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What is Scrum without a cross-functional, self-managing team? This empowered value-creating unit iterating both what they are building and how they are building it, constantly gathering feedback, reflecting and learning. All the time, guided by a servant-leader focused on Scrum Mastery – using the framework to make the framework unnecessary.
The term servant-leadership originated from an essay by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970, “The Servant As Leader” where he essentially calls for a reversal of traditional leadership (the accumulation and exercise of power by one person at the top of the pyramid). Instead, Greenleaf calls for a leader whose focus is to ensure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.
The guiding principle of servant leadership states that “the highest priority of a servant-leader is to encourage, support and enable subordinates to unfold their full potential and abilities.”
Many people find themselves dropped in to the role of Scrum Master with little preparation other than a two-day introductory course. Some find themselves asked to be Scrum Master for multiple teams while others are asked to do the role on top of their main job.
It’s no surprise that these people barely grasp the role let alone master it. As a result the team, the product and the organisation suffers. When I’ve seen people allowed to grow into the role through focus, support, coaching and mentoring, not only do they thrive but they actually create an organisation that has the potential to outgrow the need for Scrum.
A Scrum Master is part facilitator, part coach and part coordinator. They are also part parent, part orchestra conductor and part sheepdog. And much, much more. It is incredibly hard to nail down a definition of the Scrum Master role because what a Scrum Master needs to do one sprint could be incredibly different from what they need to do in the next sprint. There is the facilitation of the Scrum ceremonies, including planning sessions and sprint retrospectives, and the continual general team facilitation, plus 1-2-1 coaching, helping the Product Owner out with the Product Backlog and their stakeholders. Oh and changing the policies, processes and structures of the organisation to more ably support agile ways of working.
People looking for a repetitive, monotonous job should not apply!
Great Scrum Masters have great facilitation skills and a range of what is often referred to as “soft skills”. The great Scrum Masters I know have high levels of emotional intelligence and resilience as well as the core characteristics I call out in my book Scrum Mastery:
They have a reputation for integrity both within the team and in the wider organisation
They are passionate about helping others be effective
They are diplomacy personified
They are creative in removing impediments to productivity
They are prepared to promote a counter-culture
They generate enthusiasm and energy in others
They enjoy helping both individuals and teams develop and grow
They are sensitive to those around them
They break the old status quo and help create a new way of working
A great friend of mine – Michael James – once said:
A good Scrum Master can probably cope with up to three teams. A great Scrum Master focuses on one.
Short answer = No!
These roles are explicitly meant to be different people and doing them both not only means you will quickly get burnout but you also introduce a huge amount of unnecessary risk to the team, product and organisation due to the huge conflict of interest.
While almost anything is possible, absolutely everything has consequences and while this is not as bad as being the Product Owner at the same time as being the Scrum Master, the extra confusion, conflict of interest and general over-burden means it’s highly unrecommended.