The job of the Scrum Master can be a challenging one. It can be made tougher when people describe the role as a “referee.” Making such a comparison implies that the Scrum Master isn’t a member of the team. Worse yet, some describe us as keepers of process, which conflicts with how we value individuals and interactions over process and tools.
A Scrum Master is neither referee nor process keeper. Instead, he is a member of the team with a different set of responsibilities. This is easy to say but not always easy to enact. Viewing the Scrum Master as a team member requires work; however, this work is necessary. After all, trust is vital for every team to succeed, and teams will be hesitant to trust any outsider. So let’s talk about some tips that will help.
- Be sincere. The best of us operate in the shadows and care little for the limelight. We empathize deeply with our teams and its members and always put their needs before our own. If this doesn’t describe you, I’d encourage you to stop reading and begin exploring other career paths.
- Start with small wins. When we first join a team, we should find small ways to help them. Every circumstance is different, but make certain these small wins don’t conflict with the team’s self-organization. As I’ve written about previously, our job is to put ourselves out of one.
- Learn from the team. I’ve been teaching for decades. I was a martial arts instructor as well as an intelligence instructor for the U.S. Marine Corps. I’ve taught CPR, rappelling, tax accounting, Scrum, the list goes on. Do you know what I’ve learned? My students know more than I do. Learn from them. Sit with them. Do their jobs and understand their pain points. We remind our team members that T-shaped members are important, so set the example. Help the team complete some work.
- Little things matter. A few weeks ago, I asked a group of engineers if they’d be willing to offer up some of their time to assist with some work. As a thank you, I brought them their lunch and grabbed them something to drink from our kitchen. Little things matter. In fact, they often matter just as much as the big things, so go out of your way to thank or help someone when there’s nothing in it for you.
- Just get to know your team members. We should be interviewing our team members and product owners regularly, and I explain why here. Enter these conversations with no agenda. We shouldn’t be trying to convince anyone of our ideas here. Instead, it’s an opportunity to understand each of them better, both personally and professionally.
- What can I do to make your job easier? We should ask this question often of our team members and product owners. However, mean it if you ask it. Not always will the person take us up on the offer, but when they do, we should bend over backward to accommodate.
- Solve their problems, not your own. One of our responsibilities is to surface problems, not to solve them. Leave problem-solving to the team. They’ll engage us when they’d like our opinions, so wait for them to include you. When they do, offer your experiences and counsel.
What do you think? Do you have any tips that have helped your teams view the Scrum Master as a team member? Share them in the comments below.