How Can A Scrum Master Carry Out The Servant Leader Role In Scrum

By Mrugesh Panchal,

Servant Leader Role In Scrum

The servant-leader role

Many Scrum reference books mention that a scrum master should ideally play a servant-leader role. Several explanations exist as to what a servant-leader role should be like, however, in a nutshell, the role can be understood as:

  • To maintain a positive attitude towards the team members
  • Be sensitive to the team’s needs
  • If possible maintain personal contact with the team members
  • Understand the team’s difficulties and problems
  • Put in efforts and try to resolve problems faced by team members
  • Act as a facilitator and try to streamline the Scrum process
  • Contribute in a proactive manner towards the fulfillment of project goals and objectives

It is important to collaborate in the scrum and help team members when they face certain problems and issues. The scrum master plays a central role in facilitating the scrum process and streamlining the development activity. A few pointers can help to understand how the servant-leader role can be effectively played by a scrum master:

1. Be a good listener

Be a good listener

A person who is a good listener can easily retain information and make informed decisions. It is easier to resolve issues when you have relevant facts. A scrum master should be a good listener and think with an open mind. A good place to start would be the daily scrum. Team members state their progress, explain what they plan to do on that particular day, and report any problems faced by them. Extrovert team members do not find it difficult to express what they feel. However, certain individuals may find it awkward to open up or voice their concerns. Scrum masters should encourage such team members to open up and make it easier for them to express what they feel.

A scrum master facilitates the scrum process without taking an active part. S/he is also responsible for resolving issues, and promoting self-growth. Teams can grow if effective solutions are found, and to find positive solutions, it is important to listen first.

2. Be aware of issues and problems

Be aware of issues and problems

Scrum actively supports self-correction activities through various events like sprint reviews and sprint retrospectives. Issues and problems can only be solved if they are identified first. For that, a scrum master should develop a holistic view and initially understand a problem at a macro level. It is important to get an overall idea about the issue first and subsequently analyze it further at a micro level. A top-down approach is often recommended to understand problems so they can be easily resolved.

A scrum master should help the team to understand the problem, and later aid the team in solving it. S/he should not actively resolve any issues but guide the team members in understanding it so they can find a proper solution. Problems should be properly identified if they exist.

3. Be persuasive rather than autocratic

Be persuasive rather than autocratic

Quite often, traditional managers can be very autocratic when they delegate their authority. Scrum supports empowerment. Self-analysing and self-organizing teams decide the best course of action. At times, it becomes necessary to advise the team to follow the Scrum process or carry out a particular activity. Generally, the teams respond positively by listening to the scrum master and engaging with the task. However, if the team fails to respond in time, or fails to respond positively, it may be required to engage with the team so it can comply. This is where the attitude comes in – the scrum master can either instruct the team or discuss out the issue and persuade the team to respond positively.

An autocratic attitude is frowned upon by the team, and at an individual level, it may become difficult to avail the team member’s cooperation. The servant-leader role suggests that a scrum master should refrain from delegating his or her authority. Instead, the person should persuade the team member to cooperate.

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