If a football team fails, we blame the coach: what if a Scrum Team fails?

A story about Teams, Coaches and Context

Scrum Teams address complex, adaptive problems, just like premiership football teams.

This is a fictional story of a team in crisis, and how there are parallels between football teams and Scrum Teams.

The team was under-performing.

Players weren’t responding to the methods of the coach: he seemed unable to get them to buy in. Some of the senior players found themselves in roles that were relatively unfamiliar to them: they were struggling to adapt.

On game days, the fans were growing frustrated. They wanted results of course, but they also wanted the team to play a certain way. Right now, they looked like they didn’t know how to play at all.

The press speculated about individual players getting restless. How would the team cope if they lost their young stars? The rumour mill frothed about players becoming more and more frustrated with the coach.

In the background, the board had high expectations. The chairman, shareholders and business partners were growing concerned at the recent run of sub-par results. Perhaps a change of coach was required? After all, this was within their power…

Rumours started circulating in the press that the board had started recruitment already. Newspapers published opinion pieces on what was going wrong in the team, speculated on the best replacement for the coach, and attempted to predict how much longer he would remain in the job.

On reading this story, is it clear where the problem is? Is soccer itself to blame? Perhaps the methods of the coach are not correct… or maybe the coach is to blame? Perhaps we should take a look at the players. No, I know! It’s the fault of the board! Or maybe the press!?


This rush to judgement makes a serious mistake: it only considers individuals or individual stakeholder groups.

Every single team is really about individuals and interactions.

Without understanding the interactions between individuals in a team, how can we hope to resolve complex adaptive problems?

If a team uses Scrum and struggles to deliver, is Scrum the problem? Perhaps… but there might also be other underlying issues that require addressing.

Scrum is a lightweight framework by design. A friend once told me that it works like a flashlight: it helps you see the obstacles in your environment, but Scrum does not offer ready-made solutions for dealing with these obstacles.

Because of this, if you see something scary in the dark, you might get annoyed with Scrum for not also prescribing a solution.

However, if Scrum helps you to see a problem more clearly, please don’t blame the flashlight, even if you’re not prepared to deal with the problem just yet.

Instead, strive to learn more about context. This learning begins with better understanding of the interactions inside a team, and also how the team interacts with customers and stakeholders.

These interactions will tell you a lot about the team’s ability to deliver, regardless of the methods they choose.

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