Career / Management

Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Why Optimism Matters

by Team Nuggets
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Published on November 10, 2017

Scrum Masters are true experts when it comes to balancing responsibilities, including tight deadlines, unexpected setbacks, and team members with diverse needs and abilities.

In order to succeed while playing this balancing act, Scrum Masters should embrace an attitude of optimism. While that may be easier said than done, it's certainly possible. Here's how and why to practice positivity as a Scrum Master.

Great Scrum Masters Create a Positive Environment

Many Agile organizations describe the Scrum Master role as a "servant leader." You aren't a project manager, but rather work on an equal playing field with the other individuals on your team. You act more like a coach, helping your team to make realistic goals, working to remove obstacles to those goals, and holding them accountable for achieving them.

In this job function, the Scrum Master is in the position to provide many benefits to the members of the team. One key benefit can be the positive environment fostered by the Scrum Master's servant leadership style. Emotions can be infectious, so by demonstrating positivity, adaptability, and confidence, the rest of your team is more likely to feel that way, too.

It's impossible to avoid challenges at work, much less life. By being optimistic, individuals are able to power through adversity without becoming too bogged down by it and move on to the next challenge without carrying too much baggage from the last setback. This is a crucial skill for Agile teams, who must work quickly and roll with the punches. By setting an optimistic example, you can help your team become more resilient.

Each Day is an Opportunity to Practice

As a Scrum Master, your role by definition includes frequent opportunities for assessment. From the sprint planning meeting to the daily standup, you're constantly at the forefront of the effort to answer key questions for your team: "How did we do, and what will we do next?" Your team also will likely be answering a reflective question like, "What obstacles are impeding your progress?"

While focusing on obstacles may seem inherently pessimistic, it's actually the perfect opportunity for optimism. Rather than using the question as a launchpad for complaining, you as the Scrum Master can change the dynamic by encouraging the team to see the question as something more like, "What obstacles am I going to overcome as I make progress?" This shift sets an optimistic tone, and framing other assessment questions in such a way means that every day is an opportunity for everyone on the team to practice optimism. 

Optimism Doesn't Mean Abandoning Realism

Unrealistic optimism can lead to burnout. Why? Well, naive optimism or wishful thinking by a Scrum Master can lead to creating impractical expectations and too much work crammed into sprints. If work is constantly spilling over from one sprint to the next, your team isn't truly benefitting from the Agile structure and doesn't get the satisfaction of sprint completion. Alternatively, if your team is working overtime to get everything done, and can't recover between sprints, a negative environment will quickly develop.

Being truly optimistic means being realistic with just the right balance of aspiration and ambition. Making challenging but achievable goals for your team allows everyone involved to benefit from the hard work and satisfaction of a job well done. 

Optimism in the workplace helps teams overcome challenges and boosts productivity and morale. It's clear why a glass-half-full attitude is perfect for a Scrum Master, whose very responsibilities include those results of optimism.

Ready to become an optimistic Scrum Master? You'll learn everything you need to know in our Scrum Essentials and our Soft Skills for ScrumMasters courses.


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