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3 Things Virtual Teams Need from a Scrum Master

June 1, 2020

Scrum Teams are always dealing with complex problems, unpredictability, and change. When they are working in a virtual environment, there can be additional complexities and challenges to navigate. In this post, I will share the 3 things every Scrum Master can focus on to support their virtual teams.

#1 - Virtual team members need one-on-one time.

People want to feel understood, appreciated, and connected. This can be a challenge in a virtual environment. And of course, it’s even more difficult as people are faced with the many other impacts of this pandemic.

It can be hard for people to bring up their challenges during group working sessions. They may need a reminder and some encouragement. I notice a tendency in myself to not want to "burden others" with my worries and other stresses in this new virtual world. Things that would be discussed on a coffee break with a co-worker are left unsaid.

And when we hold those things in, we may not feel seen and understood. It’s also easy for us to start “spinning up stories” in our head or to not process our emotions. And then we can feel a breakdown in the intimacy of relationships. And of course, it's difficult for the team to support each other and collaborate.

Scrum Masters, check in on your team members regularly and leverage your coaching skills. Let it feel like that informal coffee break. Perhaps even go for a walk outside while you chat on the phone. We can all use a break from our screens, and I find that movement and fresh air helps me with coaching conversations - both when I am coaching and when I am being coached.

#2 - Virtual teams need better transparency.

Transparency means that the Scrum Team has a full understanding of what’s going on: goals, process, progress, outcomes, decision-making, ideas, perspectives, quality, learning, interactions, etc. Transparency enables effective inspection and adaptation.

I’m seeing transparency challenges show up in two extremes: 1) not enough information and 2) a LOT of information and not being able to synthesize it for effective inspection and adaptation.

One of the things a lot of people are missing in a virtual environment is the ability to overhear conversations, to simply turn around and ask a question, and have a lot of visible information in their physical space. Of course these things can all still happen in a virtual environment given the technologies we have, but we often have to be more intentional to make that happen.

Scrum Masters, observe how transparency is showing up.  And have conversations about transparency with your Scrum Teams. 

  • What ways of sharing information are most useful in creating transparency? In what ways may we have too much noise?
  • How are we ensuring all voices are heard in working sessions?

  • How are decisions being made, and are those decisions clear?

  • In what ways do we ensure a clear understanding of our goals, plan, and progress at any point in time?

  • Where do we need more simplicity in our tools, processes, and interactions?

#3 - Virtual teams need to have time, space, and encouragement to address conflict.

In a virtual work environment, it is easier for conflict to go unaddressed or for conflict to be addressed in reactive ways. This applies to conflict at the level of the team and conflict between individuals. Remember we need conflict because we are dealing with complexity and uncertainty, but we need to navigate the conflict productively and creatively.

In a virtual environment, it can require more time and different techniques to effectively discuss perspectives, build upon each others ideas, and come to consensus on creative solutions. 

Scrum Masters, create an environment that enables Scrum Teams to productively and creatively engage in conflict. You will be working at both the team level and with individuals on the team. Remember to leverage coaching skills to help people align around what’s important to them and what they want, so they can identify a clear strategy for moving forward. And of course, help everyone remember the plan isn’t permanent; there will be inspection and adaptation along the way.

Final Thoughts

As Scrum Masters working in virtual teams, it can be easy to spend most of our time facilitating meetings, jumping in to help the Product Owner and Developers with parts of their work, and attending organizational "status meetings." None of these things are wrong, however, be mindful of what your Scrum Team needs from you.

And if this feels like the right time to level-up your coaching skills, learn more about my Coaching Skills for Impact self-guided video course.

Download the Coaching with the Scrum Values Mini-Guide

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