How To Have an Effective Internal Agile Coaching Program?

Why are external agile coaches so popular?

I think that they are appealing to management because they have an external view of the organization. Organizations have a hard time understanding their dysfunction, if they are able to recognize it all. Outsiders bring experience from other organizations and don’t have fear in challenging organizational norms.

However, the use of external coaches long term is not very sustainable. How do we develop internal coaches (and programs) that allow, promote and encourage internal coaches to see their organizations through the eyes of an outsider while leveraging their institutional knowledge?

Lyssa Adkins lead a team at the Scrum Coaching Retreat that put together some thoughts about running an internal coaching consultancy (coaching services). It’s a great start, but I still challenge how do you get that outsider’s view? How do you not fall trap to the “Stockholm Syndrome“?

What if coaches had an exchange program, where they could spend time at other organizations or you could invite an exchange coach into your organization for a fresh perspective? Maybe this is just done by using external coaches and mentors?

What if coaching groups were shared among multiple organizations so that the best of each organization could be preserved, but the negative aspects could be seen with a critical eye?

Insert your what if.. in the comments below…


  1. Sometimes, the internal coach is managed by a manager that does not have coaching skills (or think he knows agile). Or sometimes the coach is managed by a control manager inside the organization.
    Then the entire implementation is at risk. This is a disaster.

  2. Derek first of all thanks for your thinking on this blog and on Twitter. Great stuff. Keep on saying it like it is. We need more voices like yours.

    Internal coaches have to be willing to be fired, just like an external coach. That’s a tall order, so nothing happens. Toxic cultures often encourage the external coach to be the SM for several teams. That’s because the org is unwilling to tolerate any employee acting like a genuine, BS-calling SM who IDs impediments and works to actually get rid of them. Over time the external ‘coach’ comes to realize what is actually going on, but is being paid well, and the economy is not too good after all, so ….

    ….this amounts to consulting masquerading as coaching.. And it is wrong for the client, the coach, the wider organization and Agile as a whole. You can examine my blog posts on Agile Coaching Ethics if you want to know how I really feel about this.

    Perceived threats to individual income often produces fight/flight responses related to survival. Therefore: In typical organizations, the internal coach often ends up being an ineffective SM. And the external coach can quickly find themselves perpetuating the status quo AND an unhealthy co-dependency that is good for nothing.

    The answer is a commitment from everyone, client and coach, to pursue what I am calling free-standing agility.

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