Elinor Slomba: A Connecticut Entrepreneur Reports from Agile India

Elinor Slomba, founder of Arts Interstices and a frequent contributor to The Whiteboard, is currently participating in Agile India, the largest software-focused conference in Asia, as a guest presenter. Her presentation, “Scrum of One,” draws on her work as an Agile coach for entrepreneurs in Connecticut and beyond. Half-way through her experience in India, Elinor sent us these impressions of the conference and what she’s learned about Agile and the process of coaching Agile to entrepreneurs and startup teams.

You can follow Elinor on Twitter at @ArtsInt and learn more about her practice on the Arts Interstices website.

Coaching Agile Teams

I have just emerged from a three-day workshop in Bangalore led by Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd, co-founders of the The Agile Coaching Institute. As the only student in a group of sixteen who was not from India, I was privileged to partake in an atmosphere of cross-cultural generosity and understanding.

The format of the workshop was intensely interactive, and the entire experience deepened and reinforced my understanding of Agile and the Agile coach’s role, while introducing me to new concepts and methods that I’m excited to bring home with me next week.

Here are some takeaways that I hope will guide other Agile coaches, Scrum Masters, and Agile teams:

  • What it takes: As an Agile practioner, the Agile coach teaches, mentors, facilitates, and coaches from a place of transformative possibility. Above all, he or she demonstrates the mindsets, skillsets, maturity, and scope required of high-performing teams.
  • Serving the team: An Agile coach guides teams to greatness by helping team members take forward-focused action and gain insight into what they want and how to get it.
  • The importance of questions: One standard practice is asking powerful questions. These questions are open-ended—designed to stimulate creative thinking and generate options.
  • Being a mentor: An Agile coach also functions as a mentor. In this role, he or she shares context-based expertise in order to address specific blocks and sticking points. The issues typically fall into patterns that the coach has seen before and is able to normalize for the client.
  • Being a teacher: As a teacher, the Agile coach reinforces the values and principles of a team while reviewing the fundamentals of the various Agile frameworks. Lessons are customized for each team and emphasize hands-on, interactive exercises. This approach creates the conditions necessary for transformative learning.
  • Being an agent of renewal: An Agile coach can facilitate the start of a new team or reset an existing team. Resetting may be required if some of the team members are new to Agile or if the team has come through a big transition or was formed under suboptimal conditions.
  • The importance of environment: Understanding team development, the Agile coach sets up an environment conducive to real collaboration that can lead to high performance.
  • Navigating conflict: Part of any human group is conflict, and Agile teams are no exception. An Agile coach can help teams navigate conflict responsibly and productively. Appreciation for diverse viewpoints and an awareness of conflict dynamics enables continuous learning and improvement to occur for each individual team member while the group as a whole matures.

My experience in the three-day workshop was just a step on this journey. I found it extremely valuable and hope to have many opportunities back in Connecticut to explore and transmit what I learned in Bangalore.

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