Agile

Enablement Over Facilitation: 5 Essentials to Be a Great Scrum Master

Being a Scrum Master isn’t just about knowing the jargon associated with the role. It’s about being able to build trust, see the big picture, and enable success.

“We don’t often get the respect we deserve”, “Folks think our role is not a critical part of delivery”, “It’s a thankless job” – we hear this quite often from our Scrum Masters. While the road to becoming a Scrum Master is short, becoming inclusive isn’t as smooth as one thinks. Gaining respect as a Scrum Master requires a lot of dedication, persistence, and introspection. A valuable Scrum Master always goes beyond doing the “cliched” administrative work and adds value by enabling the team.

Based on our experience, we have listed down 5 essential skills that can help gain inclusiveness and respect as a Scrum Master.

1. Build Trust

The critical measure of a good servant leader is trust. Without trust from the team, no matter how hard one tries, it’s hard to succeed in any role.

When people trust us, they are ready to follow our lead and walk along with us.

In his book Speed of Trust, Stephan Covey talks about the framework to gain trustworthiness quotient.

Speed of Trust

Trust has two dimensions – Character and Competence.

  • Character is a constant – It’s necessary for trust under any circumstances. 
  • Competence is situational – It depends on what the circumstances require.

Building trust with the team is a stepping stone to earning their respect. People value us when we don’t just talk the talk but walk the walk with a great attitude along with delivering the right results in the right way.

2. Psychological Safety

Google’s massive study on team performance reveals that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety.

 “Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.” – Stephen Covey

One of the core values of agility is openness. If people are afraid to speak up, then even if we achieve the business outcomes, the productivity won’t be sustained long enough. As part of forming a team, it’s essential to understand team dynamics as well as awareness about individuals. The personality studies such as Myers Briggs (MBTI) and DISC assessment come handy for Scrum Masters. Working agreements, mutual consensus, asking questions, and inviting people to open up and talk about their perspectives will also help in achieving mutually desirable outcomes.

Conflicts must be healthy and not lead to blame games, judgment, and disrespect. Hence the role of the Scrum Master becomes crucial in conflict resolution leading to personal safety while achieving business objectives.

3. Domain and Technical Expertise

The level of technical expertise required for Scrum Master is always a debatable topic. An extremely technical Scrum Master may end up dictating the team on ‘how-to’ rather than creating an environment to come up with great ideas. A person with no technical background may be clueless about the impediments and mitigation plan to address them. Hence the Scrum Master won’t be able to help the team in a timely manner.

Expertise

What is important is striking a balance. While extensive technical knowledge is not a mandate for a Scrum Master, a familiarity with the project-specific domains will be a boon for the Scrum Master as well as for the team. This helps to build trust through competency as we discussed earlier.

4. The Scrum Master Role Goes Beyond Facilitation

Facilitating ceremonies suggested by various Agile methodologies is NOT the only job of a Scrum Master, rather facilitation is just a part of the job.

Agility is all about delivering value to the customer in the shortest possible time and the Scrum Master’s role is to provide enablement. We should be flexible enough to understand team dynamics, the nature of change, and other parameters that influence the delivery cycle and adjust the processes and practices as required.  

While theoretical knowledge is good, it’s important to reap the benefits by leveraging the underlying concepts. For each and every step in the value stream, a Scrum Master should ask whether that step is necessary in order to eliminate the non-value added elements in the overall cycle.

One of the challenges for Scrum Masters is to choose the suitable Agile methodology for the team. The article where we discuss out of box thinking and choosing based on the knowledge matrix might help.

5. Be Aware of the Big Picture

Sometimes being too focused on the team level commitments may help in doing an excellent job for that iteration and team. But we should remember we are operating at a system level and a holistic view is critical for success.

“People are working harder than ever, but because they lack clarity and vision, they aren’t getting very far. They, in essence, are pushing a rope with all of their might.”  – Stephen Covey

It’s important for Scrum Masters not just to know about the big picture but also to help the team understand and be part of it.

Big Picture

The team needs to understand ‘WHY we are doing WHAT we are doing and HOW this is going to help the business WHEN we deliver this’ and the Scrum Master plays a crucial role in enabling the team with the required knowledge.

Conclusion

The Scrum Master role is not an easy job. It requires knowledge on where to put our energy, retrospect on what’s working and what’s not and then working on continuous improvements. We need to ask ourselves if we want to help enable our team and experience the satisfaction of being part of the journey or if we want to think of it as a thankless job. The choice is always ours!

Co-authored by Anusha Kalvala

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