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Letting go of the reins in Scrum, even when it’s hard.

Rugby Scrum

Wanting control is intrinsically human, even more so when there’s a lot of money on the line. For companies just embracing Agile and Scrum in particular, stripping away levels of managerial control is an important hurdle. It might be an issue of corporate culture, or just having a boss with a strong personality.

While Scrum is not completely at odds with oversight, one of its main tenets is self-organising teams. It’s a much repeated maxim: A good Scrum team doesn’t need a Project Manager.

You might be asking yourself why self-organising teams are so important, here is just one reason: it makes everybody responsible. Empowering employees is something management coaches have been preaching for some time now, but what does that mean for Scrum? Empowering the team means that it can make its own decisions, but at the same time that it assumes responsibility for those decisions.

Scrum teams can tell their Scrum master that they need a new piece of software, or that having someone from the testing/integration/etc. department on the team will streamline the process. The Scrum master then tries to make that happen, but it’s the team not the Scrum master who decides what it needs. Most teams seem to be ok with this concept until they reach a difficult position. An example we often hear is teams coming to the Scrum master and asking him or her to deal with a colleague that is delaying the team, it might be that he’s lazy or just that his work is poor quality.

This is a make or break point for a Scrum master, of course you want to help solve the problem and make sure the team works at its full potential, but if you interfere as a Scrum master, you’re sending a signal that even though you’re not officially in charge, you really are. The hard reality is that in a Scrum team if something internal isn’t working it’s the team’s responsibility to fix that problem. The Scrum master removes impediments for the team, he doesn’t remove impediments in the team.

Old habits are hard to break, and if your employees see that you intervene and chastise a team member, it just resets the team to the default “you’re the boss, we’ll just do what you say” mentality. Weeks of increasing your team’s self-reliance can be undone with one “stop slacking off” speech from a Scrum master. OK I might be exaggerating, one chastisement might not bring you back to the starting line, but it will definitely set you back.

And why would you want to step back and let the team lead itself if it’s so hard for everybody involved. Well for one, if the team sees that you’re not just saying that they’re in charge but that you actually enforce that in one of those make or break moments, it means that the buck really stops with them, there’s no team leader who’s going to be ultimately responsible to the Product Owner. They’re all responsible, and that sense of ownership of a product is what inspires people to give it their all.

There’s a reason it’s called Scrum, it’s hard, and everybody has to pull together, it doesn’t always work, but when it does it’s amazing.

Learn how to let go in scrum with Certified ScrumMaster courses from Learning Connexions.

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