What are the 2 primary ways in which a scrum master ensures a high-performance team environment?
Welcome to part 25 in our scrum master interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.
A scrum master does not carry the same authority as a project manager. They don’t tell people what to do, how to do it, or insist on deadlines for delivery. The scrum master is not involved in the delivery of a product or service, they are instead charged with helping to create an environment where the team can excel.
They do so through a combination of teaching, coaching, and consulting and they work with multiple people, within the team and outside of the team, to help remove impediments and bring about change that allows the team to continuously improve.
So, we can create the conditions that lead to high-performance, but we can’t make people perform.
Creating powerful teams.
The average person will have a basic understanding of teamwork but will very seldom experience what it is like to work on a high-performing team. Organizations haven’t traditionally invested a lot of time and effort into creating teams, nor do they coach those teams to high-performance.
It’s usually a bunch of people who are brought together to work on a project, for a limited amount of time, and are expected to simply get on with it until the outcome has been achieved.
So, for a scrum master, your starting point is to create the foundation of a strong team environment from the moment of its inception. You are creating the environment for a team to form and actively teaching, coaching, and mentoring individuals in the art of forming and continuously improving as a team.
In essence, you are helping them to understand who they are and why they exist as a team.
So, in the early days of the team forming, the scrum master will have conversations around:
- What is the purpose of the team?
- Why does that matter?
- What is the goal of the team?
- What is the goal of the product they are working on?
- How do they align with other teams?
- How will the team know if they are progressing toward their goals?
- How will the team measure their success?
- How will the team know if they are succeeding as a team?
And so forth.
Helping to shape and articulate a strong sense of team identity and working out the charter for the team.
The scrum master will also explore:
- Who is on the team?
- Who is not on the team?
- What are the team’s values and how do individual values align with the team values?
- What are the team responsibilities and what are the individual responsibilities?
- What are the accountabilities within the team environment?
- Who are the key stakeholders?
- What does the team environment look, feel, and sound like?
- What are the constraints within which the team are going to work?
And so forth.
All these things matter and come together to help form a strong team foundation in the early days. As a scrum master, you are helping the team set themselves up for success down the line and helping them achieve clarity around everything from working agreements to what success looks like.
A shift in focus to how people work together
A great scrum master will help the team define and articulate their working agreements.
- How they intend to work with one another.
- What useful and valuable conversations look like.
- What behaviours are considered unhelpful and intolerable.
- How conflict will be resolved.
- How does the team move forward in a stalemate?
And so forth.
The scrum master will also help the team articulate and define the constraints within which they must work. The organization pays the bills and have a clear expectation of what must be delivered, and how that work must be delivered.
Some policies may be earmarked for potential change in the future but the team also need to accept that some policies, systems, etc. will simply never change and they need to work within those constraints.
It’s helping the team agree on what can be addressed and accepting what can’t.
The scrum master will then shift their focus to how the team are working together. How are they interacting and engaging with one another, and how well they collaborate to solve complex problems and build valuable products.
Yes, the scrum master will keep a finger on the pulse of professional working relationships, but they will also work on personal relationships. They will help individuals form a strong connection with one another, in both a personal as well as a professional capacity.
Sometimes, the product owner may just not be able to level up because of a personal issue, such as a sick child or ailing parent, and the team need to come together to support that product owner through a tough patch.
If we have great professional and personal relationships in the team, there is no resentment that festers because we understand that the other person is working through something incredibly tough and we are better as a team when we help and support one another.
Coaching individuals on how to have open, honest, yet respectful conversations around the topics that we disagree on is incredibly important too. A scrum master will help cultivate an environment of psychological safety that affords people the opportunity to speak the truth to power without fear of retribution or unwanted consequences.
Ultimately, the scrum master is helping create an environment where people trust one another.
To achieve this, the scrum master needs to be great at teaching, coaching, facilitating, and mentoring.
As you become better at teaching, coaching, and mentoring you will find:
- The team are more effective at resolving conflict and reaching agreement.
- The team begin to lead themselves and hold themselves accountable for performances.
- The team become more collaborative and creative.
- The team excel at problem solving and embrace diverse thinking and lines of reasoning.
- The team are committed to continuous improvement and explore opportunities to improve.
- The team begin to lead the way forward and improve with each iteration.
As this happens, the scrum master steps out of the limelight and begins to play more of a coaching role by challenging the lines of reasoning behind certain decisions, helping the teams achieve clarity around what they are doing and why that matters, and begins to nudge the team in the direction of high-performance.
The team are building momentum, breaking new ground, and constantly improving with each new iteration. Your role is to support them in that and help with the fine tuning that leads to increased performances. Nudges and exercises that foster a culture of excellence.
So, as a scrum master, you cannot make people perform but there are a number of ways that you can help create the environment that fosters high performance.
About John McFadyen
If you are interested in becoming an agile coach and value mentored, coach-driven skills development in your journey to mastery, visit our Growing Scrum Masters website.
For more information on John McFadyen, connect with John on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmcfadyen/.
If you like the idea of becoming a scrum master and want to achieve internationally recognised and certified accreditation as a scrum master, visit our Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course page.
If you are already a scrum master and want to upskill to a more advanced level of knowledge and agile coaching capability, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM) course page.
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