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Draft Published of the Code of Ethical Conduct for Agile Coaching

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The Agile Coaching Ethics Initiative has published a draft code of ethics that aims to raise the standards around agile coaching. It runs under the auspices of the Agile Alliance to independently represent the wider agile community.

The January 2021 draft of Code of Ethical Conduct consists of 18 points covering 9 subject areas:

  • Confidentiality and information security
  • Acting within your ability
  • Introspection and continuing professional development
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Social responsibility, including diversity and inclusion
  • Ensuring the relationship is valuable for both coach and the client
  • Agreeing on boundaries
  • Abuse of power
  • Responsibility to the profession

The Ethics Scenarios provide guidance on how the code relates to common challenges experienced by agile coaches, whether they are experienced or new to the role.

The expectation is that anyone taking on agile coaching at any level in an organisation will be able to use this code to help guide their behavior when faced with ethical dilemmas.

For questions and feedback on the code of ethics and the related agile scenarios, you can contact the initiative team at AgileCoachingEthics@agilealliance.org.

InfoQ interviewed Craig Smith and Shane Hastie about the code of ethical conduct.

InfoQ: How was the current draft created?

Shane Hastie: The process of coming up with the draft has been fascinating. We have a very diverse volunteer team of over 30 people who have all brought their own experiences and background to the work. We started by examining existing codes of ethics which are out there to draw inspiration from. We then identified the specific areas we felt needed to be addressed and had collaborative conversations in which we debated and discussed the wording for each point.

When considering the topics to be included in the code, we came up with the following guidelines:

  • To be an ethical consideration, a topic needs to be something that someone can do as soon as they sign up to the code. As a new agile coach I can read the statement and apply this immediately in practicing my profession
  • In order to be an ethical consideration, it must be something where there is broad agreement that it risks causing harm to myself, the profession or others if I do not abide by the statement
  • These points must be applicable to people who are internal agile coaches, external agile coaches and those practicing agile coaching as part of another role (for example, a manager in an organisation who is expected to also be an agile coach; likewise, someone in the role of Scrum Master is often taking on some or all aspects of agile coaching)

With these guidelines and by taking input from as many viewpoints as possible, we were able to come up with the 18 statements that we feel embody ethical agile coaching.

Craig Smith: The purpose of the Ethics Scenarios document is to provide an evolving set of scenarios that people doing agile coaching may find themselves facing. With the scenarios we wanted to make clear the ethical challenge faced, how the code of ethical conduct can be applied to the scenario, and why the advice was given.

The guidelines we came up with for the ethics scenarios are:

  • The scenario must be applicable to people who are internal agile coaches, external agile coaches and those practicing agile coaching as part of another role (for example a manager in an organisation who is expected to also be an agile coach; likewise, someone in the role of Scrum Master is often taking on some or all aspects of agile coaching).
  • The scenarios are intended to provide guidance for people undertaking agile coaching activities, working with individuals, teams and organisations to guide the types of behaviours, advice, and approaches expected of them.
  • Do the scenarios challenge fundamental agile values and principles - such as focus, courage, respect, commitment, openness, transparency, inspect and adaptation - or values and principles of the agile manifesto? If yes - include it! As agile coaches and our clients and organisations work towards agility, the agile values are our ethical compass as well.
  • Does the scenario "divide and engage" the contributors, so that we end up in a long, complex, diverse discussion? If yes - include it! We grow through challenge and through dialogue and help others grow by considering "challenging" situations.
  • Does the scenario "relate" to our global readers in the agile community? Are these scenarios common and frequently faced in global and diverse cultural contexts/regions/company contexts? If yes, include them.
  • Do we have some scenarios which may have a massive impact (high risk, high impact) on the reputation of the agile industry and our clients’ reputation (organizational and personal)? If yes, include them. We could help prevent black swan events with good personal ethics and governance.

Not surprisingly, the clearly ethical and unethical scenarios were fairly easy to craft; the ones that were really hard are what we called the "grey areas" - situations where the context in which the activity is happening has a significant impact on the ethical impact of the decisions which are made. These were hotly debated and we hope the pointers included in the scenarios will help practitioners make the best decision given the situations they find themselves in.

InfoQ: What responsibility do coaches have towards the coaching profession?

Smith: Anyone who embraces the Code of Ethics strives to act ethically, even when doing so involves making difficult decisions. This Code will help support you when these difficult decisions need to be made, and you can provide it as support for your decisions to your clients. It supports you in communicating about your actions.

Hastie: One of the points we made when exploring the responsibility to the profession area is how behaving ethically requires actively calling out unethical actions and not condoning them through silence. The statements included in the code are:

I will uphold the reputation of the agile coaching profession.

I won’t condone and will challenge unethical behaviour in other Agile Coaches.

I will attribute others’ ideas appropriately and avoid the appearance they are mine.

InfoQ: How can agile coaches ensure that they are not acting outside their ability?

Hastie: This is all about self-awareness and ensuring you work in a community; point no. 4 in the code of ethical conduct is about being mindful of your own biases and seeking guidance from others:

I will engage in introspection and I will engage with a peer group or mentor to explore

ethical and other challenges in my agile coaching work.

InfoQ: Coaches are usually hired to help organizations change. What can coaches do to prevent conflicts of interest happening during their interventions?

Hastie: The statements around conflict of interest are:

I will be transparent about any potential conflicts of interest with all who might be affected and I won’t act with dishonor.

I will withdraw from the relationship if a conflict cannot be adequately managed.

Conflict of interest is going to happen. The key is making any potential conflict visible and transparent, and working with all stakeholders in the coaching engagement to ensure that any conflict is acknowledged and the risks stemming from the conflict are managed. If the conflict is unable to be effectively managed/mitigated, then the practitioner should remove themselves from the engagement.

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