But, who is my scrum team really?

24th January 2014 | By Mouseworld Now Correspondent | 2 Comments

1Emotional intelligence is one of the key attribute for a Scrum Master.Especially,understanding the bit about self-awareness and team-awareness. This article explores the widelypopular methods available inunderstanding the traits of self as well as team members.

One of my favorite questions during theAgile Scrum Team Foundation training is, “Who wants to become a Scrum Master?” While I see lots of hands instantlygoing-up, during the beginning of the course, I seldomsee the same level of enthusiasmas the course progresses. I have seen only a handful volunteering for it and actually enjoying the role.Scrum Master is certainly a demanding role but it isn’t a scary one and I was wondering what makes folks not to take it up though they are able both technically and proven leaders.

In a tete-a-tete with a couple of Scrum Masters, I used my favorite “5 WHYs” technique (it is a great tool with iterative questions with the intention of finding the root cause).

  • Why are you not interested in becoming aScrum Master?

Hmmm… I like it, but I think it is very demanding and I need to stretch a lot.

  • Why do you think it is so demanding?

Because, I am answerable to both management and the Scrum team members.

  • Why is it so hard? I thought you are good in both these areas. Management appreciates your ownership and the value you bring to the product and the team likes you for your leadership skills.

That’s true.Though I can manage the expectations from management, I find it difficult to cope up with the ever changing team                    dynamics.

  • Why do you think there are changes in team dynamics?

Though I know about the team members’ career goals and desires, I feel that something is still amiss. Something that maybe, I                    need to probe but I just don’t know “what and how”.

  • Why can’t you probe them to understand their needs much better?

Because I don’t know their type/emotions and I don’t want to step in their space and make them feel uncomfortable.

Well, the 5 Whys technique doesn’t really stop with 5 ‘Why’ questions. We can keep going on till we get to the root of the problem. I got what I wanted and hence I stopped with my 5th question from ‘why someone doesn’t want to become a Scrum Master’ to ‘I don’t know their type/emotions’.

Of course, we can’t fit everyone into onebucket. There are plenty of reasons why someone doesn’t want to become a Scrum Master:

  • Technically incompetent
  • Lack of leadership skills
  • Lack of faith in the ‘servant leader’ concept
  • Unwilling to take up challenging opportunities etc.,

Most of the above reasons fit into either one of the two broad categories: Skill andWillingness.

In this article, the focus isonthe folks who have both the skills(technical and leadership) but are stillunwilling to take it up because they don’t know the dynamics oftheir Scrum team members.

To become a servant-leader one needs to possess multiplepeople skillsin addition to technical skills. Listening is the topmost skillrequirement and there are lots of other soft skills such aseffective communication, facilitation, empathy, etc.Foremost, it is important that the Scrum Master knows the traits of his/herteam members so they can motivate the folks and achieve the release goals together as a team.

As Warren Bennis, American scholar, organizational consultant and author states, “Management is getting people to do what needs to be done. Leadership is getting people to want to do what needs to be done”.

Prior to understanding what the team members need, it isimportant to understand the traits of individual team members. No, we don’t need to don apsychologist’s hat to do it. We just have to thank the psychologist William Marston who invented DISC assessment in assessing the multiple personality traits.

Before getting into the behavior assessment tool, let us understand the importance of thistoolfor the Scrum Master. The crux of Scrum is all about teamwork anda collaborationmindset. But in reality, it is difficult to achieve this level at least in the initial agile adoption because people are different by nature. A team is usually a mix of multiple personalities – aggressive, assertive, introvert, extrovert and more. If someone is extrovert and outspoken it is easy to get their inputs. In fact,attimes we have to ‘time out’ to make them stop talking and give others a fair chance to express their opinionJ.While, someone being quiet doesn’t mean that they don’t have any inputs.This is to ensure everyone’s inputs are received be it sprint planning or sprint retrospection. There are several brainstorming techniques to ensure everyone opens up and present their ideas folks.In comparison to a ‘free-for-all’, the ‘round-robin’ method works well since everyone has a dedicated time slot to share their ideas. However, even in this method, individuals have to be comfortable sharing their ideas in front of others. So it is important for a Scrum Master to understand the traits and also apply appropriate techniques to get the best from individuals.

Another key element inbuilding self-empowered teams is ‘Emotional Intelligence’. This is important to identify, assess and influence the emotions of the team members. The Emotional Intelligence starts from self-awareness and moves up to learning about others.

DISC assessment is a perfect tool for a Scrum Master to start analyzing himself/herself first and then move on to understandingthe team members. The million dollar question here is why it is so important to understand oneself. We all have our own natural style and adapted style. I can be a quiet and shy person but my work demands me to be outspoken so I’ll have to modify my natural style to adapt to the environment I am in. However, we have to be careful in stretching the limit, since in an emotional situation, we all get back to our natural style which may be quiet shocking to the folks who aren’t used to. So it is very important to know what traits the Scrum Master has even before he or she tries to understand the traits of team members.

Let us understand a bit about DISC assessment:. I am summarizing some of the key concepts (courtesy Wikipedia):

DISC is an acronym for Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance. DISC assessment tool is used to identify 15 patterns in personality traits: Achiever, Agent, Appraiser, Counselor, Creative, Developer, Inspirational, Investigator, Objective Thinker, Perfectionist, Persuader, Practitioner, Promoter, Result Oriented & Specialist. Through a series of questions as part of DISC personality testing, one can figure out which dimension in DISC a personbelongs to. The mind mapbelow will help understand the traits with respect to different elements: General characteristics, the value they bring to the team, their possible weaknesses & greatest fear(reference:http://mindmapblog.wordpress.com/2008/06/26/understanding-disc-styles-improving-teamwork-with-a-mindmap/ ).

They key role of a Scrum Master is not only to understand the team members traits, but also to be able to figure out conflicting characteristics of different team members and help resolve conflictsamicably so that the team can functioncohesively to arrive at the bigger picture.

Scrum Masters can also use Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) which is on similar lines as DISC. It is also an assessment tool with psychometric questions to help understand how individuals perceive the world and make decisions. Pretty similar to DISC, MBTI has 16 types that are referred by an abbreviation of four letters. I(Introversion), N(intuition), F(Feeling), P(Perception), E(Extroversion), S(Sensing), T(Thinking), J(Judgment). Extraversion or Introversion is considered to be part of Attitudes, Sensing or Intuition & Thinking or Feeling considered to be part of Functions and Judging or Perception is part of Lifestyle.

Below diagram (Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator) shows the cognitive functions of each type:


Let us quickly summarize how this can be put in place:

  • Why? Though it helps the Scrum Master a lot, it is also equally important for each team member to understand other team members’traits so that they can complement each other and work as one single team.
  • When? Do we need to do this all the time? Of course not.This analysis has to happen during the initial stage of group formation. This is the time the team organization happens to decide who does what.Understanding the traits of individuals and assigning suitable roles as much as possible will help the team chart a victory path. Doing this early on,during the release planning and early sprints makes for an effective and efficient team. However, a point to be note is that individual personality traits aren’t going to change drastically, at least within a release. Hence, taking this up once should be perfectly fine.
  • Who? Entire team including Scrum Master and all cross functional team members: Development, Testers, Documentation Writers, Configuration Managers, Architects, and Support everyone involved in developing the product.
  • How? There are plenty of online tools available for both DISC assessment as well as MBTI. The key during this assessment is the candid inputs from individuals. If someone is uncomfortable (for example, introvert may sound weak, but in reality it is just like any other trait) and faking the answers, the whole purpose is defeated. So it is important that the Scrum Master explains the objective and the benefits it brings to the whole team & the product that is being built.

As long as the team members are being candid while taking up the assessment and the Scrum Master is willing to do something about the outcome of this assessment, there is already a high performing team in front of you.

So now, once again, I would like to pose the same question at the end of the article – “Who wants to become a Scrum Master?” I do sincerely hope that the number of hands that have gone up shall remain up signaling victory for the Scrum Master and the team together.

Author Bio-Ramesh Manickavel  has 13+ years in IT. Certified Six Sigma Black Belt from GE & playing the role of Engineering Program Manager in CA. Passionate about coaching & training. Around 3 years of experience in Agile and have trained 800+ in Agile Scrum Team Foundation (in CA) and an active coach. Firm believer of people empowerment & self-organized team.

(The ideas and opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and doesn’t reflect that of ours. Mouseworld Now doesn’t take responsibility for any of the views expressed in the article).

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Sankara Says:
January 27th, 2014 at 10:09 pm

Very nicely said Ramesh.. I wish to see more article like this in future from you..

Uma Says:
February 2nd, 2018 at 11:25 am

A very informative article for budding SMs !!

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