Leadership & Management64

Connecting Coach to Business Need

How Organizations Organize and Assign Coaches for Impact

Evan Leybourn, Sam Laing

October 6, 2022

OverviewRelatedHighlight

Unpredictable markets, demanding customers, and untapped employees are driving organizations towards greater business agility. Whether through business transformation, agile transformation, digital transformation, or ongoing capability improvement, organizations are engaging highly skilled individuals to embed new behaviors, capabilities, ways of working across the organization – broadly referred to as coaches.

Based on our analysis of the interviews, we have identified 3 distinct approaches that organizations take in organizing coaching groups, with significant variation based on the roles of coaches within the organization. These approaches govern where the coaches operate and the amount of time dedicated to a given team or business unit. These are Team, Business Unit (BU), and Common Pool.

Summary of Coaching Roles and Defining Characteristics

summary of coaching roles table

This report details each of these approaches, when they are used, their benefits and challenges, as well as other common factors that emerged in the research; such as development goals, employment status, and coaching success measures.

INTRODUCTION

Unpredictable markets, demanding customers, and untapped employees are driving organizations towards greater business agility. Whether through business transformation, agile transformation, digital transformation, or ongoing capability improvement, organizations are engaging highly skilled individuals to embed new behaviors, capabilities, ways of working across the organization – broadly referred to as coaches.

There are a broad range of expectations and responsibilities for coaches across different organizations. For example, an Agile Coach might work with a product organization to embed agile values and ways of working. A DevOps Coach might work with a development team to embed new technical practices. An Enterprise Coach might work with a HR function to help them transform their performance management processes. And a Scrum Master might work with an executive leadership team to help improve the effectiveness of their collaboration.

Regardless of what they are called or where they work, coaches help organizations, teams, and individuals attain the desired outcomes from their transformation activity.

This study seeks to understand how organizations align the right coaching capability to business needs and the different approaches that they use to organize their coaches.

In undertaking this research, the Business Agility Institute has interviewed the Head of Coaching, Head of Transformation, or equivalent role from 24 organizations, collectively responsible for nearly 1,000 coaches.

Interviewed organizations represent companies ranging from 1,000 to 300,000 people in Europe, the USA, and Asia-Pacific. The majority of the companies interviewed were from the Technology or the Financial Services sector; however telecommunications, health care and aerospace companies also participated.

Based on our analysis of the interviews, we have identified 3 distinct approaches that organizations take in organizing coaching groups, with significant variation based on the roles of coaches within the organization. These approaches govern where the coaches operate and the amount of time dedicated to a given team or business unit.

This report details each of these approaches, when they are used, their benefits and challenges, as well as other common factors that emerged in the research; such as development goals, employment status, and coaching success measures.

HOW COACHES ARE ORGANIZED

While there are some similarities, organizations had different approaches to structuring their coaching groups based on where they wanted coaches to focus. The 3 approaches to Coach Assignment govern the focus of coaches, where they operate, and the amount of time dedicated within a given team or business unit. These are Team, Business Unit (BU), and Common Pool.

Summary of how and where different coaches are assigned

Regardless of which assignment approach was used, coaches could still move between business units or teams after their coaching objectives were met or if new priorities emerged. Only 38% of organizations assigned coaches to teams or business units permanently – replacing them with a new coach if the individual resigned or moved on.

Assigned Directly to Teams

Coaches are dedicated to a small set of teams (between 1-5 teams) and moved once the coaching agreement is complete (or by exception). Done well, coaches create trusted partnerships with team members. 33% of organizations had a significant portion of their Agile Coach and Embedded Team Coach capability dedicated to teams.

Observations of Note: In the interviewed companies, Embedded Team Coaches are always fully dedicated to teams while Enterprise Coaches never are.

Why to use this Approach: While this approach requires more coaches per team or business unit, organizations see rapid improvement at the team level when coaches are assigned directly. This approach also has lower management overhead as there is minimal logistical effort involved in tracking and reassigning coaches.

Assigned Directly to Business Units

Different organizations used different terms to refer to their high-level organizational areas; business unit, tribe, division, product line, portfolio, line of business, etc – ranging anywhere from 5 teams to over 100. For the purpose of this report, we will refer to these as Business Units.

Under this approach, coaches are dedicated to a business unit (between 1-5 coaches per business unit) and can then be assigned to teams within that area as needed. Done well, coaches create effective personal relationships with business unit leaders. 75% of the interviewed organizations had a significant portion of their Agile and Enterprise Coaching capability dedicated to business units.

Observations of Note: Despite being dedicated to the business unit, in 71% of organizations the Agile Center of Excellence (CoE) or Transformation Office still paid the salaries or rates of the agile coaches. Further detail on funding accountabilities can be found under the Organizational Characteristics section of this report.

Why to use this Approach: Organizations can tailor the level of engagement between coaches and specific teams depending on need. However it has a greater reliance on creating and maintaining effective personal relationships between coaches and BU leadership. This approach also has moderate management overhead in tracking and reassigning coaches – however that overhead is shared between the business unit and the Agile CoE or Transformation Office (if appropriate).

Assigned to a Common Pool

Coaches are assigned to a central pool from which teams and business units draw on according to their needs. As coaching objectives are met, or superseded by changing business demands, coaches are released back into the pool and reassigned as needed. Done well, coaches move between different areas and gain a broad understanding of the organization as a whole. 29% of organizations had some or all of their Agile and Enterprise Coaches assigned to a common pool.

Observations of Note: In some cases, organizations had both BU Assignment and Common Pool Assignment. Larger (or strategic) business units were directly allocated coaches, while a pool of coaches was centralized to support the rest of the organization.

Why to use this Approach: As long as there is available coaching capacity (or a coach can be reassigned), organizations are able to assign coaches to areas of greatest need. Teams or business units requiring specialized coaching usually receive it sooner as there are fewer restrictions to where coaches can add value.

 

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