Does This Feel Like We’re Fighting The Scrum Master?


Invariably the time comes.  Hopefully it is a passing moment rather than a normal state of contention.  A team is trying to relegate their scrum master towards insignificance.  There are lots of ways to do so.  In fact, perhaps this is fairly easy since it is many versus one.  When we talk about the scrum master in software development – this is a role that is part of the team and yet has a very special  charge.   Teams that I come across are ever unique.  However, there are still patterns to behaviors that trip the ‘spidey sense’ and make me ask a bunch of questions.  In fact it is far easier for team members to attack than it is to consider, engage, problem solve, and change.  It is all right to disagree.  What should emerge from disagreement is what one thing we cherish over some other thing though there may be value in both.  Here are three team behaviors or attitudes to watch against.

Tag You’re It.  This is the hot potato role that the position of scrum master can be passed around the team.  Short interim, sure it can. No situation is ideal.  Longer term though, and we risk degrading the role so much that we lose our team advocate.  This role holds a unique perspective on how the team is interacting.  Someone to map to the framework and agile principals.  It might be a darker side, but I have the tendency to think that most things in the universe are in a state of decay. That vigilance and endeavor are needed not only to repair and sustain – but also to improve.  A person dedicate to the role is afforded the time to grow with it.

You Don’t Know Me. Anyone tasked with needing to change our focus, or the way we are thinking about things may have a really rough time. Admittedly my high school teachers are owed some profound apologies and thanks.   In a similar manner, if our scrum master doesn’t code, this doesn’t mean that they have no ideas on how to help in some way.  I’ve heard Quality Assurance testers say that their brains were far different than the scrum masters’ or even developers’ and that two would never meet.   I had to counter Really? Although we may think along different paths, the brain (when used properly) never ceases to amaze me when at it’s best, how flexible, creative, and genius it can be.  A team, ideally, might represent everything it might take to get the software through an organization and into the customer’s hands.  While doing so, they leave nothing untouched.  The team itself, the organization, the software may all be changed for better by the experience.

Believe it or not, the team includes the scrum master.  For the team to improve, this also means the team including, involving and being honest with their scrum master. Usually the scrum master helps motivate the rest of the team.  The reciprocal is also necessary – we all have our moments of hesitation.  We share in this experience and all should be left better for the having of it.

Are we all growing?  The scrum master usually watches for level of thinking – are we in the details, the general work, or the larger and longer release goals?  Is now the time to be talking about this or can it wait until a more appropriate time?  How are we interacting as a team?  How efficient and effective are we? Are we growing? Are we heard?

Fight the System. The scrum master, or even a coach is identified as a sole representative of ‘the way’.  We fight ‘the way’.  I can think of 3 or 4 other REALLY heavy release processes which are far less effective than Scrum.  I even saw the havoc these processes created with their false sense of security or the heavy burden and burn-out placed on a few people in the last phased functional role for the deliverable.  We might pin our failure on advocates or simply check out.  Process isn’t a bad thing, we just need to keep it in context and ensure that we control the process and not that it limits us. Perhaps we are too overwhelmed and everyone is operating on fumes.  This says something about our sustainable pace.    When we as a team place emphasis on the fighting, the passive-aggressive, or passive-defensive… et al. we are only fighting ourselves.  Fighting our own ability to change and be agile.  It is a funny thing which Phil Goldberg noticed and wrote Get out Of Your Own Way.   This self defeating behavior is as prevalent within ourselves just as it can manifest within a team.  I am mindful that I like people, and that there are just behaviors I don’t tend to find particularly helpful. Thinking can be a biological high energy state to form new connections… habits are entrenched, comfortable pathways.

I’ve brought up the point before, that in sparring with someone, we are partners.  We are both trying to improve ourselves together, testing, practicing, trying new techniques together.  We are really gearing up to tackle some rather difficult challenges and thought-work.   The best teams are balanced, across their members, in their ability to do this. Great teams also exhibit a tempo across differences or unknowns that allow them to adjust, learn, adapt, and try.  I want my team to improve and level up, as I expect no less from myself.  A great scrum master is not only an asset, an advocate and an ally for any team – they spark and fan the flame that every team inherently possesses.


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