3 qualities of an effective scrum master

3 qualities of an effective scrum master

3 qualities of an effective scrum master 1501 751 Flexion

by Valentine Afong


I am often asked, “What is a scrum master?

Some people say, “It’s like a Project Manager for software development teams,” but it’s not. At Flexion, a scrum master is more of a team coach and facilitator, working with teams and enabling them to become self-organizing to deliver value consistently.

Another frequent question is, “What does a scrum master do?” A scrum master enables teams to adopt a structured approach that empowers collaboration on complex projects. Using agile principles, a good scrum master also helps teams adapt to changing requirements and continuously deliver user value.

To those familiar with this way of working, being a scrum master may sound straightforward, but when you add dealing with people to the equation, things can get tricky. Everyone has different skills and experiences when it comes to working with others. Through effective coaching and facilitating, the scrum master creates an atmosphere where all team members can work well together.

Over the years of doing this job, I have found some ways that help me work more effectively, all of which revolve around the importance of building better relationships with and between my team members.

My best advice for being a more effective scrum master

1. Express genuine interest in people.

Interacting with teams at various levels daily is a scrum master’s bread and butter. For a scrum master who doesn’t enjoy human interactions or “like” people, this may be particularly challenging.To be a better scrum master, one must go beyond being courteous and genuinely invest in their relationships with the individuals on their team.

Get to know your team members by incorporating lean coffee conversations and sharing games such as Pictionary (a favorite of mine), Two Truths and a Lie, or Skribll.io (a drawing and guessing game) into regularly scheduled meetings helps build the scrum master’s understanding of their team members. (It helps team members understand each other, too.)

2. Practice empathy.

Closely related to liking and taking an interest in people, an effective scrum master is empathetic and willing to put themselves in others’ shoes.I have realized there is no one-size-fits-all solution or approach to dealing with teams simply because teams are composed of individuals, and no two people are the same.Empathy does not equate to being a pushover and letting everyone act as they please in the spirit of promoting honest dialogue. It means leading by example and facilitating healthy conversations while trying to understand and accommodate different viewpoints and staying within the scrum framework.

Look for patterns of behavior in team members. These patterns hold clues to individual struggles that can be dealt with empathetically. For example, what if a team member can’t adapt to the new tech stack? An effective scrum master works with the team to ensure they can support the struggling person.

Or perhaps another teammate is usually late for a meeting. Find out why. They may be dealing with a personal scheduling conflict, such as an illness in the family. An effective scrum master creates an environment where this team member can feel seen and supported instead of being put on the spot for being late.

Empathy builds trust and promotes transparency in a team, both crucial ingredients for high-performing teams.

3. Lead by example.

While it is true that a scrum master should be a true leader, helping and guiding teams towards decisions that work best for them, I have noticed the effective ones are those who lead by example.Leading by example is especially important for teams in the early stages of formation and helps set the foundation for a team culture that embodies agile values and principles. This type of leadership can also help empower the team to take ownership of the work and drive improvement.

Examples of this behavior include:

  • Recognizing and calling out anti-patterns.
  • Holding the team accountable for the value created.
  • Encouraging collaboration among team members (even when they may not like it).
  • Encouraging continuous improvement and adaptability.

While other tools enable success as a scrum master, the above qualities highlight some extra value-added propositions that can help elevate a good scrum master into the realm of excellence.

Valentine Afong is a Certified Scrum Master and an agile enthusiast with over seven years of experience in program delivery spanning the banking, manufacturing, education, and healthcare sectors. He excels in guiding technical teams toward self-organization and has led successful greenfield development and agile transformation endeavors.

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