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How to Help Scrum Teams Embrace Self-Management

June 1, 2023

Embracing self-management can be challenging for teams transitioning to Scrum. It involves new skills and a different approach to getting work done. Taking direction from a manager or team leader is easier in some ways—just do what you’re told to do. Most often, though, teams moving to self-management find it infinitely more satisfying. They are also more successful. Scrum Masters play a critical role in helping their teams embrace greater autonomy. Let’s look at how.

Getting everyone on the same page

Every Scrum Team member needs to understand the framework and its benefits. It’s difficult to embrace a new way of working together without understanding the values, principles, and practices behind it.

Accessing Scrum training and education (books, blogs, podcasts) that focuses on Scrum Team members and others integral to the process of producing usable increments of value can be a helpful step towards teams embracing self-management.

Beyond the team, for organizations to support an agile approach to developing products, everyone in the organization needs familiarity with how the Scrum framework will impact and interact with their work. That includes leadership. Without an organizational structure and culture that embraces an agile mindset, teams will continually face obstacles to self-management.

Building Scrum Team identity

A Scrum Team is more than a collection of individuals working together. When people come together as a team, a kind of alchemy results in the birth of a new organism. 

Each individual comes to the team with a unique personality, strengths, weaknesses, and concerns, and they all combine and interact within the group. Understanding and taking advantage of these combined individual traits starts with building a foundation of trust and open communication.

When team members have the trust necessary to be vulnerable with each other, aspects of self-management such as supporting and holding each other accountable become easier.

Developing the team’s sense of purpose is also essential. High-performing teams with a strong identity can answer three questions:

  • Why do we exist? 
  • What is important to us?
  • What do we want to achieve?

A collective purpose sustains and guides the team through challenging periods and contributes to intrinsic motivation, a cornerstone of self-management. You can read more about growing a strong team identity in this previous blog post.

Goals and measures

Supporting teams in developing effective goals gives them the structure and focus they need to chart their own path. Measuring progress allows the team to see the evidence of their progress, aids decision-making, and builds trust among members of the team and the self-management process.

Good goals and measures have the following features:

Customer outcomes focused - The objective articulates the customer’s need, not an activity or feature (e.g. Make recycling less of a hassle vs. develop an online e-waste drop-off directory). If your team’s goals are activity based, you might reach your goal yet provide no value to your customer. 

Measurement is neutral - Measuring goals is about gathering information, not determining success or failure. 

Inspect and adapt often - We base goals on assumptions and must validate them frequently. We progress on goals in a series of small experiments and, upon examining the results, decide whether to keep going, stop, refine or pivot to a new goal. 

Setting effective goals can be tricky. This previous blog post outlines how to avoid common pitfalls.

Monitor Progress

Part of the Scrum framework involves examining how we work together as a team regularly as part of the Sprint Retrospective. This event is an opportunity to evaluate the team’s continuous improvement in self-management and what might be standing in its way. The Scrum Master can then take steps to remove impediments such as organizational constraints. 

Here are a few creative questions to ask::

  • What assumptions are we making about who can do what type of work?
  • If this were a new company we were starting (i.e. no defined processes, tools, or structures), how would we design our approach to building this product? What would we keep doing? What would we not do? What would we do differently? 
  • What things do we often tell ourselves we don’t have time for? 


A new Scrum Team’s readiness to embrace self-management depends on various factors, including individual personality traits of its members, an understanding of agility and the Scrum framework, and support from other areas of the organization, including leadership. Scrum Masters play an essential role in helping with the transition to team autonomy by focusing on building team identity, setting clear goals, and supporting open dialogue and trust among team members. As with every aspect of Scrum, regularly reviewing self-management progress together as a team can reveal any impediments to continuous improvement. 

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