Agile Coaching & Organizational Healing

Apr 17, 2019

As Agile Coaches we are constantly faced with the responsibility of training, mentoring, facilitating, and coaching. I’m going to suggest that coaching is about raising awareness in an organization, with clients who are whole and well. The client has everything they need to accomplish what they desire. As their coach, we are helping them expand their awareness in a way and at a rate they can fully accept. Each client will develop their own path forward.

Now that we are on the same page (or at least my page) concerning coaching, I want to focus on Organizational Healing. In the book Organizational Trauma and Healing by authors Shana L. Hormann and Pat Vivian, they state that “organizational trauma and traumatization may result from a single devastating event, from the effects of many deleterious events, or from the impact of cumulative trauma over time.” I sense that every agile coach is participating in the organizational effects of many deleterious events AND the impact of cumulative trauma over time. For me, this trauma becomes apparent when aspects of a company’s culture are in tension with the disruption I, as a coach, cause by fermenting change in the organization. Just my presence as an agile coach in a meeting can cause trauma which will require healing. The healing is required to sustain my relationships. Due to these coaching impacts, I feel that organizational healing needs to be incorporated into our daily work lives to help our client fully embrace change.

As agile coaches, we are helping the client carve new pathways through their brain. I think it’s fair to say this may be traumatic for most. When the client gets a full body knowledge of “what got you here, won’t get you there,” the reaction can be the equivalent of being chased down the street by a tyrannosaurus rex. We’ve set the stage for how impactful an agile coach may be. Now let’s review a few questions about how the coach might promote healing.

1. When we train clients, there are a number of statements and exercises in our training materials that may be the equivalent of tossing a bucket of ice water on our audience. Shocking the client out of their current mindset is certainly one way to change their world view. It is also possible that we will be building in the resistance that shows up as we guide them into execution. When training, what can we do to promote the concepts and support the client as they gain awareness?

2. Attendance at any team/train ceremony or PI event is an opportunity to experience the impact of change, to address trauma and help support healing. What can we do at each stage of our developing relationship with the client to reduce new trauma and support healing any past impacts?

3. As an agile coach, what are the opportunities to lead with your heart as well as your arsenal of techniques, facts, principles, toys and tools?

In 2000, the Hopi Elders gave the world a prophecy that warned us to embrace change and find the courage required to do so. Those of us firmly in the middle of the river of change have an opportunity to help others enter it and celebrate. As agile coaches, we have the option to support organizations as they heal. Take action as a coach if you can. If you can’t act, continue to develop your awareness. Consider the impacts of coaching in your situation and be compassionate, be well.

Written by Charles Osburn


Charles started working with XP teams in 2006.  Since that introduction to Agile practices, he has held the positions of Scrum Master, RTE, Product Owner, and Agile Coach working with teams, Release Trains, Product Teams, and Enterprise Transformations. In the past several years he has focused on supporting Scaled Agile adoption in the Financial, Health Care, Pharmaceutical, and Power Generation industries. Currently, Charles has added Gestalt coaching to his practice and is working on an ICF certification.