Career / Management

How Being a Facilitator Makes You an Elite Scrum Master

by Team Nuggets
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Published on November 6, 2017

Scrum is a practice that allows teams to make changes quickly when aligned with Agile principles. A Scrum Master facilitates the Agile development team. Typically, each morning, teams have a stand-up meeting to review progress and even re-initiate their project. Questions the Scrum Master may ask include:

  • What did you accomplish yesterday?

  • What will you accomplish today?

  • Is anything holding you back?

Despite the fact that the Scrum Master holds the meetings, the entire team is responsible for the outcome of the project. Still, the Scrum Master must ensure that the team reaches consensus regarding the desired outcome. Also, the Scrum Master must remove obstacles, and help the team stay focused, through all the craziness.

So experience in facilitation is imperative. We've put together a guide to effective facilitation for Scrum Masters:

What are the Responsibilities Associated with a Facilitator?

Like a Scrum Master, a facilitator must help a group of people understand their common objectives and keep them on track to achieving their goals. The facilitator does not take a position in regard to what those goals should be. They must remain neutral, keeping in mind that their job is to build consensus on how the group reaches their objectives.

Furthermore, a facilitator must promote synergy and collaboration. To do so, the facilitator must have the leadership abilities and charisma needed to get people to listen and want to participate. Then, the facilitator must play the supportive role, encouraging everyone to commit to their best thinking and practices.

The Scrum Master and the Scrum Framework

Before we get into how being a facilitator can help you become an elite Scrum Master, it is important to take a look at the role of the Scrum Master. Within the Scrum framework, there is the Scrum team, the product owner, and the Scrum Master. Scrum teams do not have a project manager, they have a Scrum Master who shares responsibilities with the Scrum product owner.

The Scrum Master plays the roles of both supporter and leader. The Scrum Master also protects the team from any external distractions and obstacles so that it can complete projects on time and on budget. Yet, all outcomes are the responsibility of the entire team. While you don't need to have a specific background to become an elite Scrum Master, you do need skills such as facilitation and coaching.

Because the Scrum Master gives the team the ability to make their own decisions, some of the risk is taken on by the Scrum Master. For example, a project manager would provide teams solutions to issues they are experiencing. In contrast, a Scrum Master would lead team members down a more empowered path of making their own decisions. Still, if their decisions don't pan out the Scrum Master may hold some of the responsibility.

Some of the skills needed to become an elite Scrum Master can be developed through training and your experience as a facilitator.

Transitioning from Facilitator to Scrum Master

A facilitator uses techniques such as asking questions to help the team improve their ownership of the project outcome. If there are issues with collaboration, the facilitator has to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working in harmony.

So, the facilitator must help the team get to the root cause of any issue by asking probing questions. Facilitators help make things happen and help build strong teams. The same characteristics needed to be a successful facilitator are also used by elite Scrum Masters. Some of these qualities include:

  • Foresight

  • Collaboration

  • Empathy

  • Ethical use of power

  • Listening

  • Growth-mindedness

  • Community-mindedness

And, just as the facilitator helps the team to reach their own accountability, the Scrum Master must do the same. With accountability, everyone on the team is expected to contribute their fair share. If not, they are held accountable. In fact, everyone is expected to be a team player. Neither the facilitator nor the Scrum Master forces anyone to do anything; they simply help team members to do it themselves.

Clearing the Path

Being a facilitator is necessary to becoming an elite Scrum Master because Scrum Masters must facilitate the Scrum process and promote continuous improvement. That means keeping a focus on the agreed process when discussions veer off track. Other expectations include:

  • Ensure Scrum events are effective

  • Help the team achieve their objectives

  • Facilitate the integration of the Scrum team

  • Facilitate positive relationships and harmonious collaboration

Final Thoughts

Elite Scrum Masters should act as a servant/leaders, a coach, and a facilitator. They will know exactly how to change hats depending on the context and situation. It is through training, daily practice, and experience that you can reach the elite level and create a culture of thriving Scrum teams.


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