Skip to main content

Key Coaching Technique for Scrum Masters to Enter the ZOUD!

June 2, 2017

No, that's not a typo. So, what is ZOUD? Read on to find out, and to see how a Scrum Master can use it to drive their Scrum team forward.

Coaching conversations typically occur in a “zone of comfortable debate.”. However, to deal with issues at their core, it’s important to enter the ZOUD: the “Zone of Uncomfortable Debate.”  A professional coach knows how and when to enter the ZOUD without ruining the coach-coachee relationship. The key to achieving this is finding the right balance of challenge and support - challenge while being respectful, empathize while being growth orientated.

I learned a great approach called "FACTS based coaching" while I was taking my ICF-International Coach Federation certification. Blakey and Day also shared great insights about the FACTS based approach in their bookChallenging Coaching: Going Beyond Traditional Coaching to Face the FACTS. I explored this approach in my coaching engagements and found it quite useful. Remember, the Scrum Master should also serve the Development Team and Product Owner as a Coach and help them to unleash their true potential to achieve greatness. A FACTS based approach could be a great addition to the toolkit of a Scrum Master who wants to focus on optimal growth by providing ambitious challenges with equally high levels of support.

Let’s explore the core concepts of the FACTS approach.

F: Scrum Masters Must Overcome Their Fear of Feedback

One of the major pitfalls for a Scrum Master is the fear of feedback. Often Scrum Masters struggle in providing honest feedback to their teams, which leads to bigger challenges like inattention to goals, poor choices, or bad decisions. 

So, how can Scrum Masters overcome their fear of feedback?

By ensuring that feedback is non-judgemental: focus on the mistakes that need to be corrected, instead of the personality of the team member. There are great models for providing effective feedback. One such model is the four stage approach: Observe the facts, assess the impact, invitation to a conversation, and agreement on actions. 

A: Accountability for Commitments

Often when we hear the term "Accountability" we immediately think of taking the blame when something goes wrong. It's not a confession, it's about commitment. It's not just a set of activities or tasks, it’s about owning an outcome.

One of the key success factors for Scrum Masters is holding people and teams accountable for the actions to which they have agreed to carry out, as well as to uphold the values and principles of Scrum, and the ethics and professionalism demanded by the workplace.

C: Courageous Goals Are Crucial for Thriving in the Current Business Environment

We are living in a global and fast-changing economy, where businesses need to be more adaptive than ever before. And to support complex software development, teams need the creativity and courage to deal with the unknown – which can only be unleashed by setting bold courageous goals and moving out of their comfort zone. Steve Jobs is famous for wanting to “put a ding in the Universe” at Apple, and Facebook has set out to connect the whole world. The truth is that setting courageous goals leads to real transformation – which is not only desirable but necessary in this current era. A Scrum Master can make an impact by supporting their teams to set goals that are exciting, inspirational, bold, stimulating, and courageous. 

T: Tension Is Essential for Optimal Performance

If you ever spoke to an athlete they would say that a certain level of adrenalin is needed to bring out their best performance. Adrenaline prepares us for our "fight or flight response."  The Yerkes-Dodson law states that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal, but only up to a point and after that performance diminishes. Psychological research confirms that we have an optimal level in between anxiety and comfort where a flow state and peak performance are achieved.

Takeuchi and Nonaka describe this as " Built-in-instability" in their whitepaper, "The New New Product Development Game." FACTS based coaching focuses on maintaining an optimal level of tension by making us push the limits and move out of our comfort zone.

S: System Thinking 

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect states that: "small change can lead to large effects." Does the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas? The flapping wings are a representation of a small change in the initial condition, leading to large-scale phenomena. How do you know when you are coaching teams that you are not the ‘butterfly’ and ‘flapping of your coaching wings’ may shift the energy in the system to induce a significant impact?

As Leonardo da Vinci said, "everything connects to everything else." The FACTS based approach focuses on powerful questions to raise the coachee's awareness of the "bigger picture," and to explore the system's impact from the perspective of different stakeholders, such as customers, shareholders, and end-users. A FACTS-based approach thus looks to optimize the whole, not just the individual parts. 


If the coaching relationship has been built on trust and mutual respect it will be strong enough to sustain the optimal levels of tension. The concept of the ZOUD and being comfortable enough to enter the ZOUD as a coach is fundamental to the FACTS approach (delivering feedback, holding accountability, challenging, creating constructive tension, and system thinking).

To explore the FACTS based approach, you may find it useful to reflect on the following:

  • When was the last time you were afraid of giving feedback? If you were teleported back into that situation, how would you give honest and courageous feedback?

  • When was the last time you held the development team accountable for their actions? How did that improve collective ownership?

  • When was the last time your Scrum Team had a courageous Sprint goal? How did you find a balance to challenge and support the development team?

  • When was the last time you held the optimal tension? How did it impact your rapport with the team?

  • When was the last time your Scrum Team paid attention to the system as a whole? How did that help in creating an impact in the organization?

Having understood the FACTS based approach, what will enable a Scrum Master to enter the ZOUD? The answer is simple: COURAGE.

I would love to hear your experiences with exploring the FACTS approach and entering the ZOUD!.

What did you think about this post?