Scrum Master providing counselling to the team

Last post 07:13 pm February 12, 2018
by Chris Field
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07:17 pm February 7, 2018

I was talking to another Scrum Master today, and I was quite taken by a difference in how we work.

It seems he puts much more time and attention than me in to being there as a person the team can go to about anything (e.g. personal matters, or anything that is getting the person down) - kind of a psychotherapist, without ever claiming to be qualified in that role. 

This is certainly something I recognise as a very important trait in a Scrum Master; and I think I was pretty aware that the importance of the Scrum Master being able to do this depends on the circumstances in the organization, the team and its members; but in my case, it hasn't yet been a very big part of my job. I just haven't encountered many situations where I felt it was needed/wanted.

I'm wondering how much of that is down to me, and how much comes from the situation and the colleagues I have as a Scrum Master. Perhaps there are things about my behaviour, perception or how I'm coming across that are causing this difference.

Are any other Scrum Masters able to provide further insights? Is this a big part of your job? Do you notice differences in other Scrum Masters that you've worked with, in terms of how much and how well they do this? Do any of you avoid providing that kind of service to your colleagues?

08:37 pm February 7, 2018

I deal with it fairly often. I'm always pretty open with my team that I'm not a therapist but I'll be happy to help and listen; mainly because I'm not a professionally trained or qualified therapist. 

The team I work with now has a huge difference in age, culture, and lifestyle so with such vast diversity; it is impossible to avoid conflicts. Conflicts can absolutely impede the team so I want to make sure my team understands that I'm there to help out whenever they need with whatever they need. With that said, I don't butt into issues unless it is something requires it and like to use HR when the issue warrants that level. 

I've always been a guy that people could talk to though so this kind of comes naturally to me. I have learned from experience that people who get along work better together so it is a no brainer that it would be good to try to help mediate issues that come up between the team. Personal issues outside of work also affect us during the day so having someone to talk to is helpful to many people. I usually check in with each of my team members at least once a week at their desks and ask how they are doing, ask about their life outside of work to show them that I care about them more than just being a developer on my team. This also really helps when you're thinking of ways to help with daily stand ups and retros from getting too boring. For example, I've recently found that my entire team loves marvel movies and game of thrones so in our stand up I have a plastic Thor's Hammer that we use to pass around, "Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power to speak without interruption." It's cheesy but it's fun and my team likes it. We also have a foam football that we pass around to change things up. Without investing in my team, I wouldn't know much about them and how they work. Plus, you learn what can cause a person to shut down easily and all. 

When appropriate, I strongly encourage anyone in a SM role to be there fore your team members about anything they need. Just know your boundaries and have the ability to call in HR or others for help when it is required.

10:07 pm February 7, 2018

Do any of you avoid providing that kind of service to your colleagues?

Don’t avoid it, but my advice is to avoid formalizing it. Think of how a good barman provides a kind of informal therapy to customers. It isn’t all about pouring beer, and yet people may be unaware of any other service being provided at all.

06:49 pm February 8, 2018

I think this is an important part of a Scrum Master role, at least I felt it has been for me. It helps me a lot in building relationships with team members as well. 

I also agree with Ian - don't "formalize it" or you might get into a trap of being THE go-to-person for not only professional but personal counselling as well. And even though it's a great opportunity to understand your team better, that might get too far.

A lot of times it depends on the other person. They are looking for someone to share with and are glad to share. As soon as they know they can trust you, they'll come.

Other people (and let's be honest here, we're working with developers, sharing feelings is not something they do easily) are not as open to share all their concerns with you. However, I noticed that I'm generally very open and caring and people naturally come to me for advice. I feel that it is an important skill to develop for a Scrum Master as it helps you build trust in your team.

07:54 pm February 8, 2018

Ha, Ian's answer is nothing short of amazing? 

07:13 pm February 12, 2018

Thanks to Simon for creating this topic, and to all who posted here. This is something I was wondering about and the shared real world experience was invaluable.