Scrum Master – A non-playing captain of the team

In the 3rd and last part of this series, describing a new dimension focusing on the various roles in the Scrum team, we shall focus on Scrum Master.

Many a books have been written and workshops have been conducted on the role of Scrum Master in any Scrum team / project. A lot of focus has been provided in the CSM workshops and other certifications as available in the market on the role of SM. The most interesting part of the SM profile is that one is not managing the development team, but is still accountable for the outcome of the system. It is like a coach sitting outside the boundary line and watching the team play the match, interestingly cannot participate in the activities of the team, cannot guide them during the match and have to wait for an appropriate time to have discussions with the team.

There are at least two major influences that affect how individuals perform in their environment. These influences include:

  • The type of leadership that exists,
  • Personal motivation.

For a Scrum Master to be successful, it would require the influencing ability that would include the following (but not restricted to):

  • Communication Skills
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Team effectiveness
  • Leading and Motivation

Equally important are elements such as:

  • Responsible
  • Humble
  • Collaborative
  • Committed
  • Influential
  • Knowledgeable

But we would focus on the influencing ability and they would include for us the following:

Communication Skills

Having effective communication skills is imperative for the success in the role of SM. Positive communication will certainly increase the opportunities for the SM to effectively deal with the stakeholders in and out of the project. Having good communication skills will enable SM to get ahead in certain areas where others who are less assertive may not succeed.

Couple of important elements to keep in mind while practicing the fine art of communication are:

  1. Body Language

Do not shy away from the team member or other stakeholders with whom you are speaking. Be sure to maintain a relaxed, but not slouching posture, regardless whether you are the one speaking or listening. Other things that ensure your body is communicating your attentiveness to the conversation can include:

  1. Making eye contact.
  2. Nodding occasionally to acknowledge a strong point in the conversation.
  3. Standing with hands clasped in front of you, never crossing your arms.
  4. Not displaying nervous ticks such as wringing hands, picking at your nails, or anything that the person communicating with you will view as a distraction from their conversation.


  • During your communications with others always give them time to communicate their issues as well. Remaining focused on what they are trying to communicate will show them that you are indeed open to assisting with their issues.
  • Many of people’s communication lines tend to break down on the side where impatience is in a rush to get out of the conversation. Since you cannot control the other side, do yourself a favor and take a breath.
  • The conversation you’re involved in is important. This is one area where the current project managers’ converted Scrum Masters have failed, as they have lived the life of command and control which is diagonally opposite to the role and profile of the SM.
  • If you are confused as to what someone may be requesting, than repeat back to him or her what you think they said and ask if that is correct. Often this will inspire the speaker to be more in-depth about their needs, which will help you to understand them fully.
  • The main task for the SM should be to understand the team and the stakeholder’s needs and requirements. This ability will stand in good for him

 Interpersonal Skills

One of the most important pillars for the Scrum Master to demonstrate is good quality of interpersonal skills.

Interpersonal skills include the habit, attitude, manners, appearance and behaviour we use around other people, which affect how we get along with other people

 Interpersonal skills would involve:

  • Effectively translating and conveying information.
  • Being able to accurately interpret other people’s emotions.
  • Being sensitive to other people’s feelings.
  • Calmly arriving at resolutions to conflict.
  • Avoiding gossip.
  • Being polite.

 To have good interpersonal skills, Scrum Master should:

Practice empathy. Putting oneself in the position of another person allows one to see things from a different perspective. When people feel understood, they tend to be less combative, leading to greater understanding and unity.

  • Be inclusive. At work, practice helping people to feel included. Avoid behaviours that exclude others or make them feel like outsiders.
  • Be trustworthy. Relationships are more stable when 2 people trust each another. Keep commitments and confidences to increase trust
  • Examine personal ethics. People tend to trust those who are self-aware and who do not abuse their power. Practice integrity in one’s relationships by examining the impact of behaviours and decisions on others

 Leading and Motivation

 Scrum Master plays a critical role in leading and motivating the development team to excel the heights of great performance and good working software deliverables

Development team may be motivated by factors in the external environment such as pay, supervision, benefits, and job perks. This is referred to as extrinsic motivation. They may also be motivated by the relationship between the members and the kind of work that they do. This type of motivation is called intrinsic motivation. These factors often exist simultaneously, but we will distinguish between them as they relate to specific levels of motivation.

We shall explore the motivational elements of a different nature and see how a Scrum Master can adopt and have these implemented in his / her work culture to ensure that the team that he is working with is motivated to deliver excellent software and solutions to the customer / PO

Need for achievement: Team members in this category have a strong desire to perform challenging tasks well. They have a preference for situations where personal responsibility can be taken for successful outcomes. The goals they set provide for moderate and calculated risk, and the team members seeks performance feedback to allow for modification and to ensure success.

Need for affiliation: Team members in this category display a need to establish and maintain friendly, compatible relationships. They have a need to like other people and want others to like them. They have an ability to create social networks that will result in meeting these needs.

Need for power: Team members in this category have a strong need to have influence over others. They wish to make a significant impact and impression on those with whom they come in contact.

Different team members would get motivated by different elements. The task of Scrum Master is to identify the individual team member and areas of their interest and motivation level, Not all of the above would be required to motivate every individual. Each person is different and so also their needs are different.

Now speaking about leading …

In many circles, there is continuous debate about whether leaders are born or developed. If we reflect on our discussion about motivation, we will see that humans are very complicated and are made up of a number of traits. As with motivation, these influences are both inherited and acquired from our environment and influences. We will continue this discussion on the assumption that leadership can be developed

Leadership may be defined as: the influence that particular individuals (leaders) exert upon the goal achievement of others (subordinates) in an organizational context.

There are other issues that must also be acknowledged. There are two types of leaders: emergent leaders – those who earn leadership positions through their expertise, skills, abilities to influence others, or personal acceptability by the group; and assigned leaders – those who are given power to exercise influence through appointment. Scrum Master should be the emergent leader, who earns his / her stripes in the system. Just because one is a Scrum Master, the position does not provide automatic control over the team. For that matter the Scrum Master does not control the team.

Emergent leaders (Scrum Masters) hold their position as a consequence of their appeal to their development team. Their role is safe only as long as the group is attracted to these attributes and conditions. Should these positions change, or the group finds other influences, a lack of support or outside forces may undermine the Scrum Master’s role. The role, therefore, is dependent on performance and any real or perceived faltering will quickly translate into lack of support and that would produce a non-productive Scrum Master

The most important activities of Scrum Master is to clarify the path to various goals of interest to team members, thus effective Scrum Masters form a connection between team goals and organizational goals. Since the role of Scrum Master is about increasing team performance through motivation.

Environmental factors that impact on leadership include the following:

  1. The appropriateness of the Scrum Master’s style to the situation will have a major impact on the behaviour of the team.
  2. Task clarity, urgency and subordinate empathy will affect performance and motivation.
  3. Scrum Master’s qualifications and knowledge will build team confidence and loyalty.
  4. There is probably no substitute for being in the right place at the right time.

As a closing thought to this current series of different thought process on various roles in Scrum, I would say, that we need to think different ways of adopting the methods of executing the Scrum projects, Scrum and related guidelines were produced / documented about 2 decades ago, things have moved since then, methods of doing things have changed, therefore there needs to be a new thought process in place to adapt to the changing environment.

As we say in Agile “Inspect and Adapt”