Leading by example


I started as a Scrum Master in a team that had already been using Scrum for over a year. At the first standup I introduced myself and then listened as each team member shared what they had been working on, what they were going to work on that day and if they had any obstacles. Or at least that's what I expected to hear. Instead, the first guy said he could not remember what he worked on yesterday and he had not had a chance to check his emails but he was probably going to pick up on whatever he did yesterday. Wow, what a start.

It got better, the second guy looked directly at me and pointed his finger repeatedly at me as he proceeded to tell me I could go and "f" myself if I thought for one minute that he was going to take orders from me, and he continued to list all the things he would not do.

I was shocked. I felt threatened and I could feel the anger starting to rise in me. I kept eye contact and my peripheral vision showed me the rest of the team with their heads bowed and sneaking glances at me. So that told me this was not the first time they had witnessed this.

So how should I have responded? As a Project Manager there are a wide range of responses: I could shout back, I could remove him from the room and discipline him, I could silently have him transferred off my team, I could tell him off for his unacceptable behaviour etc. But as a Scrum Master I have no authority, I am an equal member of the team. And it's my first day, I don't know the teams background.

So this is how I chose to respond. As soon as I recognised the anger starting to well up in me, I let go of it. Anger was not going to help. This guy was confronting me, waiting for a response to his challenge, so I tried to disarm him. I said, "OK, I can hear that you have some concerns, but I would like to park them for the moment." He started to respond, so I quickly continued, "I am not ignoring your concerns, I promise you I will speak to you later about them. But for now, this is a standup, so what did you work on yesterday, what will you be working on today and do you have any impediments?".

He stared at me for a few moments, weighing me up, then gave a half-smile and then shared what he had been working on and outlined what he should be working on, but that he could not because he had to do some other persons job that day.

So I asked what the problem was. Now I could have taken that completely offline, but this was not yet an optimal standup, so I listened to what the issue was and then invited him to not tackle the problem that way, and to instead continue to work on what he should have been. I told him that I would speak to the other team and try to remove the impediment that was causing him this issue. He said, "finally we have a Scrum Master who knows what the "f" he's doing".

I followed up on what I had said and became very good friends with this hot-headed guy and he became a very effective member of the team. If I had reacted in a more traditional Project Management style I doubt the outcome would have been as effective.

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