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What to do when your Team is not Living the Scrum Values

September 5, 2022

The values set out in the Scrum framework are essential because they help us to navigate complex work environments as a team. At first glance, they appear straightforward but living the Scrum values each day is challenging whether this is your first or fiftieth Sprint together. If you’re a Scrum Master struggling with this issue, you are definitely not alone. 

In this discussion, I’ll outline why the Scrum values matter, how to determine if they are at risk on your team, why this happens, and how to get things back on track. 

How the Scrum values serve the team

Scrum’s minimalist framework encourages teams to apply it in a way that makes sense for the context. That kind of freedom can feel overwhelming. What helps is using the Scrum Values of focus, openness, courage, commitment, and respect as a kind of compass for navigating the work you must do together.  

The Scrum accountabilities, events, and artifacts reflect the values in many ways. For example, The timebox on events creates a sense of urgency, which promotes focus.  

Being open to feedback and sharing progress with stakeholders are cornerstones of the Sprint Review. 

Being transparent about progress with stakeholders takes courage and fosters trust. The more trust people have, the more courage they find, resulting in a virtuous cycle.

The Scrum Master is committed to removing impediments rather than tolerating the status quo in the organization. 

Delivering value is at the heart of Scrum, which shows respect to the organization by not spending money on purposeless features or ones that people might never use. 

For many more examples and a deeper dive into how the Scrum values serve the team, see my five-part series, Maximize Scrum with the Scrum Values.

Signs your team is not living the Scrum Values

It might not be your first instinct to examine values alignment when experiencing challenges on the team. It should be. When teams embrace the Scrum Values and use them as a guide, the path to getting work done becomes clearer and more enjoyable. The values are a perfect starting point for your empirical look at what’s not working.

Here are several signals (there are others) that indicate a possible values misalignment on your team:

  • There is an absence of lively discussion reflecting different perspectives and ideas.
  • When people share ideas, it results in a debate rather than seeking understanding and finding a way forward.
  • Rather than coming to a consensus on decisions, the team resorts to majority voting, which doesn’t honor openness to other outlying perspectives.
  • The team only brings forward problems and concerns about meeting the Sprint Goal and having a Done increment right before the Sprint ends.
  • The team relies heavily on the Scrum Master to facilitate.
  • We can sense tension between team members, but no one is talking about it.
  • Gossip.
  • Team members routinely make sarcastic or passive-aggressive statements (I love sarcasm, but it can reach a point where it becomes a defense mechanism rather than humorous).

How did we get here?

You’ve likely heard that Scrum is simple to understand yet difficult to implement. That applies equally to the Scrum values.  As I mentioned in the intro, if you and your team struggle with the Scrum values, you’re not alone. 

There are many reasons teams can get off track.

Perhaps your team hasn’t spent much time discussing the values, assuming everyone has the same understanding of them. That’s rarely the case. Every team has to sort out what the values mean on their specific team and how they will enact them in their work.

Also, values aren’t static. If they do harden into a rigid set of “rules,” they have degraded into dogma, which is antithetical to Scrum.  How you interpret the Scrum Values and what they look like in action evolve as the team grows, adds new members, and faces new situations and challenges. When we neglect to revisit how the team understands and enacts the values, it’s easy for members to become unaligned over time.

Finally, something that’s true for all teams; we humans are messy and complicated. We don’t always adhere to our values when under stress or distracted.

Getting back on track with the Scrum values 

The path to Scrum values alignment mainly involves keeping them active and alive in your coaching and practice. Again, that sounds easy, but what does that look like, right? 

Here are four steps you can take right away:

Talk about it

In the spirit of transparency, name what you see on the team regarding values. Have a conversation about how each person interprets the values and negotiate an understanding of what they mean for the team as a whole. Make it concrete by asking questions like, “What are some of the tough choices we make when we honor courage?” for example. 

Use the values when facing challenges

When facing a new challenge or difficult decision, use the Scrum Values to uncover the way forward for your team. Go through each value and ask, “What would (insert value) tell us about this situation?”

Acknowledge and celebrate

By recognizing and celebrating actions on the part of the team that embody the Scrum values, you keep them alive and visible. You give them a position of importance in the life and work of the team.

Make values part of your Sprint Retrospective

The Sprint Retrospective shouldn’t be the only time to discuss values, but making them a part of how you reflect on the Sprint and what you accomplished together keeps them central to your practice. Remember to get everyone in on the discussion to include various perspectives.

Conclusion

The Scrum Values are an integral part of the Scrum framework, but teams sometimes struggle to make them an active part of their work together. Because the Scrum values can act as a powerful compass to guide effective empiricism and teamwork, when the team falls out of alignment with them, it can seriously affect the ability to deliver value. We can get back on track by redirecting our attention to include values in our everyday accountabilities as a Scrum Master.

You can get complete details about how to carry out a Scrum values self-assessment and the techniques to bring the values to life on your team that I discussed here by signing up to get my free Coaching with the Scrum Values Mini-Guide.


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