‘A pleasant work culture and a team that thrives always starts with yourself as a coach’

As a coach, how do you deal with a team that has been chasing from success to success for years and suddenly has to act without leadership? It’s a question Jamilon Mülders had to ask himself early this year after he was appointed national coach of the Dutch field hockey women. After the current coach stepped down following a culture report, Mülders was given the task of positively changing the working atmosphere within the team. The key to success? Creating an environment where, as a coach, you always start with yourself and communicate continuously – based on trust – with your team.

With all the changes, events and uncertainties of recent years, the true face of the Agile capability of organizations and teams is emerging. What works and what doesn’t? And what attitude must an Agile professional have today for team to thrive? We asked Jamilon Mülders and spoke to him about his take on “The True Face of Agile.

Start with yourself, then others

‘Regardless of what is going on in the world or what developments are taking place: people and mutual relationships are always central in an enjoyable work culture,’ Jamilon Mülders begins his story. ‘Building those mutual relationships and creating a pleasant culture always starts with yourself and never with others. Ask yourself – even before you start talking to your team – the question, ‘What can I do to ensure that my team will perform better?’ And not, ‘What does my team need to do to perform better?’

According to Mülders, developing team performance is inextricably linked to trust. ‘Not only in your team, but also in yourself as a coach,’ Mülders said. The former national coach of the Orange Ladies cites the philosophy of Ubuntu, which originated in the southern part of Africa. ‘Within the philosophy of Ubuntu, trust in each other is the most important core value,’ Mülders explained. ‘It freely translated means, ‘I am, because we are.’ In other words, as long as you, as a coach, have trust in everyone involved and are aware of everyone’s strengths, you are able to form a team. To create a nice working atmosphere in which everyone has room to perform as well as possible.’

Not the goal, but the interaction is important

That building trust takes time, according to Mülders, is a given. ‘And that is mainly due to the fact that people tend to think in black and white terms,’ he explains. ‘That’s why as a coach you have to adopt an Agile working attitude in which you are able to create a gray area in which people dare to be themselves and communicate with each other continuously. Check in with each other every morning and ask what the team needs to perform today. After all, it’s not about achieving the end goal in terms of profits or numbers, but about continuously answering the question, “How do we want to interact each day?

Answering that question hinges on a working attitude in which observing, listening, questioning and evaluating are important pillars, Mülders said. ‘Not only at the end, but also in between,’ he explains. ‘The development of performance simply depends on the guidance you provide as a coach, and so you can’t avoid accepting that you have to continuously observe, listen, ask questions and evaluate. Only then will you know what your team needs in the guidance you offer them as a coach.’

A people-centered approach anno 2022

According to Mülders, a human-centered approach anno 2022 is The True Face of Agile. ‘In a society where everything has to be fast and efficient and where developments alternate at a rapid pace, it is precisely important that we do not lose sight of each other and continue to seek the connection. As a coach, you can’t change society, but you can change the way you interact as a team. Be predictable, also show your lesser sides and take responsibility without taking yourself too seriously. And remember: wins belong to the team, defeats belong to the coach.’

An Agile work environment that pays attention to the ‘soft side’ is therefore crucial for teams to perform well, according to Mülders. He says: “You achieve this through a people-oriented approach in which trust and room for acceptance are the order of the day. Developing a successful team in which everyone has a voice depends on continuous communication in which each other’s strengths are utilized. Not by an approach in which numbers, profits and targets are the order of the day.’

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