Original French version here.
You only have to read Scrum Master job descriptions to observe the importance given to facilitation in organizations’ applications.
Employers expect the Scrum Master to facilitate Scrum events. But is this expectation legitimate or even relevant?
Pros of having a clearly identified facilitator
When companies make the effort to find out what agility and Scrum are really all about, they realize just how far-reaching the changes in mental models are. It’s not a question of doing more of the same, but of transforming the vision of the world of work and business.
The Scrum Master must naturally act as a guide in this difficult, even painful exploration. In his toolbox, he will spontaneously mobilize his facilitation skills to get the ball rolling quickly, by transforming the dynamics between the players.
By taking the lead in facilitating the 5 Scrum events, the Scrum Master shows the way and enables the organization to quickly see the benefits of the new framework.
The impact of Scrum and the Scrum Master is thus made tangible in the eyes of stakeholders and sponsors, who feel they are getting value for their investment.
Finally, as the development of facilitation skills is a fairly new subject in companies, it’s a fairly easy first step for new Scrum Masters to take. A few workshops, meetups, articles, books, conferences and trainings on facilitation in general, or more specifically on Innovation Games or Liberating Structures, for example, can quickly and effectively equip budding facilitators.
So what is the issue ?
The trap into which the Scrum Master and the organization can easily fall is to believe that event facilitation is the Scrum Master’s preserve.
Nothing could be further from the truth, as the Scrum Master must always have the development of team self-management in mind. In our Professional Scrum Master trainings, we say that the Scrum Master aims to be invisibly present.
It’s often said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions! So, if the Scrum Master persists in facilitating all events, he limits the self-management of the Scrum team and even of the ecosystem. He limits the space for learning and experimentation. In short, by wanting to do the right thing and be helpful, he himself becomes the bottleneck and the weak link.
What’s more, the Scrum Master, as an expert in agility and Scrum, will probably have a lot of messages to get across to his interlocutors. It will be much harder for him to maintain the neutrality required of a facilitator, while at the same time sharing his own ideas. When he speaks, does he do so as a facilitator or as an expert?
The last point is that a large part of his bandwidth will be consumed by facilitation, which prevents him from having other interventions to address the various dysfunctions he will soon observe in the team or even in the ecosystem.
Let’s not forget that the Scrum Master is also there to ensure that the impediments to agility are progressively removed, at every level and in every dimension of the organization.
Some new paths !
In the interests of team learning, it is dangerous for the Scrum Master to focus solely on facilitation.
It may even be a deliberate strategy on the part of the Scrum Master to quickly hand over facilitation to other players. This choice will enable a great deal of learning to take place.
One of the great difficulties of being a Scrum Master is choosing the best tools for each situation. As contexts are always unique, these choices are never trivial.
But to make this choice in the best interest of the teams, the Scrum Master must be competent in all the stances that the organization has the right to expect of him. If he limits himself to his favorite stance, he won’t be able to have as much impact as he should.
Whatever models are used, the Scrum Master will always have other stances than facilitation to deploy. He is there to be a leader and nurture a new culture, not to gently follow the pace imposed by the homeostasis of the system.
The Scrum Master will need to develop his own skills as a mentor and trainer, for example, to pass on his knowledge and know-how on facilitation to team members who would like to develop these skills for themselves. To develop his training tools, he can study different pedagogical tools or structures, such as Flipped-Learning or Training from the Back of the Room.
The Scrum Master can use the time he saves by no longer preparing to facilitate events, or even by facilitating events such as the Daily Scrum in which his participation is not required, to work as a change agent on resolving the obstacles facing teams.
And during the events in which he still participates, he can exploit his other talents, for example as a team coach in a low position to provoke questioning and awareness that are not the responsibility of the facilitator.
For example, he can intervene as a coach in a Sprint Planning event to share his observations with very open-ended questions such as:
What do you think of the Sprint Backlog you’ve just drawn up? If it were very different, how would you see it?
I’ve noticed that at every team event, Peter sits next to Bob, and they face Jennifer. What does that tell you? What do you think about trying to switch places?
I’ve noticed that it’s always Stephany who answers the Product Owner’s questions first. What does this mean for you?
What changes in rhythm or energy have you perceived in this Sprint Planning?
If there was an important subject you didn’t dare talk about, what would it be?
If this Sprint Planning were a color, what would it be? Why?
To ensure healthy and effective interactions between all players, the Scrum Master must be able to facilitate Scrum events to develop good collaboration throughout the ecosystem.
However, the Scrum Master’s various responsibilities also require him to develop all the other postures of a Professional Scrum Master. To do this, he must be willing to empty his cup in order to refill it. In this way, he himself will embody the courage, vulnerability, right to experiment, openness and commitment expected of the whole Scrum Team.
And if you’re a Scrum Team motivated to develop your facilitation skills, the Professional Scrum Facilitation Skills training is for you!