Agile Coaches and Codependency

What is a codependent? Someone who is a helper. Sometimes a martyr. Someone who does way more than their fair share. They often get caught up in trying to impose their help where it isn't necessarily wanted. They might also be enablers and often cover for an addicted family member.

It turns out that codependent people often look for a jobs that involve helping. It might be as a paramedic, a nurse, or a counselor. At work, a codependent is someone who often is a great employee. They will do whatever is asked of them and more. They have a hard time saying no to work assignments and will work their tails off to achieve. They won't complain much about what is asked of them, but they may secretly be stewing inside about all that they are taking on. They may have a hard time asking for a raise. They may resent others on their teams but still continue to take on more than their fair share because they want the team to succeed. If they are especially smart, they will breeze through things and think nothing of it, but then get frustrated when others aren't similarly capable. They won't see themselves as 'anything special' and therefore if others aren't similarly capable, those other people just aren't good enough. It's a strange dynamic because these people probably don't think they are good enough either. 

As an Agile Coach who is also codependent, you might find someone who may get too caught up in how a team is doing. They may try to impose their 'solutions' on the team, forgetting that each individual on the team is a whole and capable human being. They may be able to see what a team cannot, but be unable to guide the team without pushing an agenda that is help imposing. They may depend on a team's dysfunction and the team may depend on the coach to support their dysfunction. This is classic codependency. 


This is an Agile antipattern and happens way too often. When I was responsible for an Agile Transformation a few years ago, the first time around (agile transformations are iterative!) I thought I had all of the answers and I knew exactly what the organization needed. If they'd only listen to me! I kept talking louder and louder. And getting more and more frustrated. The real problem was not the organization. It was me! 

Michael Spayde and Lyssa Adkins at ACI teach that every person is a whole and capable person. In any type of coaching or therapy type role (yes Agile Coaching is part psychology!) if you go into it thinking that people need you in order to become their best selves, you're only creating a self-fulfilling situation. People or teams WILL need you. Because you're the one who makes sure they have the retrospective. You're the one who 'facilitates' the standup every day. You're managing all the time to make sure the team is doing all of the things. 

The fact is, as an Agile Coach, one of your primary goals should be to coach yourself out of a job. The team should become so adept at lean and agile thinking that it should become second nature. They should be such a tight knit group, that the retrospective process is productive and meaningful WITHOUT YOU. 

It feels GREAT to be part of a team that is really gelling and just having a great time getting amazing work done. As a Coach, you might find yourself caught up in the middle of that. But YOU can't be the cog that keeps it together. You have to take yourself out of the equation so the team can be great without you. And they definitely can. 

If you think about the sports analogy here, it makes sense. On the practice field, the coach is there correcting the team and spot coaching when things don't look right. But when it's game time, the team needs to know what they are doing without the coach managing every move. 

You bring your whole self to work, even if you don't think you do. Everything that you are is there with you, even if you try to squash certain parts of you at work. If you get your feeling of self worth out of picking up the left overs that the team drops, if you're the safety net for the team, if you are constantly monitoring the team's progress, you might be a codependent Agile Coach. If you think this might be you, skip the next retrospective and see what happens. If the team decides to not have the retro, you have work to do to separate yourself from what's going on with the team. 

The next post will be a somewhat opposite view point - the 'do nothing' Agile Coach. Because too much of anything is not good! 
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