- Peter Zylka-Greger
Four ways to get support as a Scrum Master
The Scrum Master role is crucial within a Scrum team and an agile organization. The Scrum Master helps the team stay focused, removes obstacles, and promotes continuous improvement - among numerous other vital responsibilities.
Over the last years, I have seen Scrum Master struggling with the role. Either because they were new to the role or because they lacked specific knowledge they needed to succeed at the job. Knowledge about themselves, learning how to work with the system they are part of, and understanding how to relate to their team members. And I'm not talking about the recent trend of having a "20% Scrum Master" within the team - this is a story for another post.
It's easy to write these lines for me now, mostly because I have been through this myself. When I started my Agile journey in 2016, I was a new Scrum Master. I had no experience, and back then, I didn't know that this role would significantly impact my life. I would soon discover that the Scrum Master role is much more than just facilitating meetings and helping teams solve their problems. It's an opportunity to learn about yourself, develop your skills, and become a better person at work and at home.
These are four ways I've learned to find support as a Scrum Master:
- Get yourself a mentor:
Having a good mentor can be the key to your success in Scrum. Your mentor can help you learn the ropes of your role and help you overcome your challenges along the way. Reflecting on my projects over the years, I have had mentors at every company. And while some of them were Scrum Master or Agile Coaches, most were not. Instead, they were leaders, people I felt inspired by, people who role-modeled behavior I wanted to learn, and people I admired. So take the time to find mentors that inspire you, and take the time to listen to them. Observe their behavior in situations when stakes are high, how they interact with others or ask them specific questions about things you might want to improve in yourself, or even share with them your own goals or aspirations. And be open to getting feedback from them. I have to admit that I often didn't really understand what my mentors were doing and only realized and understood it later, like, i.e., working with a brilliant Product Manager and seeing him in action daily. Only later did I discover through my understanding and interest in the topic what he was doing and how he shaped the product culture within the team.
- read everything you can get your hands on:
I believe that is the beauty of the Scrum Master role and its industry. Plenty of passionate people are also willing and happy to share what they know with others. In the Scrum Master community, there are tons of blogs, articles, and podcasts available online that you can consume and learn not only how to become a successful Scrum Master but also allow you to learn a lot about topics that are outside of the Scrum world, like leadership, management, time management, problem-solving, collaboration, communication and much more. There's no limit to what you can learn and gain from the available resources as long as you are willing to dedicate some time to it and are not afraid to reach out for help. Read what feels suitable for you at the pace you want to move at, and read what is relevant to you at the moment of your growth stage. I remember starting with some "classics," like Geoff Watts's "Scrum Mastery" or "Agile Retrospectives" by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen. Followed by blog posts by Mike Cohn and articles by Barry Overeem and Christiaan Verwijs. Over time, I started looking for different ways: going to meetups, attending conferences, joining online communities, and asking different questions to other people. My reading over the past couple of years went through different stages, always depending on my current interest and pain points - some of the main topics were systems thinking ("Fifth Discipline" by Peter Senge), Team development ("The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team" by Patrick Lencioni), Self-Development books ("The Untethered Soul" by Michael Singer) or books on changing cultures within companies ("Leading beyond change" by Michael and Audree Sahota). It has always been a constant process of learning and growing as a human being and as a professional. Don't be afraid to ask other people what they are reading and what resources they would recommend to you because we are all here to learn.
- pick the right training for you:
The obvious choices here are attending another Scrum training, and I did so too. They were a lot of great lessons I was able to get out of them. And they certainly helped me to become a better Scrum Master overall. However, you might want to look at other options as well. Especially the options that aren't so focused on Scrum specifically. Look for things that interest you personally, and most importantly, look for things that you can put into practice rather immediately. That way, you avoid the trap of learning something in training, thinking of it as a good idea, but as you do not put it into practice, rather forget about it afterward quickly.
I came across a training course through participating in an Agile Coaching Camp (another great resource to get inspired and learn) when a colleague there mentioned the work done by Michael Sahota. Little did I know back then what an impact the CAL1 and CAL 2 training offered by Michael and Audree would have on me. Not only in terms of knowledge about leadership but, more importantly, understanding myself on an intense level.
Depending on your environment, everything related to Product Management can also be super helpful. For example, attending a class by Jeff Patton and having my idea of Product Ownership challenged was a real game-changer for me. It helped me support Product Managers more effectively.
Whatever you decide to do, choose it wisely! Look how the training is structured, if the trainer is someone you feel inspired by if there is a community of participants after the training etc...
Be part of the community:
I've already stated how vital community is to learn and develop as a Scrum Master. It's one thing to attend a training or read a book that talks about how to be a good Scrum Master; it's another thing entirely to be surrounded by a group of people who share your same passion, who want to learn, who are curious and are willing to help you learn as well. Nowadays, connecting to peers is very easy thanks to various social media options - there is LinkedIn, Slack spaces, and Discord servers. Pick one that works best for you and get involved. Be open to sharing your knowledge, challenges, questions, etc., and help others grow. One thing I've learned during my time in Australia is that a community is about giving as much as receiving. There is no need to withhold information because you're afraid someone else might take over your role or have an advantage over you. This is just fear triggered by your ego. If you're worried about that, it's time to let go and grow as a community member instead. My own experience showed me that when you open yourself up to the community and share your knowledge with others, that's when the magic happens. You learn from others, you get to inspire others, and opportunities will show up in the most amazing ways.
I hope this post will help you if you're considering getting support. It's a necessary step, and you would miss out on a big opportunity if you decide not to seek support. If you need advice on where to look for it, reach out to me, and I'll do my best to help you.