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How does a scrum master create and nurture motivation in a scrum team?

How does a scrum master create and nurture motivation in a scrum team?

I’m not sure if scrum masters create motivation within a scrum team. They certainly work to create an environment where motivation and inspiration are present, but it isn’t their responsibility to motivate individuals within the scrum team.

There are two types of motivation. Internal and external motivation.

External Motivation

The first type of motivation is external motivation. I pay you money to do a specific job and you agree to arrive at work and perform your role, to the best of your ability, in exchange for the money I pay you.

Internal Motivation

The second type of motivation is internal motivation. This is where your actions are determined by what you know or believe to be the right thing to do and are inspired by a sense of purpose that permeates your work or working environment.

How does a scrum master nurture motivation?

A scrum master is neither responsible for the external or internal motivation of an individual. The external motivation is provided by the organisation and monitored by a line manager, whilst the internal motivation is determined by the individual themselves.

The scrum master doesn’t have the authority to influence the external motivation and whilst they can be supportive and coach an individual to find their passion and internal motivation, they aren’t able to directly influence internal motivation.

What you can do is work with the product owner and stakeholders within the organisation to create a working environment where internal motivation is present. The agile values and principles play a big role in creating a style of work that inspires people and helps them to unleash their best work, creativity, and passion.


Each person is unique but there are similarities; characteristics and traits that we can work with.

One of the common things that bind us is the desire for a sense of purpose.

So, it isn’t on the scrum master to create a sense of purpose, but it does fall on the product owner.

A product owner is responsible for creating a product vision that inspires the team. A vision that is bold, inspiring and achievable. A vision that instils a sense of purpose in the team and creates the internal motivation necessary for people to strive for excellence.

A scrum master is there to reinforce that inspiring product vision and align the team around that vision.

When people have satisfied their primary need for an income, and money is no longer on the table, the reason why people wake up and come to work inspired is because they want to contribute something of value to the world. They want to do great work.

The motivation framework

Daniel Pink describes motivation as consisting of 3 parts:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose

The purpose element of this equation sits with the product owner in scrum. What is the product goal that you are looking to achieve and how will that contribution add value to customers, product stakeholders and the world at large?

You need to work with the product owner to craft a product vision that is inspiring. A vision that gets your team fired up and committed to delivering their best work in pursuit of that product vision.

Help the product owner articulate something which is bold, inspiring and achievable whilst being concise enough for each individual on the team to remember and buy into. They must be able to articulate that vision themselves without looking for prompts or guidance.

The developers need to be able to consumer it, remember it and actively feel as if it is their purpose.


Autonomy is a given in a well-run scrum environment. Agile frameworks are built on the foundation of empowering people to do great work and giving them the necessary tools, training and resources to achieve it. Autonomy is present in any self-organising, self-governing scrum team.

The product owner gives the team direction by letting them know what they specifically want, why it is important to them and the customer, and in which order of priority they want that item but how the product is created or how the problem is solved is left to the developers to figure out.

They have the necessary autonomy and agency to solve problems and create meaningful products.

So, we have purpose and we have autonomy, next comes Mastery.


Mastery is a tricky one. Scrum masters and Agile coaches have put significant time and effort into skills development and acquisition in the teams they serve. Continuous improvement demands that skills be mastered, and new skills be acquired over time.

As a scrum master, you need to continuously be looking for opportunities for the team to improve.

We have the sprint retrospective which allows the team to take time out and work through the areas that need improvement, as well as identify opportunities for improvement in the current systems and processes.

It’s an opportunity to get better with each and every sprint but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.

I want you to push further. I want you to recognise that team members, individually, can improve and collectively, there are lots of opportunity for improvement too.

To do that, we must create a system that facilitates deliberate practice.

We must create time within the team environment where the team can stop, consider what they do, and actively look for ways to practice. Practice that leads to skills development and mastery.

You can help the team identify small areas of focus that allow them to deliberately practice and improve their skills and capabilities in that area. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time, short and sharp bursts of practice combined with immediate feedback and adaptation will work wonders.

When I was a developer I used to create small coding challenges that enabled me to practice writing code over and over and over again. I would include small challenges, deliberately remove certain tools and resources to make it more challenging, and work at my coding skills until they were second nature.

A great scrum team is focused on technical excellence.

Take the time to help the team create meaningful exercises and practice deliberately, and you will see your skills competence and capabilities grow in a very short space of time.

Instilling a sense of purpose behind these exercises, the path to mastery, will help you grow a scrum team that is head and shoulders above their competitors.

In the agile world, it is generally agreed that a great developer is 10 times better than a good developer. Steve Jobs personally believed that a great developer was 25 times more valuable and productive than the average developer, so it is worth investing the time and effort to develop skills.

Create a clear, measurable and achievable path to mastery for your team, as well as yourself, and you will go a long way to creating a culture of excellence within your organisation that pays huge dividends over time.

For more information on John McFadyen, visit or connect with John on LinkedIn.

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