Having worked as a Scrum Master, alongside Scrum Masters, and having managed & mentored Scrum Masters for the last nearly 9 years I have seen several patterns of behaviour that can characterise the way in which different people perform the role. Many articles have been written over the years about the Scrum Master role, how damaging it can be and how wrong it is for the team. I believe that these thoughts are the results of witnessing anti-patterns in the role, when the people performing the role have not yet embodied a way of being that is most helpful to the team. Here I’m going to give five examples of patterns that I have seen and sometimes strayed into myself. This is how I would characterise them.
The Consultant tells everyone how things will be done. They have an opinion on everything and aren’t afraid to express it. They run all the conversations, instruct the team and generally direct everything that’s happening. It’s their way or no way. They are prescriptive, directive and a borderline dictator.
The Enforcer is there to ensure that the team are following the Scrum Guide – to the letter. If they catch anyone not following the ‘rules’ they will duly direct them back to The Guide. We follow The Guide, no matter what – rules are rules and there is no deviation.
The Pleaser is there to make sure that everyone is OK – they are the team happiness monitor. They are there to smooth the way, calm any conflict, make sure everyone feels good and instigate the group hugs. If someone looks at all sad, the Pleaser is there to comfort them. If a heated discussion begins to surface, they are there to calm the mood and smooth over the cracks. Everyone must be happy and they will ensure this is so, whatever it takes.
The Fixer resolves everyone’s problems before they even know they have a problem. They float around all day looking for things to fix, whether they need fixing or not and regardless of whether it is their responsibility to fix them. If they can’t see anything to fix, they’ll quiz you until they find something.
The Coach is there to ensure that the team solves its own problems. They will never answer a question – oh no! The team knows the answer and must discover it for themselves, however long that takes. They are there to ask the questions, mirror back the answers and generally ensure that the team owns every single decision they ever take, even when they are about to step off the edge of a cliff.
Each one of these is an aspect of the Scrum Master role taken to the extreme. At times, a Scrum Master must provide Agile Consultancy for the team, giving them the information and guidance that they need to proceed. The Scrum Master may refer to the Scrum Guide as a reference point, to ensure that the important aspects of the framework are not being unnecessarily missed. The Scrum Master must serve as the emotional barometer of the team, able to detect when moods are changing. Of course they will help fix impediments. Finally, they must also be able to Coach to the team, knowing when to step back and allow the team space to self-organise and own their decisions. Each one of these aspects (and there are others too) is done in balance with the others, according to the needs of the team at any moment. The Scrum Master changes their interactions to support the team in the best way they can. These characteristics only become anti-patterns when they are used persistently, in an inflexible and extreme manner.
If you’re a Scrum Master, what sort of Scrum Master are you? And what sort of Scrum Master do you want to be?