In the first part of this series, we concluded that in order to solve complex problems we need teams to self-organize and work in collaboration. We will now review how this journey could look like and what’s the participation of a scrum master in each step of the way.

Team’s journey to self-organization

We are going to walk through the Tuckman’s stages of group development in order to review the different activities/responsibilities a scrum master(SM) typically perform, helping the team to reach highest levels of maturity and performance.

Come together

The first stage of team development is known as the forming stage. This stage represents a time where the group is just starting to come together and is characterized with anxiety and uncertainty. Members are cautious with their behavior, which is driven by the desire to be accepted by all members of the group. Conflict, controversy and personal opinions are avoided even though members are beginning to form impressions of each other and gain an understanding of what the group will do together.

The role of the Scrum Master in the forming stage:

  • Progressively introduces the team and the Product Owner(PO) to the Scrum framework, educating people about the benefits and challenges of working with it, looking for as much buy in as possible. Also, the SM facilitates scrum ceremonies to be purposeful and effective, teaching the ropes of the formal meetings and then using keen coaching senses to observe the team in action and help them improve their interactions. Additionally, the SM mentors the team on Scrum introducing best practices, techniques and tools during this early stage.
  • It is also important for the team to have clarity on basic terms, objectives and purpose. SM helps the team to set direction and clarify charters, for example, by facilitating discussions between the team members and the PO, with the objective of building a shared understanding on why the team exists and what is expected from it during this stage.
  • Working with product owners means teaching them their role and then showing them how to work under the Scrum framework to their best advantage – this is particularly critical if they come from the command and control-ism. The SM will ensure that the PO is available for questions and spends time with the team in order to maintain a  prioritized backlog and have frequent grooming sessions accordingly. The SM could also  help the PO to choose the most effective agile product management techniques and tools based on context.

Conflict time

Once efforts are under way, team members need further clarity about their activities and goals, as well as explicit guidance about how they will work independently and collectively. This leads to a period known as storming. During the storming stage members begin to share ideas about the what and the how of their work as a team. They start to open up to each other and confront one another’s ideas and perspectives.

The role of the Scrum Master in the storming stage:

  • Process owner and custodian. This means that the SM is responsible for the Scrum implementation, coaching the team and the PO on Scrum’s values and principles reaching consensus within the team members regarding tools, practices and techniques, considering team member’s preferences (based on their agile journey) but recommending the set of practices that could better fit in their context.
  • Facilitates relationships in order to build trust among team members. For a team to work well, members need to accept that they can depend on one another,  when trust is strong, information flows among team members. Facilitating relationships is a lot about building trust among members, the higher the trust level among team members the less work there will be for the SM in handling relationship issues. Lead by example, communicate openly, know and understand each other personality and don’t placing blame are part of the values that a SM can share to build trust on the team.
  • Protect the team from stressful outside influences is another important responsibility of the SM at this stage, which can be achieved by enabling the team to work more effectively with minimum number of interruptions. Examples of this could include: salespeople directly requesting estimates from team members, stakeholders directly contacting team members for help with customer bugs, consultants at client side asking team members to help on installation, conversion, or configuration problems. Even if a team member is truly needed in these situations, the Scrum Master can act as the gatekeeper, only letting the positive outside influences in and leaving the negatives out.
  • Removes impediments. It’s important to highlight that something will only become an impediment when it exceeds the self-organizing capabilities of the team. Considering every minor issue an impediment that needs to be addressed by the SM doesn’t help the Team to grow as a whole. The SM helps to escalate only those impediments that exceed the team’s impediment removal capability. The SM create an environment where the team feels safe to raise impediments and to remove them from themselves, thus enabling self-organization behavior from the beginning.
  • Conflict is natural in any vibrant Scrum team and a SM helps the team to resolve those conflicts. With individual coaching, the SM addresses a person’s issues without disturbing the team at work. If the problem is between two team members, the SM encourages them to resolve it one-on-one. f the problem is more related to general team’s dynamic and it is interesting to have the whole team discussing about it, the SM may suggest it as a topic for the upcoming retrospective. The SM plays a starring (facilitator) role in the retrospective, especially for a new team, creating a culture or environment for the team in which team members feel safe to voice concerns and where all facets of the problem and solution are discussed.

Let’s experiment

In the norming stage, the team has begun to be effective. The focus of each individual is on “how can I help the team?”. Because of this, there is increased cohesion and more cooperation. Trust begins to emerge and differences are appreciated. The issues are more associated with how to further strengthen relationships, create open communication and provide positive and constructive feedback.

The role of the SM in the norming stage:

  • Helps each person to take the next step on their agile journey so they can be more successful agilists and contribute in a way that feeds team improvement and their own individual growth.
  • Motivates collaboration on cross functional teams, getting  the team to share knowledge freely, learn from one another and help one another complete their tasks and meet commitments. Collaboration depends strongly on communication so the SM should promote open discussions between the team members, the PO and the SM in order to enable continuous improvement.
  • Encourages the team to develop the ability to fail quickly and then learn and adapt from the results of that failure. It’s not about failing, it’s about learning. The purpose of failing fast is to learn and adjust course more quickly in order to achieve effectiveness.

We are awesome!!

Teams are functioning at a very high level and the focus is on reaching the goal as a group. The team members have gotten to know each other and trust each other by now. During the performing stage, as issues and conflicts were resolved in early stages, motivation levels tend to increase and therefore, the team becomes more effective. Team members are actively collaborating to reach their maximum potential and accomplish team’s goals.

The role of the Scrum Master in the performing stage:

  • Supports the team to make their own decisions, which demonstrates trust, which also builds courage, empowerment, and morale. SM through delegation help a team realize that they are indeed entitled to solve their own problems.

As a servant leader, guides the Team towards self-organization and cross-functionality. The team has been encouraged, supported and enabled to reach their full potential and abilities. SM is still present but has delegated decision making, problem solving and process control, and will be useful only when the team demands his attention.


In the next part of this series, we will review key skills and personality traits that could certainly help the Scrum Master be more effective throughout this journey. More to come!

Pablo Lombardo – Globant Agility team

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