Effective Change – exploring Self-as-Instrument & coaching agreements

As an Agile Enterprise Coach, I have found that utilising the coaching agreement and developing my ability to apply self-as-instrument have been incredibly valuable when dealing with individuals, teams and organisations to successfully deliver sustainable change.  Both will be explored in this article.

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” ― Alan W Watts

This quote from Alan W Watts resonates with me at two levels:

  • As change is something you are constantly in and dancing with, how do you leverage self-as-instrument in supporting sustained growth and learning with teams and organisations?
  • Before we plunge in together, what needs to be in place? For me, this is the coaching agreement.


When entering an organisation and meeting your teams there is a lot of rich data that, as coaches, we all observe. The challenge is to know ourselves, our biases and assumptions and to keep this separate from the data we are observing.

My personal journey and development of Self-as-Instrument has been a game changer for how I coach teams whilst the dance is in progress as my interventions can be the most rewarding learning points for a team.

 How do we stay present and support the teams in their learning in the moment of the ‘dance’. When I started using The Facilitation Map as a process it gave me a way to stay grounded and be aware of what is going on within myself and between myself and the team in the here and now.

I also used the Facilitation map to help me with my own development goal of being more present with a team.

For my own journey as ‘self-as-instrument’ and utilising the Facilitation Map, I have focused on the following:

  • Tuning inwards to observe my own emotions and feelings
  • Being aware of my own biases, limitations and self-talk, such that I was able to put that aside and see the data for what it truly was
  • Observing what reactions are occurring in me that may be as a result of the system
  • Seeing the dance or patterns (verbal and non-verbal), sensing energy shifts, and listening for team metaphors
  • Focusing on the relationships within the team, as well as between the team with me as the coach in the dance
  • Stepping back from the dance to see the relationship I am having with the team. Do some of the team push back on what you say? Do some come to rescue you? Do they wait for your intervention or guidance ?
  • Applying tried and tested models and frameworks to help me cleanly analyse what the data and models are telling me
  • Knowing when to intervene and how to share my reactions and responses to the information to most beneficially aid the team’s awareness and growth

Finally, my aim is to share, mentor and build coaching competencies throughout the team so that as a team they can become self-sustainable without a coach.

Coaching Agreement

According to the International Coach Federation (ICF), establishing the coaching agreement is defined as:

“Understanding what is required in the specific coaching interaction and coming to an agreement with the prospective and new client about the coaching process and relationship.”

ICF sees the coaching agreement as a means to setting clear expectations about desired coaching outcomes, preferably with measurable evidence of success. 

As an Enterprise Agile Coach it is important to establish an effective Agile Coaching relationship with an organisation. For me the coaching agreement is a critical step to partner with the individuals, teams and organisations on the change journey. When we co-create the coaching agreement, we agree on the outcomes, strategy, environment and review dates to revisit the agreements. It becomes the map for change and the go to place when there is an issue or conflict to adjust the agreement.

In my experience there are two common pitfalls that coaches can make:

  • Coaching Agreements are non-existent, so the impact that the coaches’ work is not transparent and the team and management can doubt the value of the coaching. The coach is doing their best but sometimes not working on the highest value that the team or organisations desire.
  • The Coaching Agreement has an imbalance on the coaching process and relationship aspects; too often the focus is on meeting the next output, the overall outcome and too little focus is placed on the relationship. The Coaching Agreement must also incorporate how we work at our best, how can we build the team’s culture to thrive and also conflict resolution protocols addressing how the team will behave when things get difficult. If the imbalance continues it can show up as toxic behaviours of blame, contempt, stonewalling and defensiveness as well as negatively impacting mental wellbeing when the focus is on the process and not the individuals. 

I have found that the more time and effort I invest in proactively and authentically co-creating coaching agreements the stronger the relationship becomes as we are both aligned on expectations and the culture for us all to work at our best. Sourced from these learnings I have co-authored the Agile Coaching Agreement Canvas, which is open source and freely available under the open-source Creative Commons license. As authors, we wanted to produce a canvas for Enterprise and Agile coaches to use with their team and organisations. The Canvas can be used in the contracting stage with the team and organisation, prior to the inquiry / initial scoping stage which includes team and organisational assessments, and then reviewing and adjusting the Coaching agreements as and when further clarity is required. 

What is The Agile Coaching Agreement Canvas?

The Agile Coaching Agreements Canvas is to be used as an living canvas which is co-created to cover both the strategic and operational aspects of a coaching engagement.

The coaching agreement is a collaborative activity which is co-created and provides transparency for the individuals and teams being coached, the coach and the sponsor. The activity honours the principle: ‘ Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery’ Agile principle 1.

The Agile Coaching Agreements Canvas leverages Agile principles such as co-creation through collaboration, incremental change, transparency, fast feedback, and frequent inspect and adapt cycles. 

The canvas includes a visual work in progress board to transparently show what is the priority of work to be done, what is currently being worked on and what has been completed. The completed work can then be archived for reference across the duration of the engagement.

I’m confident that if you apply the principle of Self-as-Instrument and invest in co-created Coaching Agreements you and your teams will readily and rapidly see the benefits in delivering more effective and lasting change.


1. ‘The only way with change, is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.’ Alan W Watts

2. John Leary-Joyce, The Fertile Void: Gestalt Coaching at Work, AoEC Press, Chapter 9 (By Marion Gillie)

3. International Coaching Federation (ICF) –  https://www.coachingfederation.org.uk/credentialing/icf-core-competencies

4. Gottman 4 Horsman: https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism-contempt-defensiveness-and-stonewalling/

4. Agile Coaching Agreements Canvas  by Rickard Jones, Suzanne Doyle & John Barratt 2020 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Agile_Coaching_Agreement_Canvas.pdf

5. Agile Principles –  https://www.scrumalliance.org/resources/agile-manifesto

About Suzanne Doyle 2 Articles
Suzanne Doyle is an Enterprise Agile coach and a Systemic Team coach, with over 20 years’ experience gained across a broad range of clients in Financial Services. She has a passion and a dream to instil coaching capabilities into teams and organisations to enable them to own their journey of sustainable growth and learning. Suzanne has led many organisations’ Large Scale Transformations across Business and IT to achieve Agility. A valued coach, trainer, facilitator and advisor, Suzanne can create and enhance the internal expertise and executive leadership required to support large scale cultural and behavioural change. LinkedIn contact: https://www.linkedin.com/in/suzanne-doyle-pcc-cec-27a7434/

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