Scrum Master. This is The Way

1. Introduction

The Way of a Scrum Master is full of challenges that are somewhat similar to those of Jedi in the Star Wars franchise. There are numerous hidden traps, temptations, misconceptions, and misleading information. These challenges make it very hard for a Scrum Master to stay on The Way instead of finding themselves on the Dark Side one day. And the Scrum Master’s role has a great potential to introduce positive or negative effects on the company depending on whether they keep on The Way or succumb to the Dark Side.

As discussed in a separate article, Scrum Master’s role by its design is crucial for achieving the Optimizing Goal of Scrum. Hence, the following principle should serve as guidance to identify The Way of a Scrum Master:

Out of all ways available for a Scrum Master, the most valuable are those that enable the Scrum Team to continuously improve its capability to effectively self-manage in addressing complex problems through empiricism to maximize the generated value.

Practically, this means that a team’s capability to self-organize is a crucial success factor in achieving the Goal of a Scrum Master. But mind that the noticeable improvements in self-management usually require long-term endeavors. Hence, in most cases, The Way of a Scrum Master does not bring any significant results in the short run and instead focuses on long-term benefits.

Here below, you can find some major traps on Scrum Master’s Way.

Trap #1

Just like with the Scrum Framework adoption in general, the aforementioned principle of choosing The Way is easy to understand but hard to use in practice. Moreover, working on short-term goals always looks like an easier option and thus an easy win. These aspects pose a serious source of risk for a Scrum Master to drift towards the Dark Side inadvertently.

Trap #2

Another source of this risk lies in the description of a Scrum Master role in the Scrum Guide, which outlines WHAT is expected to be done by Scrum Masters and leaves a lot of implicit information on HOW they are expected to do that. This is why the concept of Stances and Misunderstood Stances of a Scrum Master in The 8 Stances of a Scrum Master whitepaper became so valuable.

That concept proposed by Barry Overeem made a huge advancement to clarify what activities are in line with the whole idea behind Scrum in general and the role of a Scrum Master in particular. The Stances of a Scrum Master explain HOW Scrum Masters should act to fulfill their responsibilities. Respectively, when the “HOW” side of work is misinterpreted, a Scrum Master stumbles into Misunderstood Stances.

But there are still quite a lot of challenging cases in Scrum Master’s real life when neither of the stances and misunderstood stances proposed by Barry Overeem can be directly linked to. In such cases, Scrum Masters struggle to determine whether this behavior is in line with the role’s purpose.

To propose a complete model of Stances, I amended, extended, and enriched the original model with details. Undoubtedly, the model presented in this article is not the only possible one since you can combine and classify behaviors of a Scrum Master in countless ways. Whenever Scrum Masters keep on The Way, this model should allow them to find a match of their behavior.

Similarly, I offer an amended and extended version of the original Misunderstood Stances model (by Barry Overeem) in the Misunderstood Stances of a Scrum Master. Advanced Model article. I will refer to it when Misunderstood Stances are mentioned.

Sometimes, a Scrum Master is fully familiar with Misunderstood Stances but stumbles into external demands to take them. This should be considered a symptom of some hidden problem that is just another work situation of a Scrum Master. Hence, a Scrum Master should be able to find respective stances in the current model to address these hidden problems.

Tips: If you are interested, you can also compare the proposed models with the original ones in the Scrum Master. Evolution of Stances article.

Trap #3

Moreover, it is essential to note that there’s not just one but a set of proper stances applicable in many cases. And it is not always obvious which one to choose. This is another primary source of the risk for a Scrum Master to drift away from The Way.

This article is dedicated to helping Scrum Masters in any work situation understand how to choose the stance that will better keep them on The Way.

2. Overview

We will distinguish two types of stances — Focusing and Acting Stances. Considering that Scrum Master takes one Focusing Stance on the background at any point in time and one Acting Stance on the forefront simultaneously.

Focusing Stances do not stipulate any specific approaches or actions but provide a clear focus and drive the Scrum Master’s long-term efforts with a clear purpose. Thus, it is possible to take more than one Focusing Stance in the long run.

Scrum Master will require special skills to manage their time effectively, prioritize the efforts and achieve sustainable progress while having several global focuses simultaneously.

Unlike the Focusing ones, the Acting Stances are more about short-term efforts. They serve as a tool to fulfill the purpose of the Focusing Stances. And normally, you take not more than one Acting Stance at a time.

At the end of this article, there will be some practical examples.

3. Three Focusing Stances

This chapter will focus on the whole picture of Focusing Stances with respective selection logic. The following chapters will provide a more detailed explanation of these stances.

Every Scrum Master typically takes the Team Agilist Focusing Stance and stays in it most of the time. Sometimes, when many organizational dysfunctions hinder the team’s ability to improve continuously, most of the Scrum Master’s time is focused on Change Agent Stance (see further below). However, after the critical mass of dysfunctions is removed, Team Agilist Stance takes most of the time and effort.

When an impediment hinders the team’s progress towards its goals and requires a Scrum Master’s active involvement, then Impediment Remover Focusing Stance might be the most adequate to take.

If some signs of organizational dysfunctions impact the team’s ability to improve continuously, then a Change Agent Focusing Stance might be the optimal choice to address those dysfunctions on the level of a broader organization.

When the mission of Impediment Remover and Change Agent Focusing Stances is accomplished, a Scrum Master typically has enough time to concentrate once again all the efforts on Team Agilist Focusing Stance, which will stay relevant for a team’s lifetime.

This is the first Focusing Stance when you maintain a clear focus on helping the Scrum Team improve its effectiveness from within. For instance, you help the team embrace Agile and Empiricism, help them experiment with Agile practices, etc.

While other Focusing Stances concentrate Scrum Master’s efforts on specific problems, like Impediments or Organizational Dysfunctions, Team Agilist may have a broader perspective. So, in general, it can be considered a core stance that typically gives a start for all other Focusing Stances. While taking the Team Agilist stance, it happens that either Impediment Remover or Change Agent are also needed.

Although it gives a clear focus on the Scrum Team’s work, sometimes this stance might be performed effectively with the help of Acting Stances on the broader organizational level.

For instance, it might happen that stakeholders lack knowledge about Scrum, and Team Agilist Stance might be the most relevant one.

The following Focusing Stances, in contrast, help a Scrum Master to work outside the Scrum Team: on the broader organization level.

This Focusing Stance name is, to some extent, self-explanatory since it allows to focus Scrum Master’s efforts on ensuring that Impediments are removed. The most dangerous aspect that usually leads to misconceptions about the Scrum Master’s role is the meaning behind the Impediment term.

In general, the Impediment in this context is something that seriously hinders the team’s progress towards its goals (Sprint Goal or Product Goal) and also requires a Scrum Master’s active involvement. In general, it implies that the Impediment removal is out of reach of the self-managing team (or multi-team product group). Let’s consider more precisely several practical cases when a Scrum Master should take Impediment Remover Stance.

Case 1. Scrum Master’s specific expertise is required.

This concerns the cases when the special expertise of a Scrum Master is necessary that is not generally expected from other roles. For instance, this could be an impediment with some deep root causes hidden and can only be discovered by someone unbiased in this problem, having specific experience in team dynamics, people behavior, and motivation.

Example for Case 1

While taking Observer Acting Stance and Team Agilist Focusing Stance, Scrum Master’s observations indicate that one team member is willing to execute only their own individual tasks, without significant care about teamwork and shared team goals. Such issues tend to be very destructive and cause severe harm to the team spirit, impacting the team's motivation to achieve common goals that ultimately hinder the team’s progress towards their goals.

Usually, a Scrum Master takes respective Acting Stances to foster and facilitate an open discussion of this situation within the team and help this team member understand how such behavior works counter-productively for the whole team’s success. In many cases, it helps. However, sometimes, despite all the team’s attempts (even with the help of a Scrum Master), they can not improve the situation on their own.

Sometimes, it is impossible to expect people to change their behavior for teamwork — for instance, when their individual interests are incompatible with teamwork and self-management.

In this case, when all reasonable attempts to improve do not lead to any significant progress, it might be reasonable to consider this as an Impediment that a Scrum Master should address to remove such team members from a team. An exact solution is very context-specific.

Case 2. Final Frontier

It may happen that team members have already tried to resolve an impediment hindering their progress towards team goals, even including available escalation paths, but they didn’t have any considerable success. A Scrum Master is expected to have the necessary skills to address this issue, if needed, on a higher management level.

Case 3. Urgency and Criticality

Some issues might be urgent and lead to severe implications for the organization if a Scrum Master does not start removing them immediately. In other words, the situation is so critical that the Scrum Master cannot afford to spend time on fostering self-management in a team.

In this case, a Scrum Master does what is necessary to “fight the fire,” not because of the Scrum Master’s role. The same action would be expected from anyone regardless of their role.

Beware Misunderstood Stances

Let’s consider an example when a new team member lacks knowledge about some technical aspects, which are the team’s responsibility, and does not know where to get this knowledge from. The situation is not urgent, and a Scrum Master does not have relevant expertise.

In this particular case, it may be a bad idea for a Scrum Master to immediately jump in and ensure that this team member fills this knowledge gap. Such a Scrum Master would have a high risk of finding him(her)self in the misunderstood Superhero Stance instead of the Impediment Remover Stance.

This is clearly an issue that could and should be resolved by the team through self-management. So it might be more reasonable for a Scrum Master to stay in the Team Agilist Focusing Stance and help this team member make this issue transparent for the whole team.

As a Change Agent, a Scrum Master works on a level of the broader organization, outside the team, and helps the organization change itself in a way that better enables all teams to unfold their full potential.

This Focusing Stance is not usually mixed up with misunderstood stances. Instead, this stance gets abandoned quite often, deemed unnecessary, or even prohibited in some organizations. However, this Focusing Stance is vital.

Sometimes, the need to take this stance becomes apparent when a Scrum Master is in the Impediment Remover Focusing Stance. For instance, when the impediment repeats itself due to some organizational dysfunctions. In this case, the Change Agent helps the organization remove those dysfunctions that cause such impediments, thereby ensuring that these impediments would not reoccur. Sometimes the impediment is urgent, and the Impediment Remover should be taken in parallel to serve Scrum Master’s efforts in addressing the impediment’s symptoms.

The Change Agent has a more strategic focus, while the Impediment Remover is mostly tactical and solution-oriented. Although a tactical solution is sometimes necessary, a Scrum Master must help the organization not abandon the strategic solution when pain relief comes.

Example 1

A typical example of this could be a weak alignment of priorities between the Scrum Team and another codependent department which doesn’t allow to deliver an increment independently. Suppose this is discovered by a Scrum Master the very first time, and the successful delivery of increment in this Sprint is critical from the business perspective. In that case, it might be reasonable to help the team address this in the Impediment Remover Focusing Stance. However, a tactical solution must not hinder the strategic one.

Scrum Masters should consider removing such dependencies when a Scrum Team can not deliver an Increment without some delivery from outside (functional dependencies).

It constrains them not only on the level of processes but it constrains their Autonomy which is a crucial part of motivation, especially for self-managing teams.

It means that immediately after or even in parallel with addressing the critical impediment in the current Sprint acting as the Impediment Remover, a Scrum Master should take the Change Agent stance to help the organization to see, understand the criticality, and get rid of this functional dependency whenever feasible.

In case a team has functional dependencies on other teams, and they de-facto develop a common product from the perspective of end-users, one good option to consider is proper scaling (actually descaling) according to the Scrum Guide, e.g., Large Scale Scrum (LeSS).

Example 2

Another good example when the Change Agent might be the Focusing Stance of choice is the lack of team members’ motivation to do something that is considered their responsibility according to Scrum, but not considered as such by the organization.

For instance, imagine Developers have function-focused jobs within the organization — such as Back-end Developer, Front-end Developer, UI/UX Designer, QA, etc. Now, imagine that Back-end Developers do not want to be involved in Front-end development, and UI/UX designers do not want to test the application. And it happens even though they already have some basic or even moderate level of knowledge and skills which they could apply for simple tasks right now and gain their expertise further with time.

On the other hand, it is just impossible to find a stable balance between the number of narrowly specialized front-end and back-end developers. This is because the Product Backlog is a living document that constantly changes the relation between the amount of work on the back- and front-end in each Sprint. But time-to-time, management hears “we have a lack of Front-End” and “we have a lack of QA,” which leads them to add more narrowly specialized people on the team. So the team grows together with its cost for the company, while the value maximization does not improve.

As a result, in Sprint Planning events, developers can not select items from the Product Backlog one-by-one top-down. Still, sometimes they say something like, “we cannot take the items in 3–6 positions from the top, but we can take 7th and 9th ones because our Front-End developers are already full with 1st and 2nd, and we still have some capacity of Back-end developers.”

This is a classic example of the local optimization case when management addresses a symptom but does not consider the entire system. They invest efforts and money into the solution that sub-optimizes the system. At the same time, the issue is rooted in entirely different phenomena.

Developers’ narrow specialization constrains the team’s capability to maximize value since they can take the lower ordered items but not the upper ones.

A Scrum Master usually identifies this issue’s symptoms while taking the Team Agilist Focusing Stance. They try to address this within the team using various Acting Stances. However, in many cases, the causes of this issue are rooted in organizational dysfunctions.

Some possible examples: a traditional (non-adapted) Performance Evaluation, Professional Development, Salary Management, or Career Development. They usually stimulate Developers to focus either on individual goals or on narrow functions only, for instance, separating Front-end Dev, Back-end Dev, QA, Analysis, Design, Architecture, etc.

In such cases, the Change Agent Focusing Stance is dedicated to helping the organization find and address these root causes.

4. Six Acting Stances

Here we will look at the whole picture of Acting Stances with respective choosing logic. The following chapters will provide a more detailed explanation of these stances.

Whatever Focusing Stance you take for a specific work case, it always makes sense to start with the Observer Acting Stance. It gives a basis for better understanding the situation and identifying when and what other Acting Stances should be taken.

Stay in this stance until it is a proper time to change to other Acting Stances or if your mission in the current Focusing Stance is accomplished. Return to the Observer stance when the purposes of other Acting Stances are accomplished.

Choosing the proper time to change from the Observer to other Acting Stances is essential for the success of the mission of any Focusing Stance — learn more in the respective chapter further below.

Whatever the situation, when you feel a temptation to take some actions which cannot be associated with any Acting Stances, Observer Stance might be the best choice to make sure it does not lead you to take a Misunderstood Stance.

When you discover that the situation is going towards a sub-optimal way, choose the “right time” to start acting as a Mirror Holder. This Acting Stance is one of the most undervalued and misunderstood, while its proper application is crucial for a successful Focusing Stance fulfillment.

For instance, a Scrum Master does not have formal power and typically cannot just remove an impediment themselves in the Impediment Remover Focusing Stance. Instead, they usually need managers, other teams, external partners to achieve anything substantial. And this would require a Scrum Master to “hold a mirror” for everyone concerned to ensure they understand the situation.

The same can be said about the Change Agent Focusing Stance that, in most cases, would require taking the Mirror Holder Acting Stance to help the organization understand its dysfunctions.

In Team Agilist, sometimes it is also necessary to “hold a mirror.” Mind that it is important to hold the mirror for the whole team and not just individuals. Learn more in a respective chapter further below.

When necessary, take the Facilitator Acting Stance to facilitate collective discussions by offering people a clear facilitation structure where everyone can contribute and thereby unfold the full potential of their “collective mind.” Just make sure you don’t mix it up with Misunderstood Stances.

If you see that people are struggling to consider some questions from different perspectives or do not consider some important aspects, refrain from giving them advice and teaching them. Instead, try taking Professional Coach Acting Stance to ask powerful questions that direct people’s thinking towards their own decisions.

Here, it is essential to remember that professional coaching hugely relies upon assuming that people have all the necessary knowledge. Hence, if it is not your case, you will probably first need to help them cover the knowledge gaps.

Sometimes, people have a lack of knowledge. Typically, it might be discovered in the Observer or other Acting Stances, such as the Facilitator, Mirror Holder, Prof Coach. If you possess that knowledge, consider taking the Teacher Acting Stance to educate people. Just do not mix up the lack of knowledge with the lack of understanding. In the latter case, the Professional Coach might be the better choice.

As a Teacher, you might stumble across the resistance to learn. It might also happen that the lack of people’s knowledge is insignificant compared to the lack of experience. In both of these cases, consider taking the Mentor Acting Stance to share your own experience.

This is the very first stance that every Scrum Master normally takes when starting their work in any Focusing Stance and to which they return after accomplishing the purpose of Acting Stances. So, this is the stance that generally should take a prominent part (if not the majority) of Scrum Master’s work time.

When the Observer stance is taken, a Scrum Master “actively does nothing.” LeSS Founders straightforwardly explain this widely misunderstood idea:

Actively doing nothing means that when you observe non-optimal dynamics or plainly wrong behavior within your team or organization, you choose not to do anything at that moment.

(Large-Scale Scrum)

As opposed to the common opinion, this stance is one of the most important, challenging, and time-consuming ones.

Why Important?

When the time spent observing is too short, then it may lead to making premature conclusions. Moreover, if a Scrum Master stops observing and starts taking action too early, there might be very little time for people to try to improve the situation themselves.

Sometimes this too-early acting does not give the observed situation a chance to ripen enough — for instance, to reveal some underlying aspects, uncover hidden root causes, surface buried conflicts, and make assumptions transparent. In this case, only a part of the system is observed, and the conclusions drawn based on this observation might be wrong.

Why Challenging?

… as a good Scrum Master, you care about your team, and you want to help them. You want to resolve the pain they are in by jumping in. However, a good Scrum Master realizes that this will not benefit them in the long run. Building a team means you need to create the space for the team to resolve issues themselves, learn from it, and grow.

A potential problem with actively doing nothing is that it will look like you are doing nothing and not adding any value. Many of the teams I was a Scrum Master of joked that I don’t do anything. They noticed the team worked better when I was there, but they often couldn’t see why. Indeed, it seemed like I was… actively doing nothing.

(Large-Scale Scrum)

Why Time-consuming?

There is a handy hint:

On average, e.g., when a Scrum Team is not a recently formed one, a Scrum Master usually should take the Observer Stance most of the time. If this is not the case, then probably something is wrong with the team, organization, or the understanding of the Scrum Master role.

Beware of Misunderstood Stances

Suppose most of the time, a Scrum Master does not “actively do nothing” in the Observer Core Stance but takes Acting Stances (and this is not the very beginning of Scrum adoption or its scaling/descaling). In that case, it might be a symptom of actually taking Misunderstood Stances.

For instance, when Scrum Masters find themselves actively working in Impediment Remover Focusing Stance most of the time, it might be a signal to check whether it is not mixed up with the Superhero Misunderstood Stance.

Similarly, if a Scrum Master spends a lot of time acting as a Facilitator, it might be a symptom of mixing it up with such Misunderstood Stances as Coordinator, Intermediary, Assistant, Tool Manager, or even Policeman.

And ultimately, taking Teacher stances most of the time might be a symptom of actually acting as Policeman, Team Boss, or Tool Manager.

It is impossible to imagine a Scrum Master not taking the Mirror Holder Acting Stance at all. This stance helps Scrum Masters intervene but not give any advice since it might happen that just seeing the reflection in the mirror is enough, and people can find the solution themselves. This stance enables a Scrum Master to show people the reflection of their behavior, communications, relationships, processes, etc.

When the Impediment Remover or Change Agent Focusing Stances are taken into action, the Mirror Holder Acting Stance can serve a Scrum Master to show the management the reflection of the organization they manage.

In many cases, after that, other Acting Stances are taken to help people understand the reflection, cover some knowledge gaps if necessary, and find sustainable solutions to improve.

This stance is all about ensuring transparency in the following situations as an example:

  • SM suspects that something happens in a sub-optimal way;
  • SM suspects that something did not occur while it was expected to happen.

Holding a mirror to a team

Here, by using the term “team,” we will refer to different aspects. Indeed, it may be just a Scrum Team. It may also be a group of Developers who collectively fulfill their joint accountability within the Scrum Team. A big multi-team Product Group can also be considered a huge team of Teams as long as all Teams share common goals.

If the assumption made by a Scrum Master based on their observation was wrong, the team clarifies the situation. But if the Scrum Master’s hypothesis does get confirmed, it may trigger the team to improve the situation.

It often happens that the team confirms the observations but does not understand what concerns the Scrum Master in it. In this case, the Scrum Master usually changes the stance depending on the situation — e.g., to Professional Coach, Teacher, or Mentor.

Acting as Mirror Holder, a Scrum Master should always consider doing it for the whole Team and not just for individuals.

It is necessary because only this way can foster their sense of shared accountability, which is crucial for self-management.

One good example of this stance is when a Scrum Master holds a mirror to the whole team to show that they do not hold each other accountable for following some Scrum rules or their working agreements. There’s a very famous quote about such a case:

A good Scrum Master will hold team members to account if needed. A great Scrum Master will hold the team to account for not holding their teammates to account.

(“Scrum Mastery: From Good to Great Servant Leadership,” Geoff Watts)

Beware Misunderstood Stances

This Acting Stance is often mixed up with Misunderstood Stances, such as Policeman. This occurs when a Scrum Master only monitors and controls whether team members follow some rules but do not ensure that they understand its value and feel ownership.

A Scrum Master should be empathetic to the team’s problems and change to such stances as Coach, Teacher or Mentor when necessary, thus helping the team clearly understand what is wrong with the reflection they see in the mirror and why it is important to address it in some way.

Not a Scrum Master but a clear understanding and acceptance of importance should drive people to improve.

Nota Bene: It might also happen that team members’ behavior when they do not follow some rules is driven by some organizational dysfunctions, and it makes sense to address them first.

Holding a mirror to the Product Owner

The Mirror Holder Acting Stance is also very valuable when we talk about work with a Product Owner in the Team Agilist Focusing Stance.

Imagine a Product Owner puts pressure on the team to take more work into a Sprint. Suppose such behavior of a Product Owner is detected. In that case, a Scrum Master shows them the reflection of the Product Owner’s behavior and then shifts to other Acting Stances — such as Coach, Teacher, Mentor, and others.

However, in some cases, a Product Owner is knowledgeable and experienced enough. Then the real root causes of such behavior should be identified.

For instance, one of the common root causes is that stakeholders put pressure on a Product Owner to deliver more and faster. In this case, a Scrum Master should consider working with stakeholders and probably again taking the Mirror Holder as the first Acting Stance.

Holding a mirror to the organization

Scrum Masters usually go for this stance to support their efforts in Impediment Remover and Change Agent Focusing Stances. As soon as normally Scrum Masters do not have formal power in the organization (otherwise, it would create a conflict with their role), they can’t cause any improvements unless they hold a mirror to ensure enough transparency.

Some examples of holding the mirror to the organization:

  • Showing how standard processes prescribed by the organization create unnecessary queues, which produce a lot of waste and increase Time-to-market.
  • Showing how the traditional budgeting (e.g., project-based) makes the Agile way of product development merely impossible.
  • Showing how the standard Individual Performance Appraisal process stimulates individualism in teammates and ruins teamwork.
  • Showing how the standard career paths with a focus on seniority levels (e.g., junior -> middle -> senior), as well as any other sort of superiority of one team member (e.g., people management functions) over others, undermine teamwork.
  • Showing how official support of only a single-role focus for people sharing the Developer accountability in Scrum Team (e.g., QA, Front-end Dev, Back-end Dev, Dev-Ops, etc.) constraints team’s performance potential through fostering functional silos, that leads to queues, local optimizations, narrow professional development, and weak perception of a common team’s goal as something motivating all team members.

This is one of the best quotes describing this stance:

The ultimate goal of coaching is to help the client understand themselves better so that they can find to make the most of their potential.

(Geoff Watts, Kim Morgan. The Coach’s Casebook: Mastering the Twelve Traits That Trap Us)

And this one too:

Coaching is not about giving advice but about supporting people to come up with their own solutions. If you ask the right questions, they always will.

(Lyssa Adkins)

In other words, whenever Scrum Masters block their natural desire to give advice or educate people but instead ask questions that help to come to the sought answers themselves, they act as Professional Coaches.

Whatever the Focusing Stance is taken in the background, Professional Coach Stance should be the primary choice before Teacher and Mentor Stances. And the cornerstone in this decision-making is the amount of knowledge and experience that people have to address the necessary question.

This is because the effectiveness of Professional Coach Stance depends on whether people are knowledgeable enough. The lack of knowledge or experience can be discovered beforehand or during the coaching session. In any case, it makes sense to shift to Teacher or Mentor Stances and return to Professional Coach as soon as the knowledge or experience gap is sufficiently covered.

Scrum Master often temporarily shifts from Facilitator to Professional Coach (and then to Teacher or Mentor when necessary), thereby embedding short coaching sessions into the facilitated events. One of the most common examples is a Sprint Retrospective.

Essentially, this Acting Stance exists to educate people about Scrum, Agile, good practices, teamwork, and respective behaviors. So, the goal is to cover existing gaps of knowledge. Keep in mind that first, Professional Coach Stance should be considered, and Teacher is taken only when it’s truly necessary.

Sometimes, it might be more effective to provide a real-life example to show how something can work.

For the sake of teaching people, a Scrum Master may do something instead of them but with those people observing nearby and learning from this experience.

Beware Misunderstood Stances

In this case, it is essential to see the clear line between Teacher Acting Stance and some Misunderstood Stances when a Scrum Master simply does someone else’s work, and nobody learns anything from this.

As a Mentor, a Scrum Master shares their own experience with others. It might be more valuable than Teacher in cases when there isn’t a significant gap in theoretical knowledge, and Scrum Master can help best by sharing the experience with them.

Also, this Acting Stance works softer than Teacher, which helps educate people who are resistant to teaching for some reason.

By taking Facilitator Acting Stance, a Scrum Master, helps a group of people to achieve their common goal of a meeting through a highly effective discussion. It is always context-specific, but in many cases, a highly effective discussion might mean that:

  • The goal is clear and desirable for all participants.
  • It is clear what the result is and whether the goal is achieved.
  • It is clear what action points are if they are needed.
  • Participants understand how the group moves through the discussion from its beginning to the end.
  • Discussions are supported with tools and techniques that enable better understanding, encourage creative thinking, systems thinking, and focus on a goal.
  • All the invited participants have an opportunity to contribute.

There’s an excellent explanation of this Acting Stance offered by Lyssa Adkins in her book Coaching Agile Teams.

A Scrum Master should facilitate by creating a ‘container’ for the team to fill up with their ideas and innovations. The container, often a set of agenda questions or some other lightweight (and flexible) structure, gives the team just enough of a frame to stay on their purpose and promotes an environment for richer interaction, a place where fantastic ideas can be heard. The coach creates the container; the team creates the content.

(“Coaching Agile Teams,” Lyssa Adkins)

Beware Misunderstood Stances

This Acting Stance is probably one of the most often mixed up with Misunderstood Sances.

Example of Choosing The Way

Acting as Observer in Team Agilist Focusing Stance on the background, a Scrum Master realizes that a Product Owner expects a Scrum Master to report the team’s progress during the Sprint.

The Scrum Master continues observing and discovers that the Product Owner’s expectation is in line with some official guidelines adopted within an organization.

The Scrum Master recalls that Structure eats Culture for lunch and decides that teaching the Product Owner about roles and responsibilities in Scrum will most likely be fruitless unless the organizational guidelines are appropriately corrected. Therefore, (s)he decides to address this as an organizational dysfunction in Change Agent Focusing Stance.

Moving on, the Scrum Master takes both Change Agent Focusing Stance and Observer Acting Stance and discovers that several senior managers promote those guidelines. So the Scrum Master takes the Mirror Holder Acting Stance to let them reflect on the situation. However, it becomes evident that these managers lack the understanding that those guidelines are based on misconceptions.

The Scrum Master first tries to help them understand it by taking the Professional Coach Acting Stance and directs their thinking process by asking specific questions. It turns out that there is a deeper lack of knowledge that prevents managers from understanding the misconception.

The Scrum Master takes Teacher Acting Stance but very soon discovers that managers resist teaching. Hence (s)he takes the Mentor Acting Stance and explains the misconception from the practical perspective, based on examples from his/her own experience.

When managers get the necessary knowledge and understand the misconception, they start discussing how to amend the guidelines, and the Scrum Master takes Facilitator Acting Stance.

During the facilitation session, (s)he discovers that managers do not consider some essential aspects. The Scrum Master takes the Professional Coach Acting Stance to help managers consider the topic from different perspectives.

When the guidelines are amended, the Scrum Master returns to the Team Agilist Focusing Stance and takes the Observer Acting Stance. Here, (s)he discovers that the Product Owner struggles with understanding the new guidelines and has a lack of fundamental knowledge about Scrum. So staying in the Team Agilist Focusing Stance in the background, the Scrum Master takes both the Teacher and Professional Coach Acting Stances to help the Product Owner learn and understand.

Let’s Improve It Together

If you believe that some Scrum Master’s behavior is completely in line with The Way of a Scrum Master (considered at the beginning of this article), but this behavior cannot be associated with any of the Stances described above, then please leave a respective comment to this article.

100% Scrum Master, PSM III, PSPO I, CLP, Candidate LeSS Trainer