Mastering Soft Skills as a Scrum Master

We may not normally think of a Scrum Master in the same breath as mastering soft skills, but a recent discussion with peers lead me to consider this.

In 2017, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland sought to update the Scrum Values document, and together in a video they discussed the changes they were making. They talked at some length about the Scrum Master role. To quote Schwaber,“It’s a very tough job.”

The 2018 Scrum Guide states:“The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide.” An extensive list of the Scrum Master’s responsibilities follow in the guide.

In short, the Scrum Master (SM) serves the Product Owner, the Development Team, and the Organization. All of this involves facilitating Scrum events, coaching and educating, removing impediments, and much more. It is safe to say that successfully undertaking those relational interactions requires good people-oriented behaviours, or soft skills.

In recent conversation, a colleague categorically stated that a good Scrum Master must understand 4 things: the business s/he works in, the technology s/he works with, Agile and Scrum principles, and, most importantly, people! Based on his experience, he was adamant that when people are trained to become Scrum Masters, certification is not enough – soft skills should be part and parcel of their training!

How can some of these soft skills be taught?

The Role of the Certified Scrum Trainer

Not all Certified Scrum Trainers have soft skills training or behaviours under their belts. However, the first thing a CST can do is modelsoft skills in his/her training. That means s/he will treat the attendees with respect; s/he will be clear about the goals of training; s/he will listen and be attentive to attendees questions and concerns; s/he will create a safe learning environment; s/he will be honest and trustworthy. Modelling these behaviours is one way a CST can teach without words.

But in two days, is role-modelling enough? Let’s look at the Scrum Guide for clues. When the values of commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect are embodied and lived by the Scrum Team, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life and buildtrust for everyone.” http://www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guide

To what degree are these values discussed in training? What does “courage” or “openness” look like? It seems to me that in-depth discussion with examples/activitiesof each of those values would go some way in teaching soft skills.

Soft Skills Training for Scrum Masters

Two CST’s I know invited an Agile Team Developer into their CSM classes to give a half-hour workshop on soft skills. This is a very brief time to be effective, but it provided a taste of listening skillscreativity, risk-taking, etc.

The following is from an article I previously published in Agile Advice: Everyone has the potential to grow their soft skills. However, a company may not have the resources to help unlock this potential in its employees.

If team development is not part of a company’s culture there may be discomfort in dealing with friction arising from a lack of soft skills. In this case, an external facilitator or coach can be a very helpful resource to guide a work team, using thought-provoking activities and role-playing, to find greater connection and trust amongst themselves, and to address issues with a detached point of view.” http://www.agileadvice.com/2017/05/29/scrum-team-improvement/soft-skills-revolution-may-want-team-development/

Scrum Masters can and should be offered at the very least a one-day training by a good coach/ facilitator.

Scrum Masters can be guided through specific exercises that help them understand and practice the skills of openness, courage, respect, commitment, and focus (the Scrum Values), as well as the practice of compassion, communication, creativity, listening, building trust, and so on.

This video called “Agile and Scrum Soft Skills Needed to Drive Process Success” can provide some further helpful guidance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owa1fftIfzA

As a Scrum Master, do you feel you would benefit from soft skills training?


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