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5 Key Collaboration Skills That Can Make Good Scrum Teams Great!

June 14, 2017

“Getting teams to work well is hard. Getting teams to work well together is much harder.” - Mary Poppendieck

What makes the software development work great? Obviously, technology, right...

Wrong! In an interesting article in "Peopleware", authors Tom and Timothy describe how the most important aspect of software development is not technology, but people.

Have you ever had to work with other people in your team to achieve something significant? You have probably realized, then, how important, yet difficult, collaboration is.

Is collaboration an innate skill and limited to only a few sets of people?

The belief that skill and talent are innate is called a fixed mindset. People who adopt this kind of thinking limit their own progress: it’s much more difficult for people with fixed mindsets to set goals or push themselves since they see growth as useless. Essentially, if you adopt a growth mindset, i.e. if you believe that skills and talent are the results of effort and determination, then it’s truly possible to attain your true potential. Indeed, people with growth mindsets are much more open to the opportunity of improvement, and this, in turn, helps them to set appropriate goals and push themselves outside of their comfort zones.

Collaboration needs genuine intentions and an unselfish attitude.

In this article, we'll explore five key skills a Scrum team should possess to be great collaborators.

1. First Key Skill: Collaborative Intention

All great collaborations demand true motives, which refers to having the right mindset for collaboration. To make sure your Scrum Team has the right mindset, a Scrum Master needs to make sure the Scrum Team moves away from the red zone and moves towards the green zone.

Behavioral elements that decrease team collaboration belong to the red zone.

  • Transmitting, not receiving
  • Defensive
  • Feeling wronged
  • Battles and enmity
  • Blame game
  • Self-promotion

Behavioral elements that increase team collaboration belong to the green zone.

  • Listening and Responding
  • Able to Respectfully Disagree and Commit
  • Courageous and Respectful
  • Win-Win attitude
  • Open to feedback
  • Focus on productive dissent

However, it’s quite usual for people to mistakenly think they’re in the green zone and unconsciously sabotage the team by being in the red. This is why it’s crucial for a Scrum Master to become self-aware and encourage behaviors that promote collaboration and cohesion in their Scrum Team.

Practical Tip:

You may experiment in one of your upcoming Sprint Retrospectives by asking the teammates for feedback using five words that best describe your attitude or style. If you tend to hear “defensive,” “closed,” or "zealous" then you might be in the red zone.

This exercise can help you take corrective actions and bring your team firmly back into the green zone.

2. Second Key Skill: Be Truthful

A tactic named "first truth, first tool" is very useful for teams to facilitate open and honest discussions about impediments the moment they arise, so they can be fixed before they turn into major disasters.

'First truth, first tool' means being able to say something like, “We have an issue that is not simple to talk about, but please be aware that this does not change how much we value your contributions to the team.” However, there are added factors to keep in mind if you want to become more aware of what precisely you communicate. In particular, it’s imperative to present a clear message free of any body language or behavior that could distort your intentions.

Practical Tip: 

Firstly, be aware of the tone of your voice and body language to ensure it matches the intent of your message. Secondly, listen with an intent to understand. When someone is certain that you’re listening, they will tend to be more relaxed and ready to share what’s truly on their mind.

Have a Nonversation with your conversation partner.

We’ve got two ears and two eyes – but just one mouth. Is it a coincidence, or should we be listening and observing twice as much as we talk?

3. Third Key Skill: Self-Accountability

This is accomplished by realizing that you have choices to make in both work and relationships. Understanding FIRO theory can help gain deeper insights into team compatibility. FIRO stands for Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation. FIRO theory denotes to three attributes – inclusion, control, and openness. These attributes are defined by our desires and fears: we all desire to feel appreciated and adequately admired by others, while at the same time we fear being humiliated, denied, or neglected. Depending on how intense these feelings are, they can largely influence our relationships.

For example, a low self-esteem or carrying a fear can influence your desire for inclusion. And along with this desire to be included, one might also suppress a fear of openness.

Practical Tip:

Introspect by asking yourself, “How do my levels of inclusion, control, and openness stand with respect to the team?” As you uncover the answer, you’ll develop a better understanding of your compatibility with the team.

4. Fourth Key Skill: Being Self-Aware

Being self-aware means having an understanding of your own fears, desires, and feelings. Knowing this helps to inspect how you can best fit in amidst the rest of your team. Being open and flexible is key to any successful collaboration and to developing fruitful relationships with the team. I've facilitated this exercise in one of the Sprint retrospectives and found it extremely useful, it has three simple steps.

Practical Tip:

  1. Firstly, create an environment of openness where all participants engage and create a flip-chart or a postcard about their attitude personas, their sweet and blind spots, and anything that helps the team discover their collaboration patterns.

  2. Secondly, converge as a group to share and explain their findings. Being respectful to diverse perspectives is key.

  3. Finally, gather all the flipcharts or postcards to create a collaboration wall, thus allowing the entire team to visualize their collaboration patterns.

This simple exercise can help a Scrum team discover group perspectives and build lasting relationships within the team.

5. Fifth Key Skill: Focusing Attention on a Common Goal

As a Scrum Master, how can you prevent your Scrum Team from losing focus on their goals? How can you help team's to shift their mindset towards a common goal?

Intentions drive behavior and actions, right? So it’s necessary to keep them aimed at a common purpose. One of the ways of achieving this is by identifying the Scrum Team's vision and mission statement. 

Team Vision

Practical Tip:

In one of your upcoming Sprint retrospectives, let all Scrum Team members create a caricature or sketch that sums up their intentions. Then post everybody's art on a wall or flip chart together to unify the team's intentions and create a Team Vision and Mission.


People can achieve significant results when they collaborate and work together for a higher cause. Hence, it’s in their best interest to recognize the skills that are critical to building and sustaining collaborative relationships. 

Great Scrum Masters are like thermostats - they read the temperature of the room and adapt quickly to create more collaboration opportunities for the Scrum Team to focus on value creation. 

Are you a Scrum Master who is a thermostat? Is your Scrum Team collaborating enough? What steps are you taking to grow the collaboration skills of your Scrum Team? I would love to hear and learn from you.

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