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Practice Makes Perfect: The Benefits Of Training For Your Profession Like An Elite Athlete


atypical situations

As an agile coach, I know the importance of preparing for the unexpected.

Athletes often practice for uncommon plays. The once-in-a-season opportunities that rarely happen, but are best to be prepared for when they do. 

In football, for example, a team might encounter the need for a Hail Mary, a long forward pass usually made in desperation at the end of the fourth quarter. With only a small chance of success, a team practices this type of pass because it can result in a very high-impact moment. 

If successful, the team gains an unforgettable win. 

As an agile coach, I know the importance of preparing for the unexpected. Being able to manage unusual client scenarios is what sets a good coach apart from a great one.

After all, if your goal is to help others be agile, you must be agile, too.

Work through situations you’ve never experienced before.

How you approach a job will be different for every coach. No two coaching situations are the same, and therefore experiences will vary from assignment to assignment. In order to be professional in any situation, preparation is a key component. 

For example, you might be working with someone who doesn’t listen. You may encounter a colleague who walks away from you when they are angry. Or you could end up working with someone who is unable to give up control. 

As a Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC) and founder of Heart Healthy Scrum, it’s my job to think outside the box and find ways to help the organization achieve its goals. Part of that means I also prepare myself the same way.

Agile coaches need to intentionally set up, or think their way through, atypical situations. It could take 10 years to see a certain scenario, and if you haven’t thought about it ahead of time, then you haven’t trained for how to handle it.

Here are two ways you can practice responding to atypical situations:

Plan how you’ll respond before the need arises.

You can prepare for the unexpected by creating potential atypical scenarios, then practice responding to, or handling, those situations with a colleague or friend.

While negotiating a contract extension I had someone physically walk away from me before we could finish our conversation. At the time, I wasn’t sure how to move forward. It was an atypical scenario and one I was completely unprepared to deal with. 

The client and I didn’t speak again, and the job ended. 

Had I anticipated such an interaction, I could have approached the exchange differently. Rather than shutting down, I could have communicated more effectively. My response could have been something like, “I can see that you’re getting angry. Can we take a one-hour break and come back to the discussion?”

If I had operated from a place of empathy, we may have continued our dialogue and moved forward with the assignment. 

See problems before they happen.

By working through potential pitfalls you can also identify ways to communicate foreseeable problems before the need arises.

Another example of an atypical experience I’ve encountered occurred while talking with a new client. Verbally, we agreed on two major deal points, but when I received the offer letter those items were removed. The document had been greatly modified in their favor with no clear benefit for me. 

I asked the client what my compensation would be given the changes. When they couldn’t provide me with a satisfactory answer, I suggested ideas like more vacation time and flexible working hours. Their response was “no.” 

In the end, I had to walk away, and that was a very atypical situation for me. What do you do when you’re talking to a client and the contract is changed completely? You have to think, “How can I prepare myself?”

Both of these examples help you plan how you’ll respond before the need arises. Doing so means you always see the “big picture” while operating from a wiser, more mature perspective.

Preparing for atypical situations helps you stay connected.

The key benefit of preparing for atypical situations is the ability to stay connected—with team members, staff, organization leaders, and your goals. 

By practicing these potential fallouts ahead of time you’re able to see the positive impact it can have on future transactions, from a signed contract extension to a beneficial agreement with a new client. It allows you to operate with a foundation of safety and trust.

When you don’t prepare, both you and your client can miss out on personal and professional opportunities. Some will cost you time. Others will cost you money. And still more can cost you a future referral. 

That’s why, as a professional, the more unusual situations you can put into your toolbox, the better. It’s all about having the Hail Mary when you need it.

If this topic resonated and you’d like to talk about it together on your podcast, let me know. You can also connect with me on Linkedin to read my latest articles!

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Co-founder, We help people learn agile more effectively and at a lower cost. Previously VP of Corporate Strategy at Softricity (acquired by Microsoft in 2006) and co-founder of Inquira (acquired by Oracle in 2011).

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