Whether you’re brand new in the role, or you’re an experienced Scrum Master moving into a new team, it can be daunting deciding where to focus your attention first when getting started with a new team as a Scrum Master.
You’ll probably get a different ask depending on who you talk to:
Perhaps leadership want faster delivery and more predictable lead times. Maybe the product owner wants help managing the backlog and keeping on top of general team admin. The team might be crying out for help with blockers or workload capacity.
Where do you start?
Who gets your attention first?
What is the key priority for a Scrum Master starting in a new team?
The reality is that every team is different and every team will need a different approach from their Scrum Master depending on where they’re at, however, there’s a few consistent steps you can take to ensure you get off to a great start…
Let’s look at 5 steps to getting started as a Scrum Master.
Individuals and interactions OVER processes and tools. It’s fundamental that you understand who’s in the team and endeavour to build healthy relationships with them.
Building psychological safety is so important. Google performed a two-year study on team performance that showed the highest-performing teams had one thing in common: psychological safety, meaning they felt they wouldn’t be punished for making a mistake. It takes time to grow a culture of trust, but it starts with relationship-building.
It takes time to grow a culture of trust, but it starts with relationship-building.
Quite practically, this might mean getting one-on-one time with each team member as soon as possible so that you can get to know them. It’s also good to ask them how they feel about things in the team currently – you may get some insight one-on-one that you may not get in a group context straight away.
It’s surprising how many teams can be frantically busy with work, yet if you asked them what their purpose is, they’d freeze.
We often confuse action with progress – and whilst it’s true that you can’t progress towards your goals without action, we often busy ourselves with action that doesn’t lead to progress. These distractions dominate our time when we’re not laser-focussed on our objectives.
Your new team may or may not know their purpose, but for your sake and theirs it’s good to get this clear as soon as possible. It’ll help you, as their Scrum Master, understand what’s driving them.
What does success look like?
How does the team know they’ve succeeded?
Objectives & key results (OKRs) are a simple way of defining purpose and goals. The objective is what you want to achieve, and the key result is how you measure whether or not you’ve achieved it. You can use this to help the team clarify their goals if they don’t have them already.
As Scrum Master, you’re responsible for ensuring the team can run as efficiently as they can. Knowing who interfaces with the team can be really helpful for understanding where there may be challenges or opportunities.
Is there a stakeholder that constantly throws in last minute requests or requirements? This could be throwing the team off their sprint goal, or creating wasted effort through unnecessary context switching. Once you’ve identified a tricky stakeholder, you can work with them to ensure they interface with the Product Owner rather than the team.
Is there a senior leader that could benefit from seeing all the awesome results the team are delivering? Once identified, you could extend an invite to sprint review sessions in order to get the team the recognition they deserve. It can do wonders for team morale to get a ‘well done’ from leadership, but often we simply forget to invite them to the conversation!
It can do wonders for team morale to get a ‘well done’ from leadership, but often we simply forget to invite them to the conversation!
If you’ve just started with a new team, you can quite simply grab a pen and paper and start mapping out the teams inputs & outputs alongside the people that interface with the team. You might need to ask the team to help you with this, but it’ll be worthwhile.
This could very simply be an extended retrospective with a focus on the teams current ways of working, and if they’re using an Agile framework like Scrum you could ask them to reflect on how it’s working for them.
You’ll soon get an idea as to how mature they are as an Agile team, and you can begin to plan where training or coaching is needed. It could be as simple as getting everyone aligned on which messaging tool they use, or it might be a total refresher on how to do sprint planning, for example.
You might also want to perform some kind of ‘happiness’ survey to figure out how the team are feeling generally. You can use a retrospective idea like the happiness metric to gauge what’s driving team morale, and from here you can work with the team on the biggest pain points.
Arguably one of the most important steps in the process of starting with a new team as a Scrum Master, but you need to look after your own development and get a support network around you from day one.
You will most likely be the only Scrum Master in your team(s) and the role requires you to think differently a lot of the time. This can be tiring, and you’ll need other Agile practitioners around you to bounce ideas off and even get advice from.
If there’s other Scrum Masters or Agile Coaches in the organisation, reach out to them and get regular time together to share best practice and reflect on progress. Find a coach or mentor if possible too.
Finally, make time to read and develop your knowledge. Developing high-performing teams is not an easy task and there are many out there who’ve devoted their lives to the subject of team performance – capitalise on their experience, their learnings and their advice!
Hopefully these 5 steps to getting started with a new team as a Scrum Master have given you some food for thought. You don’t need to do them all at once, but they’re all going to help as you start with your new team.
As always, let us know how you get on.
Ben brought the Agile Avengers together after realising that Scrum Masters need super resources to power their teams. Working across start-ups and corporates, Ben's developed Scrum expertise beyond his years that he now wants to make available to others.
Ben believes that the millennial workforce will increasingly desire an Agile workplace, where teams truly have autonomy and purpose in what they do. He wants to ensure the teams of tomorrow are empowered to be the best they can be.
SUPERPOWERS | Empowering people. Turning ideas into reality. Eating eggs.
KRYPTONITE | Wanting to learn everything. Limitations. Cleaning kanban cards.
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