Architecture, Leadership, and Coaching

I had an interesting conversation with a personal friend the other day, and thought I it related well to some leadership issues in the practice of enterprise architecture…

My friend and I were watching our kids (all under 8) skate around his backyard ice rink. Our kids also play organized hockey (disclosure: I coach two of their teams) – for those who do not live in a hockey state or country, ice hockey is a notoriously over-coached sport with extremely high performance expectations at a young age. But we were commenting that this is where they really develop skills and have funpick-up pond hockey with their friends. Our kids play for hours on end like this – skating hard, organizing their own teams, setting their own rules and we hardly ever have to intervene (indeed, usually only do so when asked).

We also talked about competition in youth sports. My friend coaches youth baseball in the summer with many of the same kids, and lamented the fact that the kids were extremely competitive with each other within the team – to an extreme that was not constructive. Some kids who saw others get hits would feel more disappointed about their own performance – as if the performance of others somehow diminished their own. He struggled with how to coach them through that experience, and encourage a more positive atmosphere.

Here is where he blew me away – my friend is the classic traditional and natural athlete. He played high school baseball, football, and hockey and played division 3 hockey in college. But his comment at this point was that he wanted to create more of a skateboarding culture on his baseball team!! (disclosure: I grew up a hardcore skateboarder) He felt that skateboarding and other extreme sports create a more supportive atmosphere amongst competitors, where kids encourage and inspire each other to perform at higher levels, and just plain have more fun.

He ran this thought by our elementary school gym teacher, who commented that the reason is because there are far fewer coaches and parents involved in skateboarding – the kids organize the activity. When left to their own devices, kids are inclined to have fun and be their own motivators. I challenged my own stereotypes – these were two people I never expected to hear lauding skateboarding culture! But I was pleased, and I agree with them wholeheartedly.

The Agile methodology has the concept of an Agile coach on teams. It’s a thoughtful concept, but coaches can be constructive or destructive. The Agile coach is a well-intended idea to replace the traditional technical lead, who usually becomes a decision-making bottleneck, with someone who guides and inspires the team. But the team is empowered to make its own decisions and be self-organizing. Good coaches are extremely aware of the game, but don’t need to control every move. Good projects should play out like pond hockey – teams are self motivating and invite oversight rather than struggle to perform under its weight.

Do you have a skateboarding culture in your organization? Or are there too many parents and coaches involved?

Does your performance inspire and encourage the performance of your peers? And do you feel inspired and encouraged by the performance of your peers?


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