An Interview with Rafael Ribeiro

Earlier this month I had the chance to catch up with our friend and AWA Coach Trainer, Rafa Ribeiro who is based in Lisbon, Portugal. We got chatting about all things agile and coaching and why Rafa chose the professional coaching path after working as a Software Developer for over a decade.

Hi Rafa – tell me who you are what you like to do?

Hello Charley, my name is Rafael Ribeiro, I work as an Agile Coach and Professional Transformational Coach. My main hobbies are surfing, photography, and philosophy. My family time is spent with my wife Filipa, my daughter Luana and my dog Zappa.

Rafael Ribeiro – AWA Coach Trainer

The agile community in Portugal seems to be thriving with lots of different communities and events going on. What do you feel are the common challenges facing agile teams in Portugal at the moment?

It’s amazing, right? Last year we ran the first ever ICAgile accredited course in Portugal focused on Agile Coaching.. Fast forward to this year and there are four different courses on the same topic, at least two conferences dedicated to Agile, new training and workshop offers (ICAgile Agile Team Facilitator included), Web Summit (again), and much more.

Although Agile has almost become the defacto for software development and has started to gain traction in areas outside of IT, there is a big gap between Agile Doing and Agile Being, and the fact we need both. Michael Sahota talks about the Second Wave of Agile, and I believe we are still paddling to catch it.

Common challenges facing teams in Portugal at the moment are:

  1. Many of them are still aiming at Agile, rather than aiming for better business results. It’s much harder to gain support from the rest of the organization when the teams focus more on the way of working than on the actual impact they provide;
  2. “Agile” projects with a fixed budget, scope and time… yep, we are still there;
  3. Leadership isn’t aware that to get different results they need to promote different environments that promote different behaviours.

What tools or techniques do you use to help you overcome similar challenges?

I confess that I’m still learning how to cope with those challenges myself. I try to avoid what I call the “Chessmaster Agile Coach” approach, moving people like they were pawns around the Agile game plan. Like Georg Fasching beautifully puts: “Agile Coaching is not about pushing change, is about inviting improvement”.

Software Development education in Portugal has its roots in Engineering, we sometimes refer to it as Software Engineering or that: “I’m a Software Engineer”. It’s only natural that traditional methodologies and concepts are ingrained in our way of working. I try to respect that fact, and only reflect the reality of what I see:

It is not that uncommon to have conversations like this:

  • “Your development process has 27 steps, 17 of those are hand-offs to other teams. What is your opinion about this?”.
  • “During the last Sprint, the user story X changed 12 times mid-sprint, what does this tell you?”,
  • “You said you want people to be more autonomous and make better decisions. During the last team planning meeting, only you had a voice. What does this mean?”.

Most of the times, just showing what reality looks like is enough to trigger introspection, change, and improvement. If we evangelise or punish those who disagree with us, we present no better behaviours than the ones we try to shield our teams from.

How did you first come to learn about Coaching?

After 11 years in IT and starting my own company, I realised I lacked real theoretical knowledge on how to deal with other Humans. I took a sabbatical for two years and did a Post-Grad on “Art Therapy for Human and Group Development”. It was eye-opening to say the least, transforming my view on Software Development and how to interact with people.
I then started to focus more on the “Peopleware” of IT,  leading me to stumble on the great book by Lyssa Adkins: Coaching Agile Teams, which introduced me to ICAgile.

I was looking for providers of the Enterprise Agile Coach course when I came to know AWA, with whom I did the ICP-ENT and ICP-CAT training, and realised that Professional Coaching skills are crucial for any kind of mindset and ways of working shift. Soon after I did a Professional Transformational Coaching certification, and have been practising with individuals and teams ever since.

What can you tell me about the impact that coaching has had on the teams you work with?

As a Professional Coach, you believe that the Coachee has all the answers for all the challenges he may be facing. It made me realize that to promote learning and development, I needed to get the heck out of the way. I needed to shut up and let people think and talk for themselves. If I come up with the answers the only one really learning is me. Focusing on creating an environment that supports learning, rather than me focusing on finding solutions, resulting in more autonomy, ownership, sustainable improvement, and growth.

I know that you have been studying professional coaching using the Enneagram. For those of our readers who don’t know what the enneagram is, can you briefly describe this and say why chose this particular qualification?

Overly simplifying, the Enneagram is a map of nine Personality Types.

Contrary to other personality assessments, which tend to focus on characteristics that are context-based or that can change during one’s lifetime, the Enneagram focuses on our root motivation, formed during our early stages of development, governing our safety or stress responses and defining what we perceive as the conditions to be accepted, respected or loved.

I chose this qualification because it’s a whole philosophy and mindset. It believes that the coaching process should be customised to the Coachee’s Personality Type and gave me the foundation to understand myself and people better.

Quite often, after I do the Personality Assessment, the Coachee says: “Wow, now all the decisions I made in my life make sense!”. I love to be a part of this empowerment process.

Can you tell me one thing you learnt this year that really made a positive difference to the work you are doing?

One??? Every day I’m still learning, heheh! If I need to choose, it would be:
The motivational aspects of each Personality Type of the Enneagram, how everything makes sense after truly understanding the root motivation that leads someone to behave in a particular way.

You recently became an ICAgile Authorized Instructor for our Agile Coaching course. What was the experience like for you and what are the next installments?

It was freaking HARD! Well… challenging to say the least. The course itself is a gem,  it’s packed full with life-changing content (and I mean literally, this is the most common feedback we get). I co-facilitated several editions before I could think of becoming accredited and spent over five months working with the AWA team revising the content for the new 4.0 version.

Nevertheless, it was such a great ride, met amazing people, learned tons and felt like I had an impact for the good. The course provides real-world expertise, practice, and tools on how to deal with the everyday challenges of working in Teams, handling resistance, conflicts, teams setup/kick-off/evolutions and working with leadership. Not only that, but how AWAsome it is for you to be able to train people on becoming better listeners, more empathic, accepting others difference and mindset. As for the future, new courses will for sure appear, not only here in Portugal but elsewhere too. Let’s see what the future holds 😉

Join Rafa and the rest of the AWA Coach Trainer Faculty on one of our future Agile Team Coach training courses in UK, Europe and the USA.