|The path of the righteous man requires walking away.|
I have been focused on plenty of goals in my career. I have spent time coaching teams and individuals. Often, I have to work on projects and help the team turn them around. Other times, I discover the more esoteric points of my job, like putting together training videos. This week, I found another necessary part of my career.
I have been working with a large project for twenty weeks. We went from getting nothing done to pushing releases every two weeks. The developers were fighting with the QA people on the team, and morale was low. This week, I walked away from the group and let them stand on their own. It was a difficult thing to do, but if the team was going to grow, I had to walk away.
Being a coach means that you have to make your role obsolete. Teams can only improve with outside help for only so long, and then you have to step away. The team needs to be able to grow and stand on its own. Ziran Salayi wrote an excellent paper on this subject in 2019.
Coaching a team is challenging and a profound emotional commitment. Walking away from the team breaks emotional attachments, but it is necessary to help the team learn to improve without outside intervention. As a parent, you place training wheels on a bicycle and run alongside to show them how to ride. Inevitability, those training wheels come off, and the child learns to ride without adult supervision. Along the way, the rookie bicyclist will take a few spills, but they will develop a sense of independence.
Letting go and walking away is critical to the success of a team you are coaching. An organization coached correctly will take ownership of your instruction and bring them into new and more powerful directions. For instance, if you impress on people the importance of quality, when you leave the team, the team should be eager to create their ways of improving software quality. Leaving a team is like taking off the training wheels.
A good agile coach is like a character from popular culture. It is the type of character who rides into a dusty town in the west to restore law and order, like Cleavon Little in "Blazing Saddles," or a mysterious woman who opens a chocolate shop in the 2000 film “Chocolat.” I take inspiration from Samuel L. Jackson’s character Jules Winnfield from “Pulp Fiction.” At the end of the film, Winnfield abandons a life of crime and foils a robbery without firing a shot. I am never going to be as cool as Samuel L. Jackson, but I do know how to exit. Walking away from a team is not giving up on them; it is encouraging them to thrive on their own. Walking away is part of being a coach.
Until next time.