Experienced SM's; How do have you found success with teams that do not seem to want to own the scrum events?

Last post 03:58 pm February 1, 2022
by Timothy Baffa
7 replies
07:57 pm January 25, 2022

I've been an SM for 6 years. With less experienced teams, my pattern has mostly been the same, and successful; Start by actively facilitating the events, and slowly coach the team to run the events for themselves so that over time, you can become an observer looking for coaching opportunities you can follow up outside the events. 

Recently i've encountered my first case ever of a team that just does not want to take ownership of their events. Honestly, they don't really want to do scrum, and i've been trying to coach that issue (since the org has brought me in as an SM, it's one of those awful situations where they don't have a choice)

The problem is that no matter what angle I take, they just seem to fall back on "that's the SM's job", and they just think i'm making it up when I try to talk about self-management and the like. 

I only have a few sprints left on contract, and I'm worried i'll be replaced by just another pseudo project manager with an intro to scrum cert who will revert to being the team admin, so i'm desperate in the time I have left to try to find a way to motivate them to see the value in self management. 

Any tips?

09:12 pm January 25, 2022

it's one of those awful situations where they don't have a choice

Evidently they do have a choice. The organization is allowing this, even to the point that when you wrap up, things will most likely roll on as-is.

What are the higher-ups doing to create a sense of urgency for change? Without that being communicated and reinforced from the very top, it's unlikely Scrum outcomes will be achieved. There's an organizational gravity to be overcome.

This might not be a message the higher-ups want to hear, but if I was in your position with a few Sprints left on contract, I think I'd take the risk and call it out. I'd prefer to go down swinging for the right thing, and the worst they can do now is fire me.

09:25 pm January 25, 2022

What I have done in similar situations is, either formally or informally, have a discussion with the team members about each Scrum event.  Take the time to help the team understand the purpose and benefit of each one.

For example, teams sometimes have an unfavorable view of the Sprint Retrospective.   Explain that the purpose of the Retro is to reflect on how the team and/or organization are working (good and bad), and identify possible changes or experiments that may yield benefits to how they work (efficiency, quality, focus, etc).   

If the team still has an unfavorable view of the Sprint Retrospective, let them know that their competitors are certainly focused on how to improve.   If it isn't the Sprint Retrospective, ask the team what they prefer to use to support continuous improvement.   In my experience, there isn't a different option the team wants to use.   Instead, they're coming from a mindset of optimizing all available time to try and reach unlikely objectives and targets imposed from outside of the team.

Each Scrum event is a teaching opportunity, efficiently designed with clear purposes and benefits.   Pick one, and guide your team in the ways of Scrum.

09:35 pm January 25, 2022

This might not be a message the higher-ups want to hear, but if I was in your position with a few Sprints left on contract, I think I'd take the risk and call it out. I'd prefer to go down swinging for the right thing, and the worst they can do now is fire me.

That's a really good point, thanks.


I have tried to do this but unfortunately no matter how much I can get them to agree with the purpose and value of each event, the event itself still turns into long awkward silences because no one wants to actually speak up and contribute. 

11:03 pm January 25, 2022

Here is my opinion and it does not reflect anyone else.

I believe the advice above is as good as you will ever get.  I highly respect those two individuals. 

But the truth of the matter is that you will most likely be leaving soon unless you can convince who ever is in charge of your contract that you are valuable enough to extend.  If you do leave, then the next person to come in on a new contract will get the joy of dealing with this team.  And the next contractor might not care as much about Scrum as you do.  

The suggestion that @Ian Mitchell provided might be your opportunity to turn this into something bigger than just a Scrum Master contract.  You may be able to help start a transformation by helping the higher-ups to understand what they are don't but think they do. 

You stated 

.... since the org has brought me in as an SM, ....

Did you validate that their definition of a Scrum Master is aligned with the definition provided by the Scrum Guide or could it be the case they the organization uses the title Scrum Master to mean something else? Because from the team's actions, it seems like they expect a Project Manager. 

01:23 am January 26, 2022

Thanks Daniel. 

The org actually does want to extend me but I'm planning to leave the country. They do now have a good understanding of Scrum and what it means, as I was very clear before accepting the contract about the direction I'd be trying to coach toward (Scrum as per the Scrum guide)

I'm also helping more than one team, and have broadly had a lot of success. We've introduced Nexus to deal with cross team dependencies and things have really improved. One of my teams is delivering incrementally for the first time ever and it's been awesome. 

The problem really seems to be with the individual personalities and opinions in this one team. It's been a real challenge and I really want to try to help them to realize the benefits the other teams are seeing. 

I think Ian's point about gravity and importance for change is a big factor here and I need to find a way to make transparent why the org is wanting this and helping the team understand that staying where they are isn't an option. 

04:39 pm January 26, 2022

if you say other teams are finding it useful then it is not problem of Scrum or something else, it could be dysfunction with this team where you see problem. You could try to get a survey covering different areas from them to understand what each one is thinking in those dimensions. Whether you will get time to act upon it or not you at least know where the problem was in the team.

03:58 pm February 1, 2022

In my practice as a Scrum Master, I have always found Craig Larman's (now 5) Laws of Organizational Behavior to be incredibly illuminating when faced with challenges like yours: