Facilitate or not? Facilitator Role in a Scrum Team

Let’s get started with the challenging question;

“Who facilitates the Scrum Rituals, Events, Meetings, Workshops?”

The possible answers might be;

a) Scrum Master

b) Agile coach

c) Product Owner

d) Developers

e) All of them

I hear about lots of confusions about this mission. Most responses will probably focus on Scrum Masters & Agile Coaches for workshops and rituals. But I have to admit that the correct answer is “e” :) It is not possible to find a correct match on “Who facilitates what?”, it is all about team dynamics, team needs, team maturity and autonomy. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t have any best practices :)

In this writing, I will try to explain my own best practices. I hope it would be useful for your teams also.

Let me start with “Scrum Master” answer. As we all know; one of the most important stance of a Scrum Master is “Facilitator Stance”. A Scrum Master should have required skills for the facilitator role like having facilitation tools & techniques, social skills, clear communication etc. And of course, they facilitate the events as needed. Here, I want to underline the word “as needed”. Because it doesn’t mean that Scrum Master must/should facilitate all the events… Why not? Let’s get started thinking about autonomy of the teams…

As a Scrum Master, if you want to take over all the facilitation in all rituals such as Daily Scrum facilitation, Planning facilitation, Review facilitation etc. As time goes by, you will probably seem like you are the owner of the meetings and you may find yourself calling people to join your(!) event. Unfortunately it might happen… But those are Team’s own events which do not belong to anyone individually. It is pointing out a dysfunction.

Does it mean Scrum Master shouldn’t facilitate the events? Of course, not :) If we have great skills on facilitation, of course we should use it for our team. As a Scrum Master, my best practice is to facilitate especially the Retrospectives among other rituals. I will not dive deep into facilitation techniques on Retrospectives but we all know that it is really important to explore our improvement points as a team. And at that point, to support the team by asking right, strong, open-ended questions to help them discover the real root cause is significant. Coaching, social intelligence, building trust, experience are required. Otherwise, you may easily miss the pain points. This is just an example. Apart from that one, I can give another example on Daily Scrums. Daily Scrum is Developers’ own area; so it is better to see it facilitated by Developers in turn. It also supports autonomic structure in my opinion.

Another facilitation topic is the workshops designed for the team. That one also needs facilitation techniques, pre-preparation, research about the topic etc. And based on Scrum Master’s experience, he/she can facilitate this specially designed workshop for their team with/without the help of a co-facilitator. Agile coaches can also facilitate a special workshop for the team, organization, department etc or act like a co-facilitator. I know that the job descriptions of Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches differ from company to company but it is another topic to discuss.

Let’s take a look at the situation from the Developer’s side also. Sometimes it is better for a very technical event to be facilitated by one of the Developer. In that situation, our mission as a Scrum Master should be “To support the Developer on how to do it”. It is also important for Developers’ personel developments to learn more about facilitation for the future events.

For Product Owners, one of the best practice is to facilitate Sprint Reviews in coordination with Developers. In that case, support of Scrum Master is also very useful during preparation period. You can work with your Scrum Master on how to facilitate Sprint Reviews in an efficient way, for instance, studying on flow, agenda, preparation of review board, stakeholder communication etc.

All in all, it is obvious that there is no specific cure but we have suggestions, best practices, experiences to tell. I am sure you have your own routines as a team, but the key point is to avoid the habits which might damage autonomic structure and cause dysfunctions as time goes by.

Good luck! :)

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