Scrum Masters: 10 Servant Leader Techniques

Facilitator2What does ‘servant leadership’ look like when you are always the one facilitating the event? Facilitation skills are important skills to develop when your job involves helping teams be productive. Agile roles such as Scrum Master, Kanban Flow Manager, and Release Train Engineer, to name a few, require frequent facilitation. But in our world of growing remote, cross-functional and scaled agile teams, lots of us facilitate events. Read on ten techniques we find useful when working with teams that keep you in the spirit of servant leadership.

Don’t touch it; don’t write it. Stand back and let team members step up in Daily Scrums, Retrospectives, Kaizen Events or problem-solving sessions. Consider that whomever is moving the mouse is running the meeting; encourage others to write, draw or type by not doing it for them.

Stay on track. Use a written parking lot to hold ideas that are mentioned, but not relevant to the meeting purpose. This helps keep the conversation focused on the purpose of the meeting and frees folks from worrying that the idea will be lost if not addressed immediately.

What are they not saying? Pay attention to the non-verbals. Is there eye rolling? Are their feet pointed towards the door? Are people checking phones or devices often? Try changing the climate in a meeting by using a break to regroup or asking people to weigh in on how the meeting is going. Restate the meeting goal and ask participants to commit to staying on topic to meet the goal. It’s never too late to inspect and adapt! If you have a team or team member who is acting out, read my blog on improving the Emotional Climate in a Scrum Team for practical tips and sources to use with your team.

Take Risks. Facilitation does not imply domain expertise. You don’t have to be an expert to be a good facilitator. It’s okay to tell the group you might be asking questions to help promote thinking from a layman’s perspective. Individuals respect this transparency and honesty and often you’ll be surprised at what you can learn.

Mood follows action. We’ve probably all experienced the uptick in motivation when we have been engaged in a learning environment. There are a multitude of online sites to reference to create activities that can promote problem-solving through participation. Don’t make it complicated! You can “gamify” in 3 steps. 1) set a goal, 2) prepare a related exercise, and 3) timebox it. We (humans) always want to know the ‘rules,’ so set clear boundaries, such as ‘stay in this room.’

Evoke ELMO: “Enough, Let’s Move On!” Select a phrase, keyword or signal that the group can use to get people moving on to another topic. I once worked with a team who used a “timeout” hand signal to serve this purpose. Elsewhere, a colleague of mine used an Elmo doll… you can find your own Elmo!

Visual Aids. Use visuals during breaks to reinforce ideas or topics: Display an electronic stop watch to encourage people to return from breaks in a timely manner; show a relevant cartoon or quote on your “break slide”; build a graph from participant’s input during activities to show the group how close they are to fulfilling the objective – a burndown or kanban board works well for this; create a thesaurus for a shared understanding of domain-specific terms.

Less is more. If breaking into small groups for discussion, keep the objectives to just a few. When organizing discussions, provide at least one less objective per number of people in the group to encourage participation. For example, if you have 4 people in your group, give them 3 topics. In this way, they can’t just divide up the 4 topics by person – they will be forced to discuss them.

Stop asking “Why?” When we ask “Why…” we often put people on the defensive without meaning to. Try open-ended suggestions such as “What would make this more valuable? or ‘What would be the pros and cons?”

When in doubt, go up a level. When a group can’t agree on something, try going up a level in detail to something that they can agree upon. For example, if your group is discussing ingredients in a recipe for  a cake, ensure that they can agree on the same flavor. This will promote shared understanding and boundaries for the details.

Do you have a favorite facilitation technique that we didn’t mention? We’d love to hear from you.

Taking one step at a time on our Agile journey,

Julee Bellomo, with input from Adam Ulery

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