Scrum (Master) Coach

... your ScrumMaster is serving the Development Team and helping the team to continually improve.

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The ScrumMaster is sometimes the source of the Scrum Team’s problems, or might not be performing up to par, or otherwise simply wants to improve.

There are many facets to the ScrumMaster role, and it is easy to overlook some of them. Also no single person has encountered every possible challenge, and unfamiliar circumstances require new thinking. Conversely, even for the most experienced ScrumMaster can easily fall into routines; being “experienced” implies some kind of reuse of prior successes.

While one of the ScrumMaster’s functions is to Pop the Happy Bubble of the Development Team, a ScrumMaster may become content with the current state of the Scrum Team and lose kaizen mind him or herself. Additionally, some organizational impediments may appear as basic facts from one’s own point of view, and be assumed to be unchangeable.

In the extreme, a ScrumMaster may be up against her personal limits and at risk of seeming unfit for the role. Or circumstances in the team may trigger memories in the ScrumMaster causing him or her to project her own issues on to others.

Without help, the ScrumMaster actions may damage relationships within the Scrum Team and with the team’s stakeholders.


The ScrumMaster should periodically seek opportunities for reflection and growth with a sparring partner or coach.

The coach may be another ScrumMaster in the organization or someone external to the organization. In either case the person should have enough distance from the ScrumMaster’s situation to be able to dispassionately engage with the issues at play. It is essential that whomever the ScrumMaster is working with is not caught in the same situation as the ScrumMaster.

The coach need not have prior experience (or certification) in the subject matter at hand. Sometimes a good question is better than a definitive answer because it can unlock one’s thinking. As with Developing in Pairs, sometimes it is the novice that teaches the master.

There are many forms of coaching. The interaction may be cathartic, challenging or transformational as the situation requires, as long as the goal is to help the ScrumMaster be able to better serve the team.

Trust is essential between the ScrumMaster and coach. Real progress comes faster when the ScrumMaster is able to fully disclose both the details of the situation and their reactions to it. And then, the ScrumMaster must actually be willing to change.

The coach may observe the Development Team and the ScrumMaster’s interactions with the team, but should not intervene. Any intervention would confuse the ScrumMaster’s relationship with the team and the relationship between the coach and ScrumMaster. The focus of the Coach must be to improve the team by helping the ScrumMaster better serve the team.

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A ScrumMaster who continues to develop kaizen mind in herself will be better able to serve and develop kaizen within the team. As with a Priest, who does not minister to their own struggles and seeks the counsel of another, so should the ScrumMaster not try to resolve their struggles alone. As the ScrumMaster increases his or her awareness and becomes ever better in helping the team, the team can grow in confidence, ability, and Team Pride.

Ideally a ScrumMaster will seek a coach just as an opportunity for continuous improvement, but also when they discover specific shortcomings in carrying out their job. In some larger organizations there may be support for ScrumMasters through Birds of a Feather structures and in smaller organizations the ScrumMaster will need to look outside the organization for help. In other situations someone may recommend the ScrumMaster work with a coach. This may come as a surprise for the ScrumMaster but we suggest that they try to take this on as a positive opportunity to grow and improve and the ScrumMaster try to be as open and trusting of their coach as they feel comfortable.

When one person serves as coach to many ScrumMasters in a single organization there is risk that the coach’s biases may rub off on the organization. The ScrumMaster should be conscious of this possibility when selecting a coach.

Coaching is a subtle activity. Coaching almost always leads to change in behaviors, and change may be upsetting in its own right. Further, these new behaviors can too easily create an impression that is akin to disingenuousness: that is, the change can be perceived as happening for its own sake. For the coachee such change might be progress, for others interacting with the coachee it can be upsetting as they need to accommodate the change. For example, a ScrumMaster who starts using an active listening style in conflict situations might be viewed as disingenuously out of character. While Scrum Team members may intellectually understand that active listening is a good tool, it may be off-putting to them to see such “out-of-character” behavior in the ScrumMaster who previously was less finessed in his or her interactions. It takes time both for the coached individual to assimilate the new behaviors naturally and for the team to accommodate the new interaction style, and these two changes can happen at different rates. This problem is further detailed in [1]. The first author of [1] elaborated:

In other words, a leader’s capacity to conduct new, more challenging conversations in an elegant and competent manner, might lag behind their initiative in commencing such conversations. Significant changes of style are rarely born fully formed.

[1] Sean O’Connor and Michael Cavanagh. “The coaching ripple effect: The effects of developmental coaching on wellbeing across organizational networks.” In Psychology of Well-Being: Theory, Research and Practice 2013, 3(1), p. 2.

Picture from: Giuseppe Maria Crespi, Sacramento della confessione ovvero la regina di Boemia si confessa da S. Giovanni Nepomuceno, 1742, Pinacoteca, Torino.