Stephen´s and Tonianna´s view. Having central coaches, team members have someone to take care of the continuous improvement. Therefore, they do not care much, they know they have coaches to help them and at the end of the day it is not their job. So why to bother?

Another thing I realised is that if you belong to a central group, you cannot focus on one single team/organization. There is simply too much stuff to do and at the end you cannot help everyone. If you belong to a vertical organization, you can help that organization or focus on one or two teams. You can show everyone that continuous improvement is a job for everyone not just for coaches.

And let´s be honest… We as coaches, we always teach and preach to everyone that we need cross functional teams. So why to create a central team only with coaches? What sense does it make?

I would love to get a star rating for this post:

Nightmare – Central teams consisting of coaches
3.4 (68%) 5 votes

Leave a Comment

  1. Reply

    It’s really so easy not to mar an otherwise thoughtful piece with such trivially untrue statements as the one here quoted from Steven Parry. Replace “they want” with “too many want”. This shifts the discussion from arguing over the trivially incorrect statement “all people who participate in central coaching teams don’t get it” to “too often, central coaching teams are doomed to failure, because organisations don’t do X, Y and Z”. If you can’t even imagine a situation in which a central coaching team can help an organisation succeed, then you’re not thinking about it hard enough. Please think harder or longer. Maybe both.

    I apologise for the harsh tone, but calling out lazy “coaching” with an article that cites lazy “thinking” just doesn’t ring credible to me.

    What’s the difference between a “central team of coaches” and a “community of practice”? How much you trust the participants.

  2. Reply

    In my opinion crossfunctional teams are one key to success – so is the possibility to share ideas with others that focus on the same things. This is where some kind of matrix organisation takes place… agile coaches needs places to teach and learn from others (agile coaches) so a coaching team as an “agile coach community of practice” makes a lot of sense in my opinion.

    • Reply

      Communities of practices are not central teams on my definition. In my definition central teams are like the old Project Management Office and so on…

      About the matrix organisation I think that setup is one of the big problems of todays organisations :)

  3. Reply

    I’ve seen this in many organizations as well. Typically it’s within organizations that subscribe to the ‘organization as a machine’ metaphor.

    The centralized coaching team is bound by the same ‘rules’ as all the other departments. Namely, the team needs to sit in hierarchy somewhere. The team needs a manager, performance reviews, well defined objectives etc.

    This central coaching team tends to exceed the pace of change that the organization can sustain and they tend to get frustrated when other people can’t ‘catch up’ to their level of understanding about the change.

    In these organizations, ‘working in the whitespace’ is difficult for coaches because it’s too far against the organizational norms. In those environments, I encourage a ‘change agent network’. That is, a set of early adopters who will be infected with the change virus and sent back into the general population.

    Messaging is important as well, I encourage these ‘central’ teams to market themselves accordingly in the organization. That is, help people see that change isn’t something ‘those coaches do’, they need ownership from other employees all over the organization.

    On the flip side, I’ve seen organizations that create this ‘central’ coaching team with the expectation that they will work in the whitespace of the organization. One such organization is Futurice in Finland that have ‘organizational scrum masters’ who do exactly that. They are not bound by the hierarchy in the same restrictive way “internal transformation teams” typically are.

    The concept of the ‘change agent network’ (informal change agents) may be new to the Agile community, but it’s a staple in organizations that have strong change management departments that truly get change is about facilitation, not control.

      • Luis
      • April 14, 2014

      Thank you so much for your great comment :)

      Looking forward for your book to read more about your great ideas :)


    • Mike
    • April 6, 2014

    Thank you for writing a really topical issue and inviting contribution.

    I agree that the potential for the behaviours that Stephen and Tonianne describe exists. But I disagree that those are the *only* potentials.

    Lots of people don’t get coaches. Heck, even many coaches don’t get coaching.

    Anyone forming a ‘central coaching team’ – does not get coaching – in my opinion.

    The most effective form of grouping for coaches is community of practice. That is not a team nor is it a generally physically permanent structure. It’s goals and in practice are very different from a team.

    By the way – any coach who ‘perpetuates themselves’ does not get coaching.

    Also – I disagree with the idea that ‘real’ coaches are those that have been professionally trained. Training is not the *only* – nor even the ideal channel to get a clue how to act or behave.

  4. Reply

    I’ve worked in central teams for several organizations and I recognize the potential problems that you mention. Such teams can create a distance to the projects and teams, sometimes even an hierarchie which hampers coaching. This is not what you want when you work in such a team.

    I’ve always made sure that I’m while being part of a central team that I was also part of one more project of departments. Being directly involved in the operation made it possible for me to work with the professionals, to help them to improve their way of working.

    Working like this can challenging as you will have to divide your time and attention. My first priority is on the professionals in the projects and teams. Being part of the central team which was driving R&D/organizational wide improvements I was able to better support the operation, e.g. by helping project to use organizational solutions and systems. It also frequently happened that I raised issues and impediments from the teams to the central organization, resulting in adaptations of the R&D improvement strategy.

    Bridging the “process” gap between the operation and R&D management feels rewarding for me.

      • Luis
      • April 6, 2014

      Thanks Ben for your answer…

      I really liked your comment and I see the value of your approach… I believe with your approach the outcome would be different, but usually these central coaches are not involved on the daily job and this is where the problems starts :)


    • Mark Culmer
    • March 31, 2014

    ‘…people want to perpetuate themselves…’
    – what assumptions are you making here and it’s quite sweeping. And who is ‘everyone’…

    Do coaches ‘teach and preach’, I suppose if you were training a team rather than coaching, you would teach.

    A coach holds the teams potential until the team can realise and hold that potential for themselves.

      • Luis
      • March 31, 2014

      …people want to perpetuate themselves…’

      My experience tells me this. You are free to agree or not.

      Do coaches ‘teach and preach’, I suppose if you were training a team rather than coaching, you would teach.
      A coach holds the teams potential until the team can realise and hold that potential for themselves.

      All these is great in Theory… Practice is much different than this… Nowadays everyone calls themselves coaches but how many of them actually had any professional training about coaching? Most of people do not have any clue how to act and behave… Unfortunately this is our world is.

More from our blog

See all posts

Can a non-Tech person be a scrum master?

Continue reading

Demo – Anti Patterns

More a presentation than a review No review of timeline or budget…
Continue reading

Planning – Anti Patterns

No looking at previous velocitiy Blind acceptance of P0s proposal Backlog not…
Continue reading