How to be a better Scrum Master

Who doesn’t want to be better? In fact, who isn’t working every day to be better when using Agile? Those essential questions are good, but they are not enough. We really have to pay attention on the details, that is what makes the difference.

Being a servant leader is not easy, specially for Scrum Masters. We are supposed to help out the teams and at the same time, keep the machine running supporting Product Owners which is the same as keeping high the expectations from our clients and stakeholders. At some point those two poles may be compromising each other. How many times you have seen the team receiving a critical request/project/user story and if you ask them to deliver that you know they will get upset? Maybe because of time dedication, maybe because of availability or maybe because that is not what the team has been suggesting for a long time and they don’t feel like they belong. Well, in those situations you cannot just say to the team you are by their side, you have to take a position there and it is probably to lead the team in a good way, maybe against the first and natural response, but always encouraging it, not pushing it.

Obviously that kind of behavior is more accepted when it comes from a real leader, not just a manager or someone that is micromanaging our agenda. At the end the team needs to feel inspire to follow someone’s advice, besides the technical knowledge. That feeling of trust goes far beyond the Company’s structure. No matter how much you can give orders to your teams, it really is a matter of the team willing to follow you. And in order to build that trust there are a couple of soft skills we all can improve or at least try. That is what I want to share with you now. (Huge disclaimer, I think we all need to work on that every day, I really believe that about myself).

All the things that I’m about to say now apply to all the Scrum Masters mainly because we are coaches and the first responsibility of a coach if to find out the good things people have. Therefore, it is especially important to develop the next soft skills:

  1. Find a way to love everyone as an important part of your team. It is something easy once you realize each member is unique and contributes to the team in a very special and personal way.
  2. Be always nice and friendly to the team: always! They need to feel you are by their side, sincerely. This doesn’t mean you have to smile all the time to them and do weird things. But in case you have been tough, sometimes is something we cannot avoid, consider to talk to the guys later, after a while and break the ice telling them you didn’t mean to hurt them. Remember you’re a coach and your main goal is to make people better and bring the best of people out, not to be better than them or have always the reason. This requires a humble personality.
  3. Do not blame people, we are a team, we fail together, we succeed together. Even if the fault isn’t yours and the problem is compromising a lot, try to find out the solution first (how long is going to take, priorities, tasks conflicts, team availability, …) and then, after doing that, with a humble attitude, talk about the possible confusion and how to solve it from now on. Address the team always willing to take responsibility. Maybe you weren’t that clear for them. But never start a conversation blaming someone. In that very moment you will lose him/her.
  4. Trust and defend your team. Asking for emails as a proof, questioning their estimations, criticizing their solutions out laud, are examples of the opposite. Remember you always have the retrospectives to improve and try new things. A beer or going out for dinner also works.
  5. Listen to your team members. It is the best way to asses the group. They are sharing information all day long, not just in the events, also when they approach you and tell you something. You have to facilitate that, be available for your team. Imagine a coach telling to the star of the team you are too busy to waist time with them. Besides, sometimes people just want to be heard. Scrum Master have the ability to help the team to feel like they belong.
  6. Motivate the team. You are basically the only one that can do it. Obviously, the team itself can be self-motivated, but specially all the cheers from its Scrum Master will help it to achieve things they never heard of. Usually the team gets a lot of critical comments: “you’re late”, “this doesn’t work as expected”, “you never innovate”, “again the same and old problems”, … Try to always cheer them up when there’s an occasion (sprint review, retrospective, etc.). Find a way to explicitly congratulate them for their work if you see effort and commitment. Highlight the best attitudes from your team.
  7. Challenge the team. None is asking you as a Scrum Master to solve all the problems. You’re just supposed to remove impediments and facilitate team’s work. When someone from the team approaches you with technical problems, ask them “how would you solve it yourself?”, “what is the best solutions you will feel comfortable with?” Obviously, you can’t sound like you’re avoiding the problem or responsibilities. You need to do it as a coach.
  8. Positive reinforcement. You will see the team members eventually not following the agile principles, or they may even bring new painful problems to the table that don’t help the team to be agile. In those situations, you have to be especially humble and not get mad at all. Approach the facts asking sincerely the team how they want to proceed, bringing up all the benefits of Agile and their previous commitment to apply the Agile principles.

I hope all Scrum Master may be someday Masters of these soft skills.


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