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Leaders and Servants – Tips for the Scrum master

January 15, 2013

Scrum masters are not meant to lead (lead technically or in terms of business), they are meant to serve. And serving has different flavours.

This ‘epiphany’ started with a 15 seconds chat with a fellow Scrum Master.

– ” Should you be a leader? “- I asked the scrum master

– ” Of course”- He replied

– ” Will you drive the team?” – I asked

– ” Of course, I must drive them to do better”

And here I

It’s too easy to lead and drive (easy for those who really are drivers and leaders, for the others: this post is not meant for you).

Too easy to make people follow. And good too. But only if you mean lead and drive their motivation, engagement and pride.

So I say – Scrum masters are not meant to lead (lead technically or in terms of business), they are meant to serve. And serving has different flavours:

When you start as a Scrum Master (I call it Type 0) in a new team you serve as the person who helps removing impediments, you serve as the person who helps organizing the work, serve as facilitator on running events as daily scrums, retrospectives, demos and by setting up practicalities.

But for me this is a first level Scrum Master. A servant of practicalities. You won’t grow a team with this, you are just keeping things clean and neat.

So here comes my favorite flavour: The Scrum Master.

– The one who causes pain by uncovering what’s wrong  and does not heal people by making small patches that hide reality or solve temporarily stuff (does not loose time fixing symptoms) .
– The one that, above all, believes that the team must heal for itself no matter how hard, how painful and how long it takes. For every fall you take, you will rise stronger. And this is true also for teams.
– The one that believes, that knows!, that each team is smarter than any Scrum Master in earth and they’ll find better and or most suitable solutions for their own illness.

I guess this is why Scrum Master as troublemakers for some. These little bastards keep pointing out your problems and they don’t let go until you fix them.

I’ve had my count of type 0 Scrum masters, so nice and protective. Always keeping things neat but unfortunately with no impact on the team growth. Sometimes it’s also because it’s really hard to justify where a Scrum Master spends it’s time, so we do this neat boards and cards and things (which are ok and needed, but nor what teams need the most). How do you explain and justify that 100% of your time relies on observing the team, making questions and reading? That’s waste, right? May be. But, isn’t it needed?

I also had my share on type 0 too. Now I guess I don’t care anymore. I dedicate myself to do silly and hard questions. Of course that I still try to do (as much as my skills let me) neat boards and things to increase visibility and transparency, but if they don’t use them, that means they see no value, so I stop. Ok, there’s a minimum you must keep, but what’s the point of doing stuff for people if they can’t fully use it? We should be helping with answers not more waste, right?

And the only way I know to help with answers is by making questions.

Are you helping with questions or giving the answers you want to see? Is that the answer they need? How can you tell?

Sometimes we know the team needs something, for example, to do a brainstorm and get a common understanding by sharing different perspectives, but  it happens that they don’t feel they need it. That’s ok. If you know you are right, just prove it. Show why they need it, make questions that will help them figure out that actually they need to do something.
But don’t just recite the books you read: they are smart enough to give you all the arguments to prove their reality is different, and how your suggestion doesn’t fit.

Question everything, maybe even suggest a way and ask them to experiment it – you’ll probably end up with a new way of doing stuff: a better way for all.

Bottom line, don’t try to be a leader. But also don’t be just a team assistant doing practicalities. Observe, question, suggest, try. Be a servant. A servant of pain and doubts. Make them think out of the box, new perspectives, new ways.
Don’t be a driver, just show them how to hold the wheel if they need too. show them how it can be done, don’t trap yourself on thinking that’s the only way of doing it. Let them evolve.
And scream, scream a lot while you are all taking a ride with them driving, they’ll surely improve the way they drive just to shut you up. My dad tried that and it worked ;) I’m a better more confident driver now, and he… well he sleeps while I’m driving.


From → Agile, People, Scrum, Tips

  1. Excelente article!

  2. Matthew Smart permalink

    Thanks for sharing this with us Catia, a great insight.

  3. Pedro Röseler permalink

    Nice reading! ;-)

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