The Scrum Master as a Coach

An effective Scrum Master coaches the Development Team, the Product Owner, and the organization to bring out the best in them. Coaching skill is one of the essential skills for a Scrum Master.

Coaching along with Facilitation and Teaching skills enable the Scrum Master to effectively perform their role.

A coach helps in unleashing a person’s or a team’s latent potential. This helps to maximize performance with the same level of effort being put in. A coach helps the team find their own answers rather than giving them the answers. It's about helping people to learn rather than teaching them.

A coach asks them powerful questions, challenges their thinking, helps them bring clarity to their thoughts and holds people accountable to take action towards their desired future.

The Scrum Master as a coach helps the Scrum Team as well as the organization, adopt Scrum to enhance enterprise agility.

Jump to Topics Below:

What is Coaching | How Coaching Works | 7 Must have Skills for a Scrum Master to be a CoachWhy does a Scrum Master act as a Coach? | PLEASE - Scrum Master's Coaching Model | SCARF - Neuroscience based Coaching Model | Who does the Scrum Master Coach | Role and Responsibilities of a Scrum Master as a Coach | What type of a Coach is the Scrum Master | Difference between a Scrum Master and a Scrum Coach

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a collaborative intervention used by a coach to help their coachee(s) to improve and move forward towards a better behavior and goals. Different than mentoring, counseling and educating, coaching doesn't require the coach to have the answers or be a subject matter expert. The coach creates a structure and a safe environment where the coachee can be open and vulnerable to experiment and eventually grow.

How Coaching Works?

During the coaching, the Coach helps the coachee to clarify the challenge they want to address. Staying neutral, the coach holds the structure, a safe place within which the coachee can go through the transformation.

Coachee addresses the challenge at hand and in the process builds capability and is on the way to attain a better future. The coach listens, reflects back, helps the coachee look at their blind spots, challenges the coachee and holds the coachee accountable during the collaborative intervention.

7 Must have Skills for a Scrum Master to be a Coach

Below are the 7 skills that make an outstanding coach:

Establishing a Trust based Relation: A pre-requisite for an effective coaching is establishing a relationship based on trust and respect. That allows the coachee to be vulnerable, feel safe to discover their potential and transform for betterment. In the presence of trust, the team member can open up and share their mistakes, failures become learning opportunities, and it is easy to seek help.

When people have built relationships, getting things done becomes smooth, the focus can stay on making positive progress, and collaboration becomes a natural way of working as people enjoy working with peers.

The Scrum Master can become a connecting bridge in helping establish relations.

Generative Listening: The success of all coaching conversations pretty much depends on the ability of the coach to listen deeply. It requires practice to listen to what people say, but it takes a whole lot of letting go of internal bias, personal agenda, the need for winning and silencing the inner self - to be able to listen to what is. This level of listening requires being in the moment.

Not only what is being said verbally, but also what is the deeper meaning behind the words. Listening from the emerging field which brings future possibilities for the coachee.

If you are coaching a Manager and you carry an internal bias about this person's attitude, their management style, preplanned agenda you want to impose upon them, then will you be able to coach them?

The Scrum Master must fully realize that she may not have all the answers and must believe in the capabilities of her coachees to have answers and solve their own problems to accomplish highest future possibility.

Generative listening is listening with a purpose to serve, it has empathy, openness and allows possibilities to emerge.

Powerful Questioning: The skill to ask powerful questions make an effective engine of coaching conversations for the Scrum Master. The Scrum Master learns and practices this art of asking questions with an array of unbiased, clarifying, open-ended, challenging, solution focused and empowering questions.

By moving away from telling, answering and solving, the coach takes a stance of asking powerful questions. Find dozens of coaching questions I've posted on Linkedin and Twitter.

Leading by Example: To be able to earn trust and influence others, the Scrum Master must exhibit behaviors that she so desires from her coachees. A good coach has a learning attitude, welcomes feedback, continuously works on improving herself, is flexible and is comfortable to experiment and fail.

If the Scrum Master isn't a servant leader herself, will she be able to effectively coach the organizational leaders to become servant leaders?

The Scrum Master by practicing agile mindset instead of simply preaching it inspires others to continuously improve their agility.

Focusing on the Present: What helps people move forward and make progress is living and acting in the present.

It’s not uncommon for many people to carry the baggage of negative experiences of past with them. Such baggage not only drags them down from moving forward but also usually prevents them from trying new things. On the other hand, you’ll also find people living in the fantasy world of future, having grand plans which try to perfectly lay out everything. Most assume that everything will be awesome one day – by itself.

A good coach lives in the present and helps the coachee make the best of the opportunity at hand, accept the present and adapt to the situation at hand by taking action in the now.

Acknowledging the coachee as Whole and Resourceful: This comes from Co-Active Coaching approach that emphasizes that – People are inherently whole and resourceful. They don’t to be fixed. If the Scrum Master accepts this she will be able to allow the coachee the freedom and empowerment to find their own solutions. She challenges constructively, provides structure, constructive feedback and avoids criticism.

Being a Servant-leader: The Scrum Master as a Servant Leader operates from the stance of serving others. Serving the Scrum Team is an essential responsibility of a Scrum Master.

The Scrum Master is a Servant-Leader for the Scrum Team - Scrum Guide

The Scrum Master models servant-leadership behavior that inspires others. She focuses on serving team's agenda and not own agenda. Her objective is to be able to serve her people, empower them and help them build the capability to deliver the best they possibly can.

Why does a Scrum Master act as a Coach?

The Scrum Master is responsible to help the team grow to be a cross-functional and self-organizing team and derive maximum benefits of adopting Scrum. Moving from traditional functional silos and top-down driven teams to cross-functional and self-organizing teams requires a major shift in the behaviors of people, in the organizational structure as well as culture.

Coaching is the best intervention to accomplish deeper and sustainable change in the way people think and behave.

The Scrum Master brings a thorough understanding and practical application of the Scrum values, the Scrum framework and its rules. This knowledge and experience informs the Scrum Master to identify the most appropriate intervention for the context. Coaching being one of that intervention in the Scrum Master's toolbox.

While the Product Owner is responsible for improving ROI through Product direction, the Development Team is responsible for translating the Product Owner's vision into working product and delivering high-quality product increment, the Scrum Master is responsible for building the capability within the Scrum Team to maximize the value it can deliver.

Since the Scrum Master is not responsible for product direction, delivering the product and people management, she can observe the action on the ground as well as step back to view it from a 30,000 feet view. Allowing her an opportunity to bring back observations and insights which may be blind spots for the team.

If the Scrum Master observes the Scrum Team derailing from any of its own goals, she can help them get focused and quickly help them channelize their effort to reorient the Scrum Team toward meeting the bigger organizational goal.

PLEASE - Scrum Master's Coaching Model

From my experience coaching Scrum Teams, I've distilled my coaching approach to a simple 6 step model. I've termed this Scrum Master's Coaching Model as PLEASE model. The PLEASE model is simple and helps me prepare everytime I'm starting to coach a new Scrum Team. It also helps me stay oriented to serve the team. The PLEASE model is:

Prepare for the coaching conversation - Scrum Master should prepare before for the coaching conversation. Be open, shed any bias towards the coachee, under the context within which the coachee operates.
Learn about the customer’s need - Ask the Dev Team, the PO, and the stakeholders and learn what is their desired outcome. What positive future they intend to create. Most coaches miss this aspect and jump straight into solving problems they see on the surface. Avoid the trap of being and showing yourself as busy.

Not all running is reaching.

Understand the desired destination first, before you start running towards it.

Establish the environment of safety and openness - A fundamental pre-requisite of a good coaching conversation is an environment of mutual trust, safety, openness, and privacy. It's an unspoken contract between the coachee and the coach. It is the responsibility of the coach to establish such environment before the coaching session begins. Only when the coachee feels safe enough they will open up and take the position of vulnerability which paves way for their further growth.

Accept expected behavior - A major portion of Agile Coaching involves helping people bring a change in their behavior. Before starting the behavior change, understand that most people’s behavior is a reflection of what is expected of them in the organizational environment. People mostly Accept the current behavior of the team members, the PO and people within the organization —  Before starting the behavior change, you must first, without judgment, accept that the current behavior of team members and managers is mostly a reflection of the expected behavior in the current organizational environment. Simply stating a particular behavior is not Agile will not help your coachees. Help them see their behavior from a different angle and let them decide what they would like to do the same.

Specify behavior change - Accepting the current and expected behavior does not mean, your coachees should continue with the same behavior. The Scrum Master helps coachees understand the need for the behavior change as aligned with their own goals.

I was the new Scrum Master for Pluto team. The developers on this team would not mind if any stakeholder would come up to one of the team members, pull them out and assign them random tasks. They would miss a story or end up working extra hours to finish the sprint plan. Surprisingly they will not bring up this at the Sprint Retrospectives either. At the end of one retrospective, one team member asked for my input when they missed delivering two stories. I asked if this was of interest to any other team member as well - most showed interest. We agreed to have this discussion with the team the next day.

I invited them to take a couple of minutes and self-assess the team on how they were doing on the Scrum Values.

They were quick to come back with observations stating "We need to show Courage and stay Focused on delivering the Sprint Goal." I supported their observation while emphasizing that it was essential that every team member ensured that they followed all the Scrum values well.

Embed new behavior - It helps the team, the PO, and other people within the organization to embed new behavior in their daily way of working. The Scrum Master may facilitate the same. Hold the people accountable to continue making efforts. Challenge them if they slow down or feel exhausted as the new behaviors may require additional cognitive processing and discipline. The team may need a couple of reminders and bit of experiences that embed this new behavior. Like any change, make this change small and incrementally build up.

I like the PLEASE coaching model for its simplicity and effectiveness. What's important is that it works for me.

If you are a Scrum Master and would like to use the PLEASE model in your coaching, feel free to reach me.

There are other coaching models that the I've applied based on the need and context.

SCARF - Neuroscience based Coaching Model

SCARF stands for: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness. In the video below, David Rock the creator of SCARF model, explains the neuroscience behind it.

SCARF model involves five domains of human social interaction. It originated based on key discoveries in the field of Neuroscience about the social interaction among people.

Three central ideas of the SCARF model are:

  1. The human brain treats social threats and rewards with the same intensity as physical threats and rewards (Lieberman, & Eisenberger, 2009).
  2. The capacity to make decisions, solve problems and collaborate with others generally increases under a reward response and decreases by a threat response.  (Elliot, 2008).
  3. The threat response is more intense and more common. It often needs to be carefully monitored + minimized in social interactions (Baumeister et al, 2001).

Who does the Scrum Master Coach?

As her service, the Scrum Master coaches the Development Team, the Product Owner, and the Organization to benefit from Scrum and improve its product discovery, development, and delivery efficacy.

The role and responsibilities of Scrum Master as a Coach

The responsibilities of a Scrum Master as a Coach are to enable the dev team, the PO and the organization through coaching to deliver the highest value to the customers, improve the ROI and develop adaptability within the organization.

Lets explore how does the Scrum Master coach each of the roles.

Coach the Development Team:

Coaching the development team is where the Scrum Master may spend a significant of time and effort when serving a team that is new to Scrum. The Scrum Master may coach the development team to accomplish:

Self-Organization:

The Scrum Master coaches the development team and the organization to transition from top-down and externally managed to a self-organizing team. Scrum Master helps develop this vision within the team and provides a structure within which the team members can try smaller experiments to move towards self-organization.

During this transition, the Scrum Master must protect the development team's boundaries. Protecting team's boundaries offers:

  • Space and time for the development team members to step forward to exercise the empowerment offered to them and assume the responsibility. It may take some time before the development team members migrate from one person has all the answers to let's find out the answer as a team.
  • To neutralize the external influences from the top-down organization.
  • To create a perimeter of the decisions that the team members can take themselves without having to go to others within the organization.

The Scrum Master makes the team's efforts and progress visible towards becoming a self-organizing team.

Cross-Functionality:

The Scrum Master coaches the Development Team members to acquire additional, cross-functional skills. The development team members move towards from single function experts to learn new skills to become T-Shaped and eventually Broken-Comb-shaped cross-functionally skilled members.

A team I was coaching at a major global bank comprised of 2 full-time engineers and other consultants. Most team members were single function focused. Some called themselves Java developers, some called themselves FrontEnd Developers having skills with JavaScript, CSS, HTML 5, others were Business Analysts, UX Designers, and Quality Assurance Engineers to name a few.

At an appropriate opportunity, I asked the team - How is it (being single function focused) working for you?

Single function expertise sounded efficient on the surface, however, it was causing local-optimization at the cost of system-optimization. Team members were quick to raise their observations and concerns. With single function focus, the team was still producing a lot of waste in terms of hand-offs and waiting. Lack of collaboration was the norm. Some team members were always overloaded and others had intermittent work.

With some further poking, asking clarifying questions and allowing them to create a vision of betterment, the team members came together to script a better future for themselves.

The first milestone they set for themselves was to broaden their focus and to be able to work on at least two functions in next 4 months.

Team members self-selected the area which they wanted to learn. Some started collaborating with BAs to learn more about the domain and customer collaboration, others started working with QAs to get better at verification / validation and some leveled up to create wireframes and learn the UX design aspects.

I facilitated the environment, movement of desks, additional white-boards, and flip charts etc to enable opportunities for collaboration, pair-programming and sharing knowledge.

Soon, the team members started doing one-hour knowledge sharing sessions every week. Team's slack now got an additional Knowledge Sharing channel where insightful articles, code snippets, and Tutorial videos were being shared.

Foresee and Remove Impediments:

If the job of a good coach is to work themselves out of the job, then the Scrum Master must coach the team to foresee and remove the impediments themselves - eventually. This requires a bit of practice on part of the development team to be able to shift focus from day-to-day tasks to step back and look at the action from say 10,000 feet and look for patterns.

A good Scrum Master may challenge the team members to figure their own version of approach to finding and fixing the impediments.

Improve Collaboration:

Being Agile is a team sport. It requires intense collaboration among the team members to rapidly deliver value in small increments, seek customer feedback and adapt to customer needs.

The coach helps the team to embed collaboration in their ways of working, making decisions, planning and execution.

Coach the Product Owner:

The Scrum Master coaches the Product Owner in following areas:

To improve Product Backlog Management efficacy.

To understand the empirical way of Product Planning.

To order the PB to maximize business value.

To understand and practice agility: The Scrum Master coaches the Product Owner to internalize the concept of agility and what being adaptable means. The Scrum Master holds the Product Owner accountable to identify market changes and adjusting direction to minimize risk and maximize ROI.

One of the common dysfunctions I’ve witnessed with the Product Owners is the false certainty they bring to the development teams in the form of requirements. The underlying assumption is that if my team builds it, we launch it, the customer will pay for it.

In one of my assignments, I asked the Product Owner:

Jenny, what makes you say that the customer will pay for this feature?

The coach may challenge the PO to distinguish between the user asked requirements and the hypothesis.

The Scrum Master coaches the Product Owner to internalize the concept of agility and what being adaptable means. The Scrum Master holds the Product Owner accountable to identify market changes and adjusting direction to minimize risk and maximize ROI.
To experiment small and adapt.

Coach the Organization:

The Scrum Master coaches the organization to be adaptable.

What type of Coach is the Scrum Master?

Back in days, when I was learning Coaching, I observed there are various types of coaches and coaching interventions. There are few dozen varieties, some of most commonly known are: Life Coach, Sports Coach, Business Coach, Leadership Coach, Behavior Coach, Strengths Coach, Career Coach, Relationship Coach, etc. I kept thinking and asking, which type of coach is the Scrum Master? It turned out there was not a single type.

As a Scrum Master, you'll find that the Scrum Master's coaching finds a good mix of some of these types of coaches.

Team Coach -

Most common application for the Scrum Master's coaching is to coach the Development Team. Usually, multiple team members are part of the intervention. This is pretty different from one-one coaching. The focus of team coaching could be for example to build a high-performance team. The Scrum Master acting as a team coach may help the team accomplish this by fostering collaboration, creating shared ownership and creating accountability within the team.

Individual Coach -

The Scrum Master has to be comfortable coaching the individuals in 1-1 sessions. Particularly the Product Owner, and managers that have a high influence on the team. Also, any difficult to work with team member and team member who may be finding it challenging to keep up with the team's expectations may benefit from 1-1 coaching intervention with the coach.

My reference for this type of coaching is the Co-Active Coaching model by Henry and Karen Kimsey-House. I've been fortunate to take Karen's workshop on Co-Active coaching in Boston.

Behavioral Coach -

I found this out very early in my Scrum Master career that without invoking positive behavioral changes within the people, my efforts to serve the team in creating a high performing team will yield only limited and short-lived results. The behavioral coaching may not necessarily be called so and may be embedded within the Scrum Master's regular coaching interventions.

From my experience coaching Scrum Teams and Agile Leaders, some of the behavioral changes desired by coachees have been: Moving from traditional control style to self-organization, from plan-it-all to being comfortable with iterative planning, from can't-fail to experimentation mindset, from someone will assign me the work to what can I do to help the team accomplish its goals behaviors.

My role model to learn behavioral coaching has been Marshall Goldsmith. I've read 4 of his book and gifted those to about a dozen of my colleagues and friends.

Leadership Coach -

The Scrum Master as a coach to the managers and leaders is a key to bringing deeper changes within the organization and getting leadership support. If you as a Scrum Master have ignored this aspect, time to start thinking about it. Effective coaching for the leaders will significantly benefit your team see reduced resistance from the organization and increased support from immediate leaders.

The Scrum Master may help the leaders adapt Agile mindset, remove confusion about the changes, bring clarity to their role during and after the change, and help the leaders with improving their leadership agility.

I highly recommend Leadership Agility by Bill Joiner to improve your Leadership Agility as well as help your leaders.

Sports Coach -

Like the Sports Coach, the Scrum Master aka the Scrum Coach's coaching is informed by her experience and expertize of Scrum Framework. At times the Scrum Coach may need to step in and share with the team about what is Scrum and what it is not. What practice may be added to the Scrum Framework and which practice may add waste to the process. Here the Scrum Master may take the mentor role and help the unaware people to become educated on a specific practice or rule of Scrum.

Refer writing about the most successful Sports coaches like - John Wooden, Vince Lombardi and Phil Jackson.

Difference between Scrum Master, Scrum Coach, and Agile Coach

A plethora of dozen a dime Agile Coach certifications are now available by various organizations today. To improve the selling ability of these certifications, each one has launched their versions of the terminology referring to the Coaching aspect associated with Scrum Framework and Being Agile.

In its most fundamental and simple state the Scrum Master should be empowered enough to be able to coach (as discussed above) the development team, the Product Owner as well as the Organization - that the leaders within the organization, their decisions, the organizational structure and associated policies and the organizational cultural aspect.

However, in traditional hierarchical organizations, it is highly uncommon for a Scrum Master to be able to get regular time and visibility with top decision-makers of the organization.

Without much empowerment, these Scrum Masters can only fantasize about coaching their leaders. This dysfunction is much bigger and a tough one for these Scrum Masters to be able to address.

Also wouldn't it be too low for a Vice President to get coached on Enterprise Agility by a Scrum Master who may be 8 levels below them in the organization chart?

Such situation has given a rise to different levels of coaches in such organizations.

Most commonly used terms for the experienced Scrum Master acting as a Coach in the Scrum and Agile industry today is Scrum Coach and Agile Coach. Newer variants you may also hear these days are Team Agile Coach and Enterprise Agile Coach, etc.

Accept it or not, if someone keeps calling them as a Scrum Master for 10 years, industry today will not value or respect them as much as they would to someone who calls them Enterprise Agile Coach having only 2-years experience in the industry.

No surprise more and more people attend 2-day training and start calling themselves Enterprise Agile Coach. Volla!! You are immediately in demand now 🙂

In an efficient organization, there would be no need for 3-5 levels of Scrum Masters to Enterprise Agile Coaches. The Scrum Master should be empowered enough to work with the organization, help bring up organization level impediments, work with leaders, and contribute to policy changes required etc.

Rants aside, if you are hiring Agile Coach whether at a team level or at an Enterprise Level - first you want to see if the person brings hands-on experience working as a Scrum Master. I prefer 5 years minimum Scrum Master experience before a person can really get the handle of the vast field and impact an Agile Coach can create on the teams and enterprises as Systems.

 

The Scrum Master as a Servant-Leader

Scrum Masters - If there is one aspect that can set an effective Scrum Master apart from the pack, it is Servant Leadership. Are you looking to be an effective Scrum Master?

In this in-depth guide I explore the Servant Leadership with the context of the Scrum Master role, the characteristics of a Servant-Leader and how you can apply these characteristics to become an effective Scrum Master.

A Servant-Leader desires to serve. A Servant-Leader serves first. This behaviour is opposite to a traditional manager’s style which is to Manage/Lead first.

A Scrum Master is a Servant-Leader. Scrum Master serves the Team’s agenda, helps them grow and succeed.

Jump to Topics Below:

What is Servant-Leadership | Servant Leadership and Scrum | Servant Leadership and Scrum Master Role | Experts on Servant-Leadership | 8 Servant-Leader Behaviours for Every Scrum Master

 

What is Servant-Leadership?

Servant Leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that are based on serving and caring for others, to lead. Servant Leadership behavior creates a more just and caring world by enriching people, and building better organizations.

Robert Greenleaf, defined a Servant-Leader as:

The Servant-Leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That leader significantly differs from one who is leader first, may be due to the need to acquire power, material belonging, control and authority within the organization.

The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme leadership styles. There are a variety of shades between these two styles.

Robert Greenleaf popularized the Servant Leadership movement in 1970 through his article – The Servant as Leader. In which he coined the words "Servant-Leader" and "Servant Leadership."

 Servant Leadership and Scrum

How is Servant Leadership useful in the application of Scrum framework?

First, the 5 Scrum values - Openness, Respect, Commitment, Courage, and Focus, align well with the philosophy of Servant Leadership.

It's about your character and behaviors. How you practice what you preach to your people. Do you respect your people, show openness while listening to their ideas, display courage in keeping their needs ahead of yours etc.

The Scrum Master becomes the role model of practicing the Scrum Values and serves the team to be able to practice the same.

Second, The Scrum Master plays a key role in the success and failure of any team's Scrum implementation. Scrum Guide specifies that the Scrum Master is a Servant-Leader for the Scrum Team.

This is about people and serving them so they can grow and succeed. As part of the Scrum Master’s role, the Scrum Guide lists the Scrum Master’s service to the Development Team, the Product Owner, and the Organization. Scrum Master serves these roles to help them meet their goals and become successful.

Third, Scrum Master facilitates building a high performing team.

The team model in Scrum is designed to optimize flexibility, creativity, and productivity - let's call it effectiveness. - The Scrum Guide.

The Scrum Master helps create this vision of a high performing team. The Scrum Master helps remove impediments, shields the team from interruptions, helps them stay focused, and empowers them to make progress towards a better future every Sprint.

Fourth, Scrum is a team sport. Self-Organization and Team Collaboration are essential elements for the success of any Scrum implementation. This is practically not achievable in the presence of top-down, command-oriented management, and functional silos within organizations.

To enable self-organization teams must be free from a central point of authority. In the absence of any organizational authority and power, the Scrum Master allows space for the development team to self-organize.

Servant Leadership and Scrum Master Role

The Scrum Master is a Servant-Leader for the Scrum Team – Scrum Guide. To encourage Servant Leadership behavior, the Scrum Master role by design, does not have organizational authority or power.

The Scrum Master is not a boss or an alternate title for a manager of the team.

Absence of organizational power, allows the Scrum Master to establish Psychological safety within the team. Which in turn empowers the team members and allows them to self-organize.

A Scrum Master with her leadership, enables the Scrum Team to become High Performing Team that can rapidly adapt to the changing customer needs and solve customer challenges.

Who does the Scrum Master serve? The Scrum Master serves the Development Team, the Product Owner and the Organization in several ways in their endeavor to apply Scrum and get benefits from it.

A leader creates an environment where people can contribute and flourish. An environment where people are cared and feel safe to express themselves. An environment where they've enough empowernment to make necessary decisions. Scrum Master is that leader for the Scrum Team.

If the Scrum Master possesses organizational power, that limits the chances of establishing a safe environment.

How does Servant-Leadership style work with traditional managers? The paradoxical style of Servant Leadership is difficult to enact for the traditional managers. They are comfortable with the leadership aspect, but no the servant aspect.

If you are a Scrum Master who also happens to have organizational authority - aka responsibility of product delivery, the team members reporting in to you, you make financial decisions, you write performance reviews, etc. observe your behavior closely.

Ask yourself:

If asked, will my colleagues and team members say that I serve them?

Do I serve their agenda, or do they have to serve my agenda?

Am I able to justify responsibility as a Servant-Leader?

 

New Scrum Masters and Servant Leadership:

It's not uncommon for novice Scrum Masters to restrict themselves to being the servant or secretary of the Scrum Team.

First time and particularly untrained Scrum Master usually limit their focus on setting up the meeting invites, arranging supplies, jotting down the meeting minutes, updating team's tasks on the task board, creating reports and sending out communications on behalf of the team members or PO etc.

They mostly miss exhibiting the leadership aspect. It doesn't have to be this way.

What do experts say about Servant Leadership?

"The difference between Servant-Leaders and other leaders manifests in the care taken by the servant-first-leaders to ensure other people's needs are being served. A quick test of the servant leadership is:

a) Do those who are being served grow as persons?

b) Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?

c) What is the effect on the least privileged in society?

d) Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?"

The servant leadership is not about being submissive, letting go or giving in. It is about the genuine interest to serve others.

Inspired by “Journey to the East” by Herman Hesse, Greenleaf coined the concept of the Servant-Leader. In “The Servant as Leader”, Greenleaf said:

...the Journey to the East story clearly says: the great leader is seen as servant first, and that simple fact is the key to her/his greatness. Leo - the character in the story, was actually the leader, all the time, but he was servant first because that was what he was, deep down within.

Leadership was bestowed upon a man who was a servant by nature. Leo was a servant first.

If there is a single characteristic of the servant-leader that stands out in Greenleaf's essay it is,

The desire to serve.

Another very insightful observation by Greenleaf is that Servant-Leaders are Self-Aware. "Awareness is not a giver of solace. It is just the opposite. It is a disturber and an awakener.

Able leaders are usually sharply awake and reasonably disturbed. They are not seekers after solace. They have their own inner serenity”.

From a Scrum Master's perspective, Servant Leadership is about identifying and serving the needs of the Team and the Stakeholders.

8 Servant-Leader Behaviours for every Scrum Master

 

The characteristics of Servant leadership are inherent to some people. These characteristics can be further learned and such behaviours can be refined through practice.

How to apply Servant Leadership in my role as a Scrum Master? If you want to become effective at the Scrum Master role, you may begin with asking: How can I develop Servant-Leadership skills? For Scrum Masters to display Servant-Leadership, it is essential to develop and practice Servant-Leader behaviors.

Below 8 Servant-Leader behaviours combined make them highly relevant for the Scrum Master role. Applied to any team and organisational environment, these Servant-Leadership behaviours transforms the organizational culture to a caring, safe and high-performing culture.

 

Let's take a look at these behaviours

#1 Servanthood and Caring:

As a Scrum Master, you do not have any authority in the organization. You derive influence from your subject matter expertise of Scrum and by having the heart to serve your team and care for them.

As a Servant-Leader you seek to empower the team members and invite them in decision making. Your behaviour is of serving and caring. It enhances the growth of team members while improving the caring and quality of organizational life.

Is your emphasis on serving your team-members for their good and not just the good of the organization? If yes, then you sure are one effective Scrum Master.

#2 Empowering and Helping:

Are you concerned about the success of all stakeholders? Broadly stakeholders include employees, customers, business partners, communities, and society, including  those who are the least privileged.

Servant-Leader Scrum Masters believe that team members have an intrinsic value beyond their apparent responsibilities as employees. These Scrum Masters are deeply committed to the development and growth of each and every Scrum Team member.

During my work as a Scrum Master, I aimed to nurture the professional as well as personal growth of team members I worked with.

Let me share the story of Pat. Pat was one of our team members who had excellent business analysis and customer interview skills. Pat was going through some emotional challenges with his new wife. I invited him for a coffee one day. We briefly discussed his situation. I asked Pat, if he wanted my help? Pat showed interest and we setup time for three coaching sessions. We mutually agreed that the coaching will be intended to focus on how Pat can become aware of and possibly change his behaviour.

During our second session, I offered Pat to take a quick assessment to become aware of his own emotions. To understand the range of his emotions and what behaviour/situation, triggered the positive emotions and what triggered the negative emotion was first step.

Now Pat's aim was to identify the positive emotional triggers while he was with his wife and prolong those. Where as any triggers causing negative emotions and trauma were to be narrowed in duration and limited in intensity as much as possible. It wasn't easy or quick, however Pat was determined to change his situation.

Becoming aware of his emotions empowered him to identify how he can best deal with the circumstances. Pat would try to build up whenever he experienced positive emotions such as Joy, Hope, Pride, Inspiration, Awe, Gratitude, etc.

There are wide variety of opportunities where you can help your team members develop professional as well as personal capability and grow.

Think about what opportunities within your team exists this week where you can help your team members grow.

 

#3 Serving Team’s Agenda:

A Scrum Master as a servant-leader uses his capabilities and skills to help the team establish their agenda. The Scrum Master serves the team's agenda, not her own.

The Scrum Master does not impose any directions or mandate upon the team.

A Servant-leader Scrum Master instead, believes in Change by Invitation.

She invites the team to choose the goals and the direction. She invites team members to opt in to participate and keeps options open for anyone to opt out.

It is important to understand that if a person is titled as a Scrum Master but also carries traditional manager's responsibility to deliver a release, or to manage the team members etc, she'll not be able to truly serve the team's agenda. Such person will almost always end up making others follow her direction and agenda that she sets.

There is also a boundary to serving team's agenda. For example: If a Product Owner's agenda is to finish certain number of features by this Sprint however the team clearly sees that as not practical. Though you want the Product Owner to succeed, however, in such situation it your responsibility to shield the Development Team from the excessive pressure of the Product Owner. Often Scrum Masters give-in to the pressure and allow the PO to overload the Dev Team.

What do you think is the result in situations when the Development Team was asked to deliver more than they could practically deliver

a) A product having defects and poor quality

b) Stressed and overworked Team members from having to work extra nights and weekends

c) Accrual of Technical Debt

In any of the situation, can you say the Team's Agenda was served?

#4 Building Relationships:

Establishing and nurturing long-term relationships with all stakeholders, keeping the team-members in focus, helps them meet their fullest potential. If you are genuinely serving, caring and helping your team members grow, building relations with them will not be an issue. To build longer term relations, you would need to forgo short term approach/gains and allow for the things to settle.

Healthy relations with the team creates a synergy among the team-members and boosts team's performance and growth.

Is your emphasis on building long term and healthy relationships? If yes, you are on track.

#5 Being Humble:

Like a good leader, the Scrum Master stays humble and practices regular self-reflection. Counter to a traditional leader's pride, servant leaders exhibit humility in their behaviour.

Servant leaders don’t think less of themselves they just think of themselves less.

They have high self-confidence but very low situational confidence. If they are faced with a situation, their response would most likely be: I have the intellect to solve all the problems, but I don’t have all the answers and for that I need other people’s brain.

In today’s world where there is so much information and so many tools, its important to acknowledge that one person cannot know everything and that everyone needs or at some time will need his/her team members' help.

A servant-leader will not take pride in the moments of success but will surely accept errors in times of failure.

 

#6 Emotional Healing:

Your people are going through change all the time. There is uncertainty, and failures. Some of your people may have bruises. Many of them may go through emotional turbulences. Are you able to emotionally heal them? Offer your support?

As per Tuckman’s Team Development development model, team go through Forming, Norming, Storming and Performing phases. While your team is going through Forming, Norming and Storming phase of the team development, as a Scrum Master, are standing by your team during this time of change?

As a Servant-Leader, any emotional healing and support that you offer can go long way in building an environment of trust and care within the team.

 

#7 Being Empathic:

Being Empathic involves deeply connecting with the emotions of the other individual without judgement and critique. It is an essential behaviour of Servant-Leaders. Empathy starts with listening. Genuinely being present in the moment with somebody and listening with your whole self helps understand the other person's situation. Here the aim is to slow down and listen with the intent to understand the meaning behind the words, meaning of what is being felt, and what is not being said. Empathy connects two people by heart. Connecting with someone by heart is much more powerful than connecting only through brain.

For Scrum Masters who are not naturally empathic (count me in with you), being aware of and caring about others' emotions is the starting point of developing empathy. Empathically listening to what your team members say and acknowledging what you sense+hear.

Such as:

Elena, you seem to worried. How can I help?

David, I hear you are concerned about Matt's behaviour. What would you like to happen?

When you lend someone your empathic ears, they get it. They feel safe and comfortable to share even more.

Scrum Master through Empathy builds relationships, heals the team members, earns trust and gains influence.

 

#8 Being Ethical:

The moral component of the Scrum Masters must be strong. Being ethical relates to the way in which a servant-leader makes choices, disciplines herself and chooses the right thing to do in the service of the team. The Scrum Master may also encourage the team to self reflect and establish high standards of moral and ethical behaviour.

The team members constantly observe the moral basis of the servant-leader's actions and organizational goals and relate to them. If you as a Scrum Master have ingrained integrity and professionalism in yourself, it'll be possible to bring it in the team.

Often times, the Scrum Master may realize that the team needs to mature and they must be empowered, educated to handle their own meetings, hold each other accountable, collaborate with users and PO and deliver value. And time comes when the Scrum Master may not be providing the best value for the team and hence should decide to either step down from that role or move on.

Displaying this high level of ethics and courage to step down from one's role, to let go, is the best way you can become really effective at performing the Scrum Master's role.

Responsibilities of a Servant-Leader

What are the responsibilities of a Scrum Master as a Servant-Leader?

A ScrumMaster is a servant-leader whose focus is on serving the needs of the team members and those the team serves - the customer. With the goal of achieving results in line with the organization's values, principles, and business objectives

As a servant-leader, the ScrumMaster's responsibilities may include:

  1. Setting up Scrum framework in the service of the team, not as a way to commanding or micro-manage.
  2. Empowering and Guiding the Development Team on self-management.
  3. Leading the team through healthy conflict and debate on ideas.
  4. Teaching, coaching and mentoring the organization and team in adopting and using Scrum.
  5. Shielding the team from disturbances, external influences, and potential threats.
  6. Helping the team make visible, remove and prevent impediments.
  7. Creating transparency by radiating information via e.g. the product and sprint backlog, daily Scrum, reviews and a visible workspace;
  8. Encouraging, supporting and enabling the team to reach their full potential and performance.
  9. Ensuring a collaborative, supportive and empathic culture exists within the team.
  10. Constantly keeping the team challenged and away from mediocrity.
  11. Ensuring development, growth, and happiness of team members.

Top 21 Scrum Master skills

Top 21 Scrum Master skills

ScrumMaster-skills-Agile For Growth

The use artificial intelligence in product development and corporations is growing significantly. With the help of AI we'll be able to automate many tasks - even the cognitive one's to certain extent. In this rapidly evolving market, having high performing and innovative teams will be a competitive advantage for any organization.

A Scrum Master who is able to help build high performing and innovative Scrum teams, and coach people can be a valuable asset for the organization.

While those Scrum Masters who only perform mundane tasks, write meeting minutes, create reports and enter data in the tool will see themselves get replaced by AI bots soon.

I think irrespective of the technological advancements there will still be a need of good Scrum Masters. An effective Scrum Master can help Scrum Team deliver results that are an order of magnitude better than mediocre Scrum Teams. The responsibilities of the Scrum Master may adjust with the time.

Great Scrum Masters will definitely contribute towards improving the business agility and helping organizational system as a whole.

Below I list top 18 Scrum Master skills in 2020.

I also invite you to contribute 3 top Scrum Master skills that should be part of this list.

 

Top Scrum Master Skills:

  1. Systems Thinking
  2. Adaptability
  3. People Skills - Positive Psychology, Social Psychology
  4. Complex Problem Solving
  5. Lean Thinking
  6. Agile Mindset, Growth Mindset
  7. Creativity
  8. Empathy
  9. Asking Questions
  10. Collaboration
  11. Facilitation
  12. Rapid Decision Making
  13. Negotiation
  14. Leading and Facilitating Change
  15. Focus
  16. Performing with Flow
  17. Motivation - Intrinsic Motivation
  18. Emotional Intelligence
  19. Which Skill should be listed?
  20. Which skill should be listed?
  21. Which skill should be listed?

I need your opinion to add 3 top Scrum Master skills that'll be valuable in 2020.

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