What are scrum masters and agile coaches accountable for?

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Truman_pass-the-buck.jpg

If you’ve read my article “Scrum Master’s don’t own the process”, you might then ask what exactly are we held to account for?

Our profession is sometimes thought of as not having any “skin in the game”. If we are not directly affected by outcomes, then doesn’t that mean we can just do whatever we want, can avoid delivering on business goals, can just blame someone else for problems and not have to explain our actions? What’s more, why should anyone even include us in discussions?

Authority and accountability

First I think it’s safe to say that in order to be accountable, you must have authority to perform, or at least delegate, the actions needed for a task’s success.

However there are two kinds of authority. The kind that is granted by the powers that be (official authority), and the kind that is earned or perceived (unofficial authority/ influence). Just because you don’t have the former, doesn’t mean you don’t have the latter. If you have either, you are accountable.

As coaches we have the official authority to perform any action that enables us to teach, mentor and coach teams and individuals on agility and facilitate continuous improvement. We are directly accountable for how and when we do this.

However, we have no official authority to tell others what to do and require them to comply. And rightly so. This would contradict our role as servant leaders and the balance we lend to hierarchy. Therefore, logic would have it that we cannot be accountable for the behaviour of others (and the resulting outcomes), particularly of those we have no direct control over. Right? Not quite.

Influence and accountability

Even though we may not have the kind of authority to command others, when coaching we have the power to influence others (because of how they perceive us). Our influence can result in outcomes good or bad, intended or unintended. While it can be difficult to know whether our actions directly impacted outcomes, we cannot ignore the fact that, like the butterfly in the butterfly effect, we may have played a (crucial) part in those outcomes.

We must also remember that we don’t coach for the sake of coaching. It is a means to an end. We do it in order to achieve continuous value delivery. Our efforts are therefore intrinsically tied to outcomes and make us accountable, at least to some extent, for the results of our coaching and facilitating.

Influence vs manipulation

While the link between official authority and accountability is somewhat clear, accountability that comes from influence on the other hand is more difficult to discern and generally relies on the integrity of the person who wields it. Because of this ‘fuzziness’, someone can use their influence in ways to avoid accountability or place it on others i.e. “pass the buck”. However, this is no longer influencing, but manipulating. Consequently, a great deal of trust is placed on the coach.

A good scrum master/ agile coach will be highly sensitive to the influence they have and the subsequent (unofficial) accountability that comes with it. They will wield it with the utmost care and humility, but perhaps most importantly they will step forward and be accountable should things not turn out as planned. Even if a troubled team or individual chooses not to follow their advice, the coach will still ask themselves “what could I have done differently to help them succeed?”. This is servant leadership.

Summary

Officially, we are accountable for the acts of coaching and facilitating. We have full authority to decide when and how to conduct these actions. After all, it is one thing if success is not forthcoming despite our best efforts, it is entirely another if we are not doing our jobs.

We do not have any official authority over others, but our influence means that we can still affect outcomes (after all this is the whole point of our job as coaches). Subsequently, we must hold ourselves accountable for the results of our coaching/ facilitating. This requires a particular ethic, one that is self-aware, naturally cares about the success of others, and that is willing to shelve ego. One that puts skin in the game by taking accountability.

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An Agile Coach and dad who writes from time to time about his thoughts and experiences of work and life.

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Austin Mackesy-Buckley

Austin Mackesy-Buckley

An Agile Coach and dad who writes from time to time about his thoughts and experiences of work and life.

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