Alexander has two Bachelor Degrees of “International Relations” and “Accounting” from the University of National and World Economy in Sofia (UNWE). He also completed an “International Business” Master Program in the University “Ramon Llull” in his beloved city – Barcelona, Spain.
Alexander starts his journey in the IT sector 12 years ago taking up the role of Project Manager. One of the most important requirements for the successful delivery of a project is the effective communication and close collaboration within the team. The specifics of working with people is a really important part of Alexander’s daily job. The achievements in challenging situations give him additional inspiration to take the next step in his career path – the one of the Agile Coach.
Alexander is working in the Schwarz IT Division focused in the development and maintenance of an innovative platform for the Lidl online shops. The teams there are working in an ”Agile” way following its mindset and core values. Agile brings modern practices for maximizing the delivery of business value and the results of the team itself. The main focus is on the quality, the adaptations to changes, trust in people, effective communication and active participation of the Business in the process.
Improving Team Collaboration
Alexander is currently working closely with two teams. His mission is to help improve the internal communication and the collaboration on team level, something especially challenging when having a mixture of characters and experience. Often some people are being more silent while others are taking the word in many situations. This may lead to missed opportunity to grab an idea raised by a quieter member of the team who was not able to express it. This is a good example of a situation where Alexander goes into the role of an Agile coach, facilitating the meeting in a way that is stimulating everybody to speak and most importantly – to be heard. The Agile mindset and way of working tolerates the establishment of safe environment, being a key to ensure high-performance of the team. Тhis provides a place where everybody is free to share an opinion, the conflicts are managed in a constructive way and people are not afraid to take risks because of a potential mistake. All those activities are mainly handled by the Agile Coach who may play different roles based on the needs of the specific situation – as a Mentor, Facilitator, Teacher, Coach, Problem Solver or Conflict Navigator. When the Agile mindset is being enabled, the conflicts within the team can be looked from a different angle and if facilitated in a good way they can bring some further positive results in the team collaboration.
Main Goal of the Agile Coach is to ensure that teams are efficient in delivering value and high-quality results which can bring the whole company one step forward. Achieving high level of self-organization and self-management in the team is a prerequisite for this constant strive to high-performance. In such environment, the team members do not rely on somebody showing them what to do but the other way around – they self-organize their work towards the product main goal where helping each other is something normal. In the teams Alexander works with, you cannot hear “This is not my responsibility” - everyone is there to support their colleagues in the first place. In order to reach such place of trust and mutual support Alexander is using variety of training exercises and techniques. One of them is changing the roles within a team. Being in the shoes of a colleague provides great personal experience resulting in better understanding of the difficulties that each role brings. Such kind of activities help Alexander establish empathy and safety environment to the team. This leads to quality in the delivery along with smooth and pleasant working process.
Professional growth of employees in the company
Apart from his activities on team level, Alexander plays a key role in the professional growth of the team members. He has the ability to bring out the best in people, depending of course on their personalities and qualities. In order to be efficient in this direction, he spends time to know each and every one of them, applying personal approach, empathy and support.
One of his colleagues, Teodora Petkova shares an interesting story for a vacant role in her team, very suitable for her, that was recently. However, she didn’t know how to act and express her willingness to take this new responsibility. Based on their joint work and his good knowledge of her personal and professional skills, Alexander contacts Teodora without knowing about her desire and asks her what she thinks about it. It happens that they both look in the same direction and this way Alexander suggests to assist and take over the whole communication going forward. As a result, on the same day, the role of Teodora has already been discussed with the responsible people. On the next team meeting, she has been proposed to take over the vacant role along with the responsibilities it brings. This is a good example how knowing his team members helps Alexander boost their professional growth, respectively their personal motivation.
Having talented but also motivated professionals is important ingredient in the company’s recipe for growth and story of success. Alexander understands this and helps his team members to increase their motivation, depending on the personal needs. Individual or collective Coaching sessions are being organized when needed. He creates opportunities to stimulate the team spirit and the collective work based on different initiatives created and realized on his own. Such an informal activity with big success is the series of online quizzes where many colleagues joined, having fun and exchanging knowledge.
“Agile” does not tolerate dependencies relying more on horizontal organizational structure rather than vertical one. Alexander coaches his teammates to minimize the interdependencies between them and even go further – become interchangeable so that everyone can help each other having equal responsibilities in the team. It is considered that an Agile Coach becomes less needed when the team reaches self-management level to handle on its own the impediments, dependencies and all kind of difficulties.
Taking central place in various corporate-wide initiatives, Alexander brings additional value to the company growth and development. He takes the role of the so called ‘Change agent’ during transformations (i.e. Agile Transformation; Product team Reorganization) and helps with general processes improvement.
Alexander is part of the Agile Academy in the company. He is organizing different types of workshops, teaching the employees to techniques and elements of the Agile methodologies – Scrum, Kanban, XP and others. He is also conducting trainings for improving different sets of soft skills, helping with the initial set-up and formation of teams and realizing workshops related to Company Culture and Values definition.
The better an Agile Coach is, the more successful the company he works in is
Alexander strives to improve his work and professional qualities on a daily basis, understanding the importance of his role in the company. He is aware that becoming better and better as an Agile Coach can help him have an influence upon the development of people, teams and the company itself. Alexander is constantly looking for improvement, experimenting with innovative techniques. He is increasingly using the Gamification concept is his trainings. Implementing the Game element in various forms in the working process and trainings helps Alexander not only raise the mood and team spirit but also facilitate the learning path of his colleagues. This is also key for the good results and success of Schwarz IT Bulgaria.
Alexander actively participates in local and international meet-ups of the Agile community, something important to be on track with the latest trends in the area. He is regularly attending the so called Agile Coach Camps – several-day events where Agile Coaches all over the world meet to exchange knowledge and expertise. Usually the number of attendees is not more than 50 people. The meet-up takes place in different countries having the location preferably in the mountains. Those conditions contribute to building and developing a cohesive community, getting to know each other better, dedicated in full to the Agile topic.
During one of the events Alexander gets acquainted with interesting technique that has adapted and used with his teams as well – the Silent Retrospective. All 40-50 people needed to self-organize and reach the final goal of the exercise without talking but only using gestures, writing and drawing on sticky notes or sheets of paper. This is a way to remind that talking is not the only communication channel and often not the most optimal one. This teaches the Agile Coaches how important is their role to ensure equal participation not allowing people that talk more take dominance in the communication.
What the team shares about Alexander Tzonkov
Apart from the sincere gratitude for his contribution and nice words received from his colleagues in Bulgaria, Alexander is often praised by the Schwarz IT team, located in the headquarters in Germany. Tanuj Jaitly shares: “In the words of the famous American basketball coach John Wooden, “A coach is someone who can give correction without resentment”. And I couldn’t agree more on this. According to me a successful coach is one who is supportive, motivating, self-aware about his/her surroundings, active listener and most importantly who is unbiased and non-judgmental. This is exactly who Alexander is.”
Oliver Mokhlis, Product Owner of one of his teams: “Alexander motivates me mainly through his open and natural way, he is always a contact person also beyond the normal subject areas. Thinks along with me and can always point out solutions and alternatives. In some respects, it is not only motivating to work with him, but also extremely reassuring to have him as a colleague.”