Three skills for an ACE Scrum Master

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For some of my teams, when we hold a retrospective, I display the retrospective Prime Directive [1] to remind them about the mind-set from which we are approaching our discussion:

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

Whilst looking at this statement one day, it struck me that this sentiment applies to more than just a retrospective. A key role for the Scrum Master, in conjunction with the Line Manager, is the pastoral care of the members of the team. As a Scrum Master, I must unconditionally support my team members. This does not mean that I agree with everything that they do or support any kind of behaviour they might display but it means that I unconditionally support them to grow and develop as people and professionals. Everyone makes mistakes (especially me!) and everyone has room for improvement but I have to truly believe that everyone does the best job they can, given what they know, their skills and abilities at that time.

The parallels with parenting are obvious. I support my children unconditionally. I truly believe that they want to do well and I want to support them in a positive and constructive way. This reminds me of a parenting course that I went on and the skills that they advocated using to better support children. The course was entitled Attachment Focussed Parenting with PACE [2] and taught 4 key skills for parenting: Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy. The latter three of these are surely transferrable to our relationships at work.


A Scrum Master must accept people as they are and accept the way that they feel, including all the ups and downs. As with the Retrospective Prime Directive, a Scrum Master must always assume that a team member is doing the best they can given their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.This acceptance must be true and unconditional. This doesn’t mean accepting inappropriate actions or behaviours, but it does mean accepting the person and truly believing that they are doing their best given the circumstances. From this position, the Scrum Master can support the individual to grow as they need to, by understanding, coaching and encouraging them.


A Scrum Master must always be asking “Why?”. But it must be a non-judgemental “Why?”. A curious “Why?”. Thinking about what’s behind things, looking for reasons and causes and not just taking things at face value. By understanding the feelings and reasons behind a reaction a Scrum Master can better help the individual take responsibility for their feelings and actions and to inspect and adapt themselves appropriately. The team need to know that their Scrum Master is on their side and this needs to be handled delicately, never with finger-pointing.


This requires the Scrum Master to put them self in the person’s shoes and feel what they are feeling, so they can better understand where the person is coming from. It’s essential that a Scrum Master spends time acknowledging and reflecting with the individual to let them know that they understand and empathise with them and want to help them. This goes back to the point of unconditional support. Whatever is going on for them, their Scrum Master understands and wants to help them to move forward.

Here’s an scenario that I experienced recently. I had a team member contact me to say that she didn’t feel able to attend the retrospective the following day. My first thought was to tell her that we needed her there as part of the team and to ask her to please attend. But then I stopped for a moment and, instead of making an immediate judgement, I thought about what she was saying. She didn’t feel able to come. I needed to accept that this was how she felt and not just try to talk her out of it. Once I’d accepted this, I could try to understand why. I was curious about the reasons behind this and asked her what had happened to make her feel like this. That gave me the opportunity to understand how she was feeling and empathise with her. Again, I accepted her concerns and what had happened to make her feel this way and reassured her of my ongoing support. At no point did I tell her she had to come to the retrospective, I only accepted what she had said, asked why she felt that way, listened to her answer and told her that I understood how she felt. The following day, she came to the retrospective, entirely of her own accord.

So, as well as having a Prime Directive for retrospectives, I like to think about a Prime Directive for pastoral care which says:

Regardless of the behaviours I see, I understand and truly believe that everyone is doing the best job they can, given their skills and abilities, the resources available and the situation at hand.

And knowing this, as Scrum Master, I will back my team members unconditionally. I will Accept them, be Curious about what is going on for them and show Empathy for them. I will support them to understand themselves better and to grow and develop, both individually and professionally. I hope that will help me on my journey to become an ACE Scrum Master.