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Practical Coaching Tips for Scrum Masters to Drive Change and Engagement

May 2, 2017

Do you ever wonder what determines our actions?

Most people think that what we do is the outcome of our personality, however, the truth is more straightforward. It’s our mindset that controls our behavior. 

In this blog, we will explore few practical coaching tactics that a Scrum Master can apply to drive more engagement and the right behavior in Scrum Teams and organizations.

  • As a Scrum Master, transforming people and teams to adopt a growth mindset is the biggest barrier to Agile adoption. In fact, as per a study conducted by Forrester in 2015, behavioral change of people is the biggest barrier to Agile adoption. Carol Dweck mentions in his book "Mindset" that:

    • People with a fixed mindset seek approval; those with a growth mindset seek development.

    • The fixed mindset sees failures as disasters; the growth mindset sees them as opportunities.

    • People with a fixed mindset avoid difficulties; those with a growth mindset relish them. However, for this to happen, a Scrum Master needs to create a "circle of safety" where people feel safe to fail, explore, experiment, and learn from mistakes. Creating team agreements (way of work) around Scrum Values- Respect, Openness, Courage, Focus, Commitment is a great technique to create a safety net in the Scrum Team.

  • Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter described in their book "Triggers" that our belief triggers prevent us from making positive behavioral changes. One such belief trigger is that 'we already know everything and we don't need to change'. another example 'This is how we've been working all these years and this is how things work here'. Such beliefs hold people back from getting better. A Scrum Master needs to increase the "circle of engagement" in the Scrum Team by asking active questions like: "Did we do our best to set clear goals?"; "Did we do our best to make progress towards our goals?"; "Did we do our best to develop collaboration with the Product Owner and Stakeholders?"; and "Did we do our best to be fully engaged?" Such questions drive more open conversations in Scrum Team and people feel more committed to creating a positive impact on themselves and their surroundings. 

  • Trying to change behavior is like "riding an elephant." This analogy is described by Chip Heath and Dan Heath in their book Switch. The authors state that the elephant represents our emotional side, and the rider represents our rational side. Both the elephant and the rider should be motivated in order to move forward in the right direction. One of the great ways to get people moving in the right direction is by having compelling "Sprint goals" that are smart, measurable, and inspiring. Having said that, how do you get the elephant to climb the mountain? The answer is simple -  by showing the elephant that a small hill can be climbed. When people see change as a big thing, they tend to shy away from the challenge. Splitting the Sprint goal into smaller milestones creates more opportunities for the development team to achieve them - and small wins create hope that change is possible.One of the biggest pitfalls for Scrum Teams is not being able to create smart Sprint Goals- I have seen most often the Scrum Team's Sprint goals are finishing the PBIs selected during the sprint planning. Development team creates a forecast for the sprint backlog. Sprint backlog is selected PBIs and a plan to deliver them- By making a sprint goal that equals finishing PBIs selected during the sprint planning, they committed on scope. Gunther explains in his blog - "In the complex, creative and highly unpredictable world of software development a commitment on scope is impossible anyhow.So, commitment is about dedication and applies to the actions, the effort, not the final result".we commit to the Sprint Goal, but forecast sprint backlog. So a Scrum Master could help the Scrum Team by Firstly, educating the Scrum team on the difference between Sprint goal, Sprit Backlog and difference between commitment and forecast. Secondly, coaching them on crafting Smart Sprint Goals could create a huge change in the Scrum Team.

  • Coach teams on developing an outward mindset (this technique is based on the book The Outward Mindset). This enables us to explore scenarios that fulfill the needs of both others and ourselves. This requires us to follow three steps based on the acronym "SAMwhere:

    • S is for: Seeing others with empathy.

    • A is for: Adjusting your behavior. 

    • M is for: Measuring the impact.

These are a few of the tactics that I have applied and found useful in my coaching engagements. I am sure that you've also got some great tips, techniques, and tools in your toolbox. I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

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