What is the most valuable communication tip you have for Scrum Masters?
In a nutshell, simply be curious.
What do I mean by that?
Well, people have reasons for why they do the things they do. Try not to judge them, try instead to get them to tell you why they are doing something, why they believe a certain thing, or what lies behind their intention.
Try to understand what drives them and why it such a powerful driving force.
You may have someone who keeps turning up late for the daily scrum. Your first impulse may be to judge them or scold them for being late, but by simply having a conversation with them about what is happening and why it is happening, you may uncover something valuable.
In this example, you may find that you have a single parent who is juggling work, kids, and school runs. They fully understand the importance of the daily scrum and are committed to attending and contributing but they simply cannot be there on time due to other pressing commitments.
Great. Now you understand why they cannot be there and after a discussion with the team, you find that everybody is more than happy to postpone the daily scrum by 30 minutes because it isn’t important for them to meet at the specific time they usually meet.
Problem solved. Simply through being curious, you have identified the why behind the problem and easily solved that problem in a way that accommodates everyone.
Be genuinely interested in people
I don’t believe that you can be an effective scrum master or agile coach if you aren’t genuinely interested in other people. If you aren’t genuinely interested in what drives them and why they do the things they do, in the way that they do.
Don’t make assumptions. Be willing to wait. Be willing to suspend your own judgements and instead discover the real reasons behind why people act and think the way they do.
In many cases, you are going to discover pure gold.
Being curious allows you to discover new lines of reasoning, new patterns of behaviour and new approaches to compelling problems.
One of the most dangerous things for any environment is the ‘this is the way we have always done things around you’ kind of thinking. Being curious allows you to discover new ideas, thoughts and concepts. It allows you to uncover new ways of solving problems and building valuable things.
When I train people in coaching and agile coaching, we work through a lot of models, frameworks and tools. All of these things are valuable but what I find most resonates with people is when I teach them to actively listen to people.
To genuinely be interested in that other person, their line of reasoning and the forces that drive their decision-making and behaviour.
You can’t coach anyone if you don’t understand why they are doing what they do and how their line of reasoning governs their decision-making, attitude and engagement.
Bringing curiosity into your engagements will allow you to fully understand what someone else is thinking, why they think that, and help both of you to uncover new opportunities and approaches that will help that person improve.
Help them achieve clarity in their thinking and goal setting.
Understand that every problem you face is a people problem.
As a scrum master or agile coach, every single problem you face is a people problem. It can only be solved by understanding how people respond to the systems, processes or organisational policies and why they choose that response.
To effectively remove impediments within the organisation you first have to understand why it is an impediment and why change will have a significant impact on the individual or teams you serve.
You then need to understand why the person who created that impediment thinks it is valuable, and you also need to understand why they might be reluctant to change that policy, system, etc that is proving to be an impediment.
So, you need to understand both sides of the problem and you need to understand the thinking that governs people’s decisions and behaviours in order to help them see a different perspective and potentially make a different decision.
It may be that the impediment exists for valuable reasons and must remain in place, in which case, the individual or team need to explore alternative options. You may find that the impediment is there for arbitrary reasons and a simple conversation helps the person in charge of that impediment understand the impact it is having on others and make a decision to remove the impediment.
Either way, it is a people problem and requires you to solve the people element first.
Be a sounding board
Sometimes, it isn’t about coaching someone through a problem. Sometimes, that person just honestly needs someone to talk through the problem with.
Being genuinely interested allows you to ask authentic and useful questions. Questions which spark new ideas, new possibilities, and help both of you understand all of the options available to you.
Sometimes, it solidifies why something is important whilst at other times, it will make clear why something needs to change.
People are intelligent and in my experience, mostly committed to doing great work in a meaningful way. When given the opportunity to talk through something, they are more than willing to look for the best possible outcome and improve where they can.
Curiosity allows you to see why something exists. It allows you to understand what the rationale is and whether that can be improved. It allows you to help someone else think through the problem and identify new opportunities or better alternatives.
Be a sounding board for people and allow them to discover the best way forward.
Be interested in people. Be interested in why they make the calls that they do and be willing to sit with them and understand their perspective, line of reasoning and motivation.
Simply listening to people and allowing them to be heard is one of the greatest signs of respect that you can demonstrate. It also changes people’s attitudes because they have been heard and are now willing to hear a different perspective to their own.
Curiosity allows you to suspend judgement and opinion whilst you learn and understand the reality of a situation or circumstances.
If you are interested in becoming an agile coach and value mentored, coach-driven skills development in your journey to mastery, visit our Growing Agile Coaches page.
For more information on John McFadyen, visit https://www.johnmcfadyen.com or connect with John on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmcfadyen/.
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