What if…teams remove impediments themselves?

Posted By - Geoff Watts


When agile teams encounter the terms “impediment” or “blocker,” their thoughts often turn immediately to the Scrum Master. This association is understandable since a fundamental duty of the Scrum Master from the inception of the role has been to remove any obstacles that hinder team effectiveness and the delivery of value.

However, in high-performing teams, the responsibility to remove impediments isn’t seen as belonging only to the Scrum Master. Instead, these teams proactively work to resolve obstacles on their own.

The benefits of the team removing impediments itself

Teams that proactively remove their own impediments reap numerous benefits. They not only accomplish more valuable work faster but also experience enhanced satisfaction from their achievements.

Such teams transition from feeling helpless and constrained by organisational bureaucracy to becoming empowered agents of change, actively shaping the organisation according to their vision.

This shift not only boosts motivation, engagement, and ownership within the team but also enhances the overall effectiveness of the organisation. It frees up dedicated change agents or team coaches to focus more on broader aspects of organisational transformation.

Removing impediments yourself can be scary

It’s easy for someone like me to suggest “ask for forgiveness, not permission, and just get on with it,” but in reality, it’s often not that straightforward.

Many teams are held back from being more proactive and achieving greater autonomy due to fear. Some of this fear is quite justified—there’s a concern about making mistakes or potentially exacerbating existing issues.

One risk is that a team may focus on optimising at a local level rather than considering the entire system, due to their immediate visibility. This localised resolution of impediments can inadvertently create issues elsewhere, leading to significant demotivation if these solutions need to be reversed.

Additionally, there’s the apprehension that by taking bold steps, they may overstep boundaries, potentially causing unrest or even serious consequences.

Fear is a normal self-defence mechanism, and in my experience, it often exists more in our minds than in reality. Despite whether the fear is real or perceived, there are proactive measures that a team can take to overcome these challenges.

Photo by Vadim Bogulov on Unsplash

Tools to help you remove impediments

Set your Fears

Adopting a structured approach to identifying, analysing, and mitigating fears or perceived risks can significantly simplify the process of taking action. Begin by documenting all the potential risks you foresee. Then, methodically address each one with the following questions:

  • How likely is this to actually happen?
  • What steps can we take now to minimise this risk?
  • How can we prepare in case this risk materialises?
  • Is there a way to reframe this risk to view it differently?

This systematic examination helps not only in clarifying the actual weight of each risk but also empowers teams to proactively manage and remove impediments with greater confidence.

Sphere of Control

Another barrier to teams becoming more proactive is the extent of their perceived sphere of control.

Building on the fear-setting exercise, successful teams often pivot to asking, “What can we do about this?” They focus on actions within their current sphere of control while also exploring ways to expand it.

I’ve witnessed numerous instances where teams underestimate their actual influence over their environment. Consequently, high-performing teams challenge themselves further by asking, “If we had more power than we think, what actions would we take?” This encourages a mindset shift towards greater empowerment and proactive engagement in removing impediments.

Map the System

I’ve noted the risk of local sub-optimisations and the potential for solutions that benefit one area to inadvertently create problems elsewhere.

By simply mapping out our position within the larger system and identifying who else might be impacted by our actions, we can help prevent unintended consequences. Additionally, this process can reveal potential allies or partners who might also benefit from the changes we’re considering.

While resolving their own impediments comes with risks for teams, the potential rewards are substantial—not just for the team itself but for the wider organisation. This proactive approach not only streamlines operations but also fosters a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement.

For more information on this topic check out this link.


The Team Mastery Pathway

If you would like a structured approach to help your team go from good to great then let me know and I can organise one of our six-month Team Mastery Pathways.

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