Building a Scrum Team, which is agile, be comes a critical challenge to the Scrum Masters. We want the Team to support applying the framework, roles, and arti facts and think Agile. In this article, I’d like to share some experience and hints about how to use coaching to create resilient, curious, solution-focused conversations within the Teams and help them build an agile mindset.
Scrum Master dilemmas
- How to make collaboration between developers and testers better?
- How to shift left and enable the Team’s various roles to work together, work closely from the early stages of the Sprint?
- How to make the change and not impose it on people?
- How to communicate clear and succinct messages which are cutting through the noise?
- How to build an atmosphere of friendliness, openness, and happiness at work?
As Scrum Masters, we very often hear the following statements from various team members:
- We don’t need to cooperate – each of us has a specific role, and this is what we’re focusing on.
- There’s not much we can do about it – It was working like this in the past, and we don’t see how to change it.
- Well, we could give it a try, but I’m telling you it will not work – but if you want, we can try.
- I don’t feel comfortable about the way fe edback was provided to me.
- Who will help Camille? – and there’s a long silence in the (virtual) room.
- We’ve been burning our asses off, and I simply don’t know what else we can do.
Doing Scrum vs. Being Scrum
When as a freshly certified Scrum Master back in 2009, I started to work with the Teams, the framework’s proper application was almost like to be or not be a type of situation. I wanted to policy everything and make sure people understand what it is to do with Scrum. Over the years, I’ve realized that the shift from doing Agile with Scrum to being Agile with Scrum has to do with the transition from tools, processes, artifacts implementation to enabling mental, personal, and human capabilities.
Mental, personal and human capabilities are the builders of natural Agility in the Team’s DNA, whereas processes and ar tifacts are essential, yet this is just a “me chanical Scrum”.
For Scrum Teams to become Agile, they require a group of personalities with specif ic traits. Diversity in opinions, approaches is needed, and it will always prevail. This is through positivity, a can-do attitude, and resiliency, which will make or break the deal. People with such traits see the world options and opportunities they seek and explore. They know there’s always a way if there’s a will.
If you want to support your Scrum Team in converting old paradigms of acting, thinking, and behaving to see the lasting shift in how they function, deliver, and are agile – con sider Coaching for Agility.
Coaching for Agility
The human brain can be trained and can cre ate new neural connections that function differently from previous ones. It’s the same for attitude and behavioral change. We can shift from negative to positive, from being closed down to open up, from the overwhel ming feeling of being stuck into seeking the solutions. By building specific attributes within ourselves, we can become resilient people. The same applies to our Scrum te ams. Our role is to help people see these capabilities in themselves. We can support them by stepping in the coach position and keeping them agile, not solely doing agile.
Coaching for Agility is about:
- new mental muscles,
- solutions, not constraints.
It’s about becoming open to new solu tions, ideas, tools, and ways of working. These are critical success factors of XXI post-COVID world. We – Scrum Masters – have a vocal role in spreading, building, and triggering those among Scrum Teams.
Coaching for Agility is about building a unique group of people, new personas, and personalities out of your Scrum Team. It is like switching from a manual gearbox to an automatic. You can increase the speed be cause the less manual effort is needed to drive the car.
With coaching for Agility, you get the same. You no longer need to worry about things that slowed your Team down. Your Team has got it. They worked out and understood fundamentals, and it’s happening on an auto-pilot. From there, you can move to the people’s real potential growth in the context of product development and organi zation transformation.
Why is Coaching for Agility critical?
In reality, what makes a real Scrum Team is this rare, seamless ability to release fast and often. To release while staying focused, making quick decisions, learning, and collaborating. It’s about the whole Scrum Team to continuously seek creative ways to nurture the changes, so they grow, create a happy workplace, feel satisfied and fulfilled at work and with what they do.
Stepping in the Coach position
So how do you step into the coach position to support the Team in collective change?
Being a coach is like inspecting human nature, getting into the thought-provoking process to find solutions.
Being a coach triggers particular traits and uses concrete tools to assist the coachee in the whole process. It’s an own potential discovery journey where the Scrum Master supports the Team to uncover what’s covered, to see the deeply hidden resources each person carries, and bring it all to the light.
Scrum Master as a Coach supports the Scrum Team in discovering what’s on their mind. From there, provide facilitation in a creative process of resolving the situation – finding a solution.
You don’t have to hold dedicated coach ing sessions, either individual or group ones. You simply step into coaching conversations. You can have them during the meetings, workshops, on the call – no need to point to the moment and call it coaching. What’s vital is to be present in a coach position and have the know-how to help the Scrum Team discover solutions. The best way to start doing it is to ask questions and start listening more than talking.
Scrum Master as a Coach – your essential toolbox Softeners
Be present and engaged in understanding more. Use statements like this to nurture conversation:
- I find myself curious…
- Have you noticed that…
- Would you mind telling me…
- I wonder if you would suggest to me …
Feedback or summarize what you think was said to you to ensure that you got the message right. You can backtrack when you become confused and not sure. Backtrack when you want to clarify and summarize what was said to you.
- Let me be clear about it…
- In other words… is that correct? • I think that we agreed that… Am I right? Did I summarize all points?
- Let’s review important information that we’ve covered so far…
Seek solution with the build and broaden the model
Negative emotions are generally involved in the narrowing process. When we think positively, we increase our capabilities to think “big picture” – catch the distan ce and be creative. When we feel negative emotions, we perceive things as very close. We can quickly identify with them, sometimes even overemphasize the real impact of an event or situation.
How to apply the model?
Let’s assume your Scrum Team’s big struggle is they don’t deliver the whole Sprint backlog. They always complete 80% of the backlog, leaving some items in QA or progress. So the problem you are trying to resolve together with your Team is: how to deliver the whole Sprint backlog and get the Sprint goal fully into the DONE state, where it’s meeting all criteria from DoD (Definition Of Done).
Help them first to find some comfort time. Bring themselves into a positive state. Watch for the good moments from the past which made the Team happy. Invite them to look into the memories. Sure, you will get random responses. The goal is to keep the conversation flow around positive memories.
Then move to a specific case: “Let’s sup pose six months from now you finish the Sprint with all items thoroughly done and de livered with the Sprint goal. What was the last step which made this possible for you?”
The last step, which made it possible for the Team, is to open up the box with solu tions. This is how people will start imagining the final stage of this way.
Your main task is to ask questions. Help the Team to find out solutions that will lead them to a positive result.
What you can do to bring a more different perspective is to become a constructive critique. You again ask the questions which will help the Team to broaden the perspective and realize potential road-blockers.
When they have ideas, you can acknowl edge them with positive comments and then ask further questions to open up even more space in people’s heads to think deeply about proposed solutions.
Coaching contributes significantly to creating self-organizing, independent teams. It builds willingness, self-organization, curiosi ty, and a can-do attitude.
Agile Coach and Senior Agility Master in Lufthansa Systems Poland, where she supports Scrum Masters, Product Owners, and the organization in adopting agile ways of working. Her main areas of interest are coaching, leadership development, and organization design. In her work, Ewa focuses on putting people’s ideas first while balancing the transformations that combine agile, DevOps, and lean management. Ewa is the creator of IT Coaching Hub with a mission to build a global virtual community of Scrum Masters and other IT professionals interested in potential human development with coaching, neuroscience, and positive psychology. In her free time, she practices yoga, takes care of her garden, and runs.