Secrets of a Scrum Master | Part Three

Andy Roberts

Andy has worked in many different environments from the military through to challenging corporate roles as CIO and Change Director in industries including engineering, finance, communications, utilities and insurance. Through his management years he has tried pretty much every leadership style and now takes a coaching approach to all teams and individuals, placing less value on hierarchy and authority and instead emphasising competencies and influence.

Introduction

This is the last in a series where Headforwards Scrum Masters reveal insights into their role. A lot has been written about agile methodology and the role of Scrum Master. Being a Scrum Master requires a wide range of interpersonal and facilitator skills. While there are a set of principles that Scrum Masters typically adhere to, everybody has their own take on the practice. We asked three of our own to talk about their focal points when practising the art of Scrum. Andy Roberts talks about his take on the role.

Series links

Secrets of a Scrum Master | Part One

Secrets of a Scrum Master | Part Two

Secrets of a Scrum Master | Part Three

Get under the skin of your teams

I came from a traditional Project Manager background and I have learnt to let go of old habits and old ways of relating to people. Being a Scrum Master involves the delivery aspects of project management, but at its best, it is much more than that. It is enabling teams to be the best they can be. To make that happen, you have to relate to all the individual team members with genuine sincerity. You have to try to get under the skin of your staff and really understand what makes them tick, taking into account individual personality traits and any sensitivities or barriers which may for example make people defensive or hold them back. Pulling a team together is difficult and you can only do it when you have a deep understanding of every team member.

Be sincere

Be sincere and authentic in the way you relate to your team and colleagues. People instantly recognise sincerity and respond to it. It is probably the most important personal characteristic for a Scrum Master to have as it has an immediate and powerful impact on the way others relate to you.

Watch your language

As an Agile Scrum Master, it is vital that you avoid any of the language of old-style management or hierarchical structures. You should endeavour not to issue blunt instructions or tell the team what they have to do. At the heart of your approach, should be a commitment to Agile Coaching. Work with the team and encourage them. This will show up in the kind of language you use. For example, you should always say ‘This is the team I work with’ rather than call them ‘My team’. The differences may seem subtle but it creates an atmosphere of mutual respect and builds the team’s confidence. In the same vein, tone of voice matters too. As quite a passionate person by nature, this is something I have had to learn and cultivate. It never helps to raise your voice or get too strident. Stay cool, calm and measured.

Develop the relationship over time

Phase the relationship with your team. For example, initially you may say ‘you can be open with me.’ After trust and respect has built up across the team, you may later go on to say: ‘You can say whatever you like to me – if you tell me to get lost, I am a happy man.’ However, had you said that at the very outset, there is a risk that some team members could go too far and potentially offend other members of the team. It is a subtle line to draw – but you should regard the relationship with your team as one that grows and deepens over time, as you get to know each other.

Discover the power of silence

Learn when to hold back and stay quiet. There is a human tendency to want to leap in and fill the silence if there is a pause in a conversation. But as a Scrum Master, it is usually more fruitful to stay quiet and let someone else speak up. Get comfortable with long pauses – they are not there for you to fill! Let your team members have the opportunity to say what they think. This is particularly important with less experienced team members, who may be reticent and who need to grow in confidence. So learn how to ask the right questions and learn when to sit back silently and listen. In some meetings, I say nothing at all.

Hire the right people for your company’s ethos

Although you can train people and teach them new skills, you cannot change a person’s essential character and personality. Make sure you recruit people that share the same ethos as your company and reflect the characteristics prized by your organisation. That way, it will be a win-win.

Encourage your team to connect on a personal level

Every team will have loads of issues going on. The team will work better together if they understand each other. Simple tools and techniques can help, such as each sharing with each other ‘I like it when….’ Or ‘I don’t like it when….. This kind of simple device can quickly unlock some deeper insights and understanding and help the team to work well together.

Treat everyone exactly the same

Treat everyone as a peer and treat everyone with equal respect and generosity of spirit, whether they are the most junior person in the company or the owner of the company. Respect others and you will soon win the respect of others.

Further Reading

Secrets of a Scrum Master | Part One

We asked three of our own to talk about their focal points when practising the art of Scrum. Mike Fosker talks about his take on the role.

Read more

Secrets of a Scrum Master | Part Two

We asked three of our own to talk about their focal points when practising the art of Scrum. Craig talks about his take on the role.

Read more

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