Collaboration is essential
Collaboration is an essential practise in agile teams. Scrum Masters realise that complex problems can best be solved by a collaborative community. But how do scrum masters themselves collaborate? We often hear about how scrum improves collaboration (overall), but how do scrum masters help bring about change in organisations? They do this in a number of ways. This article shares how that works and what scrum masters do in scaled agile environments to improve their collaboration for the betterment of their organisation.
Collaboration provides organisations with powerful, driven, and focused teams. There are several benefits that collaboration can provide organisations, namely:
- Enhancing productivity
- Cultivates innovation
- Encourages bonding
- Improves morale
- Encourages flexibility
- Focuses on outcomes
- Encourages employee engagement
- Improves working relationships and work culture overall
- Increases ROI
Scrum masters improve collaboration not only between one another, but also across various segments of the organisation in different communities of practises (CoP). As agents that foster collaboration wherever they go, scrum masters are seen as supporters and facilitators of a system of interconnected collaborative communities inside organisations. Organisations rely on the competence of scrum masters as enablers of collaboration. Scrum Masters are artisans of collaboration, networking, and building synergies.
Why scrum masters collaborate
Scrum masters gather information about how they can improve their performance and skills through any of the following ways:
- To receive a second opinion (from developers, other scrum masters, etc.)
- Learning from one another via breakout sessions, one-to-ones
- Exchange with internal (colleagues) and externals (trainers)
- Developing their agile mindsets, via workshops, trainings, etc.
To receive a second opinion
Scrum masters require constructive, supportive feedback. A second opinion can make a big difference in their day-to-day work. We need feedback because:
- We consider ourselves to be too positive
- Our perception is selective and distorted
- Prevent us from making major mistakes
- Help motivate one another
- Promote our personal and professional growth
- Help us build stronger relations with one another
Giving and receiving feedback is practically an art, and training others to do it will improve the overall robustness of your organisations‘ communication practises. Scrum Masters get a second opinion of the process-flow, product insight, and even collaboration suggestions/recommendations not only from their own peers, but also from developers, product managers, and product owners. This helps the scrum master situate their work in context with others, in order to drive solid, streamlined improvements that will benefit not only their teams but also, potentially, others.
Learning from one another
A scrum master is constantly pursuing ways in which he/she can improve their craft, their skills, and their engagement with their teams and their organisation. This means that the scrum master is learning from whoever he/she is in contact with, often receiving information in the form of feedback, or in one-to-one coachings from managers, architects, and developers.
Another way how scrum masters learn from one another is by exchanging their teams–a scrum master joins another scrum masters team, either as an auditor (witnessing how the scrum master behaves and things that he does), or as an actual interim participant in the team (replacing the current scrum master for a brief time). This is quite a bold move bringing in another scrum master to the team, they may even end up favouring that scrum master. Before exchanging scrum masters, it’s important that the team is aware that this you an interim scrum master and that you are there to learn about how the team operates and performs. Not all scrum masters favour this idea! So scrum masters must first „negotiate“ the boundaries of engagement.
Scrum masters may collaborate with one another to build workshops, to be present in workshops that they do, and to organise trainings for specific objectives. Scrum masters may review their team’s goals, perhaps together, and request a second opinion about some of the benchmark performance indicators.
Exchange with internal (colleagues) and external personnel
Scrum Masters participate in a number of ways in internal and external environments to improve their competence and skills. For example, inside of an organisation (internally), a scrum master coffee could be organised to create an open, informal dialogue between scrum masters over a fresh cup of coffee. They may do this weekly, for 30 minutes, for example, in order to learn about the way in which teams are performing, what impediments are being resolved by scrum masters, and even the result of some dependencies (good, bad, just ok?).
Scrum Masters can create a slack channel (internally), or an MS Teams Group, to share urgent information about a team’s impediment, behavior, etc.. Additionally, I’ve seen scrum master mailing lists where they inform each other of their absences from work (maybe vacation, health issues, etc..) and may request the support of other scrum masters in the organisation to help their teams during their absence.
In medium to large-sized enterprises, where there are more than 10 teams, I’ve witnessed some extravagant confluence pages that scrum masters created for their teams. There, in these team pages, scrum masters share the knowledge gained by the team, the product these teams develop, the skillsets of the team members, and even sacred documents like the retrospective (although it is a contentious topic to publish them in some ways), sprint planning, sprint review, and the rest of the scrum events. Scrum Masters who are asked to take over some teams may find these team pages helpful! It’s important to keep these team pages purpose-driven, and not too detailed (otherwise it will be documentation hell which we agilists are expressly against).
So a recap for those Scrum Masters who want to improve their collaboration internally:
- Set up a scrum master coffee → get the latest facts about teams from one another, perhaps 30 minutes is enough
- Create an internal communication channel (e.g Slack, or MS Teams Group) → share urgent information, knowledge, and a status to the rest of the scrum masters in your company (often informal)
- Create a mailing-list (distribution list) for scrum masters → Scrum Masters can use this opportunity to communicate absences, urgent concerns and needs, and request another scrum master to take over during their absence (often formal)
- Create team profile pages → This allows scrum masters to communicate the team’s journey, and helps to centralise the team’s development efforts, and documenting information for scrum masters. Scrum Masters may, from time to time, look at this documentation and share feedback to one another.
There are also things you can do to acquire that external interaction that you aren’t finding in your organisation–the expertise that comes from cross-organisational dialogue. For example, I am a member of different „meet-ups“, which I found on meetup.com, where I engage in different social circles to develop my scrum master competence (on Meetup.com search „Agile Ambassadors Forum“, agilist.community, etc..). I am also a member of some slack communities such as my favorite „Product Coalition„, with over 5000 members led by Jay Stansell. There one can exchange with several scrum masters and gain their expertise on some of the scenarios that are playing out in your organisation.
Develop the scrum master agile mindset
Nothing is more important than developing an increasingly flexible, spontaneous and perceptive mind known as the ‚agile mindset‘. The scrum master develops his/her agile mindset through the continual practise of agility by placing an even greater focus on the principles of agility and the manifesto before anything else. The scrum master develops a non-sticky mind that is free of processes, free of the constraints of tools and plans in favour of systematic, disciplined, and non-rigid approaches towards team and personal development. To be able to do this, the scrum master not only trains his/her team in simplicity and the art of work, but also trains them in values, principles, and provides a disciplined, structured and organised approach to work.
The scrum master develops his/her agile mindset by engaging in increasingly external and internal work activities. The scrum master is typically, then, incredibly determined to not only set agility in his/her team, but also throughout the whole organisation, acting as an agent of agility. The scrum master does this by instituting communities of practise (CoP) to develop competencies, and to practise agility in different groups. The scrum master may also lead change activities inside his/her organisation by being, perhaps, not only an auditor, but a force of agility to remind teams and those in non-agile environments to work, and operate, in an agile way.
The scrum master is also a purveyor of the agile mindset by providing resources, presentations, seminars, and workshops, as well as writing articles, journals, and seminaries to share and disseminate agility throughout various sectors, branches, and institutions around the world.
The scrum master also exercises agility personally, in this case dubbed „Personal Agility“ by Peter Stevens. The highest order of agility is when the scrum master practises it personally. According to Peter Stevens:
A practitioner of the Personal Agility System knows why they are doing what they are doing, not just what they are doing. How does Personal Agility apply beyond a single individual? Imagine your organization if everybody understood why they are doing what they are doing, and all the stakeholders agreed on the key initiatives and their importance!
The scrum master internalises agility and practises it on a daily basis, transforming not only himself/herself but also those around their social circle. This means that this individual knows not only what is important, the person knows why doing this is important. This allows the scrum master the flexibility not only to create and innovate processes, but also to clarify purpose and direct people and teams towards achievement rather than institute process dependencies throughout their lives, and their companies.
The scrum master is constantly developing his/her skillsets in collaborative competence, leadership and mentoring through perpetual exchange with other scrum masters and those external to his/her environment. The scrum master is a skilled navigator of people, building relationships and opening up opportunities to acquire new knowledge, develop old skills, and innovate new ways of sustaining, as well as improving existing relations with his/her peers. The scrum master needs consistent, timely exchange through a rewarding culture of feedback to bring awareness to the forefront of his/her endeavours.
The scrum master, through collaboration with his/her peers, is able to cast a net of inclusion that makes those involved in the system move with greater ease and purpose.