Last updated on | Agile

10 Lessons learned by a Scrum Coach that you should know

by Luís Gonçalves
Scrum Coach


Hi guys, this week I want to share some of the lessons that I got from being a Scrum Coach.During last weeks I had an opportunity to do a personal retrospective about my own learnings and I must admit the last years were productive in failures for me.

To be honest some time ago in my life I would have had a difficult time in dealing with this. Now I see it in a different way, I am happy that I had the opportunity to be able to learn so much. I usually say FAIL is the First Attempt In Learning.

The quote from Stephen McCranie captures my feelings.

“The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.”

I know that writing my lessons here will not make a big difference for others. I believe that people must do their own mistakes in order to learn, but if they are aware of possible problems, they can tackle future situations in a better way. This is the reason why I want to share my learnings: to help you succeed better than I did.

Always explain how the change will benefit THEM not YOU

Many Scrum Masters and Scrum Coaches out there try to implement scrum, kanban or lean software development, but it´s quite common to see they forget people who are involved. They are already so convinced by the agile movement they want to jump directly to the implementation; often without explaining who will be affected by the change.

I saw many Scrum Masters trying to implement some parts of the Scrum methodology without explaining the reason behind it and how this would make their job easier. This is a crucial mistake that I saw several times in my life. Or another variant, they try to implement something that will make their own life easier. You can easily imagine this will not have a great outcome.

This blog is dedicated to Agile, therefore, I am applying it to Agile. However, my point is valid for any industry:

When you try to change something, make sure that you explain how the change will benefit the OTHERS and how THEIR life will be easier.

Focus on them not on you!

Do not try creating a team with people who do not share the same goal

I had the opportunity to work with a brilliant group of Scrum Masters but somehow we never worked as a team. Despite trying to work as a team for several months (we had team buildings, workshops, retrospectives, etc. that any team has), but we were never able to create a team out of this group.

The constellation of this group is super common to many other companies that I saw out there, but honestly, I was never in such a position like this one. When I joined the company there was a group called Agile Center where all the Scrum Masters reported to the head.

I joined the company to substitute the previous head, but one of the things I suggested to the CTO was to shut down the group and make the Scrum Masters reporting to the heads of Software Development. My job as an Scrum Coach would be to work with all Scrum Masters without line management responsibilities so that I could use my time to focus on improving the organisation.

I tried to bring this group together to form a great team that would solve any organisation impediment, but after several months of failure (failing in building a team) I stopped and I realised something that I preach in every High Performing Team workshop was not there – a common goal! Every one of us had a different goal.

Me as an Scrum Coach expected to see every single Scrum Master collaborating with each other and come up with ideas to solve the organisational problems, but I forgot something very important… The Scrum Masters are not evaluated by the number of impediments that are solved, or how good they collaborate with all the other Scrum Masters, They´re evaluated by how well their teams are performing.

Looking back it was evident their priority was their own team, relegating everything else to a second plan. Right now this is clear to me, but when I was in the middle of the frustration nothing like this popped up in my head. So next time that you try to build a team:

Make sure that every team member has the same goal.

Create a team of Agile Managers to implement the change

I have been doing Scrum Coaching for several years so I should know what I can do and what I cannot, but instead, I always think that I am a superman and I can do everything. In my previous company I was hired with a status that I I would solve all the problems when I join the company. I admit it the status felt very good, but as you can imagine by now, I was not able to change almost anything. I did a lot of cool stuff but not something that will allow me to be remembered in the company.

I thought that I knew a lot and I could solve everything by myself together with all the Scrum Masters. I thought that would be enough to make the change. Unfortunately, I did not realise how important Agile Managers are to the success of organisational change.

The 8-Step Process for Leading Change from Kotter, is a very clear process explaining what needs to be done in order to create change. Sadly, I failed right on the second step: “Build a Guiding Coalition“. Unfortunately, I did not build a guiding coalition and I ended up alone by myself together with the Scrum Masters trying to change the whole organisation. We did some changes but not enough compared with the potential that could have been achieved.

Build a Guiding Coalition

More I push more the systems pushes back

How many of you , at least once, had that strange feeling that harder you push harder the system pushes back? Most of us do not even realise what the problem is, we just have that strange feeling that we are not going anywhere, or worse: things get worse harder we push.

Some years ago I read the book V Discipline from Peter Senge. Maybe at that time I did not have the maturity that I have today, so many things that I learned were not understood like they were supposed; especially the part of causal loop diagrams. This is year I decided to re-read the book and ask for help to a colleague. This colleague is very good with Causal loop Diagrams, so I asked him if he could provide a workshop to all Scrum Masters and myself so that we could understand a bit more about the topic.

What I learned was quite enlightening, I finally understood why the system pushes back when I push more. I learned how my actions affect the whole system and how the system fights back to my own actions. Everything what we do have a action-reaction factor and we need to learn about the system in order to understand how can we produce results.

To understand more what´s going on in your organisation, you must learn more about system thinking.

Causal Loop Diagram Workshop is a great way to understand system thinking

My job as a Scrum Coach is to help people, not Organisations

For me, this was one of my biggest lessons. It was a very important learning that I shared on my blog. You can click here to read more about it.

“I am in the business of helping others to become better, to find the small things they are proud of and multiply it by 10X”

Learn how to identify people´s agendas

Unfortunately, political crap is something that is part of our daily business. Even more unfortunate is the fact that not everyone in the company is worried about the success of the company. In my honest opinion, most of the people are more worried about their own career and development than with the entity that pays them the salary.

During my entire career I´ve witnessed so much crap related to political interests and nothing related to the interest of helping the company to succeed and grow. Why am I mentioning this? Well, the answer is very simple. You as an Scrum Coach must be aware of people´s agenda in order to succeed in your success as Scrum Coach.

Never ever assume that people are like you and their main goal is to make the company a better place. If you think like that you are a very naive person :). In order to succeed try to identify what is the true agenda of the people who work with you. After identifying their agenda, do things that will bring them benefits. If you are able to do it your chances of succeeding are much higher than if you assumed their interest is to make the company the best place to work for. The golden rule:

“Look at their actions, not at their words”

Get yourself surrounded by the influencers

We have this idea that power is within the management, but honestly, I really do not believe it. I believe the power is within the leaders and in our organisations it is very common that the management and leaders are not part of the same entity. Many sources have written on this topic, but I want to share a cool info-graphic about the comparison of Boss Vs Leader.

I Cannot Find The Source Of This InfoGraphic If You Know Who Produced It Please Let Me Know

During the last year, I had the opportunity to pair with some influential people in the organisation on a team level. This people do not need to be tech leads, engineer managers or heads of product. They can be pure developers who are highly respected within the organisation, or Product Owners who have a lot of knowledge and everyone follows their ideas and suggestions.

When I started to pair with these people I began to see massive changes… Tips I was giving to them were being spread with the velocity of light – simple practices and simple ideas were spread all over the company in few days. Some of them would take me months to implement if I would have followed the normal hierarchical way. So my lesson for you:

Get Yourself surrounded by the influencers to get changes spread fast

Never ever forget to pay attention to developers

For me, this learning is a continuation of the previous lesson. Several years ago I learned a valuable lesson: “Make sure that you have developers ALWAYS on your side”.

Some years have passed since that moment, and now I can honestly say that I was able to keep my job because I had the support from developers. Scrum Coaching is not an easy job and you spend more time playing politics than doing actual work. It´s very easy to get into political fights where developers are a huge ally.

I decided to pay more attention to the development teams and not so much to the organisation. I decided to look for “influencers” and this has paid well. Many cool things are happening on team levels and many great changes are popping up in the organisation. My lesson:

Always Support and Help the Developers to do a good job and they will make your life as an Scrum Coach much easier

If you want to share some concerns about a person make sure that you do it on 1:1

What I am going to share now might be so basic that you might think why someone can be so stupid in doing this mistake. But I can tell you I did it :). Even if this is basics, make sure you don´t do the same mistake I did.

Some time ago I needed to have a difficult conversation with a colleague (not even my direct report). That conversation happened while I was coaching the Scrum Master. As I did not want leave him out of the conversation I grabbed both my colleague and Scrum Master to other room to have the conversation together. At that moment I did not realise how stupid idea that was, but I realised it later.

I started talking with my colleague in a very positive way but the conversation turned out into an accusation session. When I was in the middle of the chat I did not realise the obvious and I did not know what to do to turn the conversation into a positive and productive direction.

Since I have a great relationship with that person, I asked the Scrum Master to leave the room so I could talk with him in privacy. This was strange, but the tone of the conversation changed immediately. He started to understand what I wanted to share. He was even eager to listen and receive the feedback that I had for him.

In the beginning I did not understand what caused the change in that conversation, so I asked him what was the problem when the Scrum Master was present in the room. He clearly told me: “I felt completely threatened, I felt that both of you were here to attack me so I did not even bother to listen to you. My priority was defending myself”. I immediately realised how stupid I was and I was questioning myself why I did not realise it before. So my lesson for you:

If you need to provide feedback to someone do it in privacy, ALWAYS on 1:1

Negative Feedback is useless

My last lesson has a connection to the previous experience… Some of you know that I am writing a book about Performance Appraisals, to find out more about it click here. I spent months doing research for this book, this includes a lot of study on the “feedback” topic.

I should know by now that people cannot manage negative feedback. Yet we always try giving feedback when something does not go as we expect. Wouldn´t it be so much better to focus on the positive things instead of the negative? Dave Carnegie in his book “How to win friends and influence people”  is very clear: Praise people for what they do well and you will be surprised with the outcome.

We as coaches, managers or leaders, we always think that we are better than others in providing negative feedback. But we are not, because it is out of our control. Receiving negative feedback triggers a reaction in our brain that launches our body into an alert mode. We are not able to hear anything anymore because we focus on the threat.

It is comparable to primitive cavemen; when they saw a tiger they were super focused on the tiger, nothing was more important (at that moment)  than the tiger. Coming back to our days, it´s exactly the same! When we provide feedback to people, the brain will react to it and will send the body into the alert mode.

In my case, I apparently told my colleague that he was doing a brilliant job “but”… The “BUT” word 🙂 :). This was enough for him to filter the “excellent job” part. He told me several times that I say how shitty job he is doing. This was a great reminder for me to never focus on the negative feedback but on the positive.

What can we do better next time?

I believe we can start the conversation with the following example: “I observed this and that, could you please help me to get the whole picture?”

After we can continue with something like: “That is nice, but tell me how can we produce the result 10x more than you want?” This is something super simple, but it´s just a lesson that I want to share:

Never Ever Offer Negative Feedback

These were the lessons that I got from my last years. What were your lessons?

Leave a comment here.



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Luís Gonçalves

About Luís Gonçalves

Luis Gonçalves is an Entrepreneur, Author & International Keynote Speaker that works exclusively with Senior Executives of 7 to 8 figure businesses on the deployment of his game changing ‘Organisational Mastery’ Methodology.


Share your point of view

  1. Wowow – what a great learning opportunity you created for me with your amazingly well done post. I share all of your learnings! Had many of them – surprisingly roughly during the same time – e.g. the common goal for a team – the same applies to our agile team … we now have one and it makes a real difference.

    Regarding the negative feedback – I guess we still need a way to express a wish for change if something is done in a bad way. I guess the solution focussed coaching and nicely formed questions could be a way to go – what do you think?

    Well done Luis – thanks for sharing your insights!

  2. Excellent post Luis!

    Please don’t say that sharing these lessons won’t make a big difference for others. At the very least, just relating to the issues some or all of which we may have similarly experienced in our professional life is a huge MOTIVATION! 🙂

    It reiterates my belief that I m not the only one out there suffering from “bad” management practices or lack of leadership at the organizations I have to deal with.

    Good luck for 2016!

  3. Great post Luis!

    I see that you really did an amazing analysis. I really enjoyed the sentence with a master who has failed several times whereas the beginner even didn’t try. That’s yet another thing that should encourage people to “just give a try” and learn out of that.

    I agree that negative feedback is not a good one. I think this is the most difficult thing for me as a manager. One can try different things but it’s not easy, especially for people who are not willing to work properly. It’s not an often case, but such people happen (maybe because recruitment process has failed, maybe they are great actors).

    Thanks a lot for that great post!

  4. yo Luis 🙂
    Great post…I really like the form of confession ! You are right…we learn all the time, especially from failures and most likely our failures 🙂
    Regarding negative feedback: What I’ve observe that a lot of poeple don’t use feedback in general…people judge a lot, espetially in negative way: “you fu***ed up something” etc. I’ve very rarely heard that people use proper form of feedback…that means for me 3 things: sticking to facts, expressing feelings about the facts and your expectations. Personally I got “true” negative (I prefer use word: constructive ) feedback few times and in most cases it was very motivating and inspiring for me. … but you are right that too much negative feedback isn’t helpfull for longer period of time 😉 I’ve heard about “health” proportions of feedback 4:1 (4 of positive on 1 of constructive/negative)

    Stay positive,
    Piotr 🙂

  5. Great post. It helped me a lot to focus. Especially to focus on people not organizations and the learning about surrounding yourself with the influencers are valuable to me.

  6. Just came across your post and it exactly describes also my environment. Thanks for this. Right now this is all about digital transformatiom. But finally it is about driving change. Did you gain any further learnings and insights since the original posting date?

    Thx Martin

  7. Really nice post, the only things I don’t Like was the sentence “lesson For you” estetically I dont Like them

  8. I came here to read this article, but I found the whole site amazing. We are developing similar porduct in Russia and I glad our values and approaches are pretty similar. It means for me that we are going in the right direction. Thank you. Subscribed.