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When I think of the word ‘tinker,’ I picture the consummate grandpa figure out in his workshop domain with a single dangling light over a dusty, cluttered workbench, tinkering with some gadget.

Whether it’s cleaning a carburetor from an old lawn mower he picked up at the neighbor’s garage sale or repairing a garden hose that the dog just chewed, this master of a million dexterities bathes in the serenity of knowing that he plays a central role in keeping everything running and working.

Every Formula One driver needs an excellent pit crew. The pit crew is cross trained in all facets of automotive knowledge to be able to give the car (and the driver) exactly what it needs in the right timing of the race to keep that car running at optimum levels. Such it is with the agile coach and teams. They observe, listen, and then formulate a plan for a team that never is about major overhauls, but more in tinkering and tweaking a team’s mindsets and practices so they can run at optimum levels.

‘Tinker’ is also an archaic term for an itinerant tinsmith who mends household utensils. It’s not a far reach to equate this term to an agile coach, who is always looking for ways to build up a team’s inventory of agile utensils or tools to easily reach for in their toolbox.

Spot-coaching is a practice that every agile coach should master. When they identify an anti-pattern, they address it on the spot in real-time, so the anti-pattern doesn’t take root amongst the team. This might be a natural hesitation for an agile coach, and it may feel uncomfortable at first, because they never want to call someone out, create friction or be ‘that person’ who comes across as the agile police always trying to ‘fix’ the team so the metrics can look better for leadership. However, this is the wrong posture to take. Spot-coaching is all about your approach, your words, and your goal. It’s non-threatening and no spotlight is being cast upon any one individual.

Tinker-type words usually start out with something like, ‘Hey team, have you noticed yourselves falling back into old patterns of…’ or, ‘I’m seeing continual improvement in this area, but I’m wondering if there is even another gear we can kick into that can help us achieve…’ or, ‘What do you think are some better and more efficient ways of approaching this problem that we can take into the next circuit?’ 

Communicating that you are not watching to whip, but coaching to continuously learn and grow by observing, asking, and suggesting can really help a team feel like you’re all in this together. They know that you have their back, and they know that you are on their side.

When agile coaches are constantly working on their craft, especially in the art of the ‘tinker,’ – spot-coaching – there will always be a place for this kind of heartfelt and servant-like approach within the Hummingbird Delivery Ecosystem.

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