The Mindset of Scrum Teams

October 1, 2019
October 1, 2019 Joe Britto

Reading time: about 2.5 minutes.


There’re many ways to organize a team. In hierarchies, in self-managed teams, even in no teams at all. And one way to organize teams is in a Scrum environment.

I was speaking with a friend a few weeks ago who was lamenting the challenges she’s been going through with a Scrum team she’s been developing.

A Scrum Reminder

Before we launch into this week’s blog on understanding the mindset of Scrum teams, let’s remind ourselves what a Scrum team is.

Scrum is often associated with the agile project management framework. So as a result Scrum teams are often arranged around a project. The idea is that a team of equals take on a project and work together to problem solve the best approach to delivery. There’s often no leader, no hierarchy, not even a project lead. The intention is for the team to work together, continuously improving, to get the best for the project. The official Scrum website offers “roles, events, artifacts, and the rules that bind [teams] together”.

The Problem with Scrum

Or maybe I should say the problem that can arise from a Scrum structure. Because for my money, the idea of Scrum is strong. It sets the stage for people to work in an unconfined arena. To be free to spit-ball ideas and to work out the best approach. To set timelines that make sense and, if properly resourced, make project decisions that deliver the project on time.

No problem there, right?

And if it ran that way there’d be no problem. The problem isn’t with the Scrum model, it’s with what happens when we add human nature to it.

The Human Face of Scrum

Because what happens, more often than not, when we live a Scrum structure is that the human element strains the model. That’s what my friend was struggling with. Because that line “a team of equals” is easy to say and harder to do. It means a team of people equally talented in the same areas, equally driven, and in equal agreement on how the project should be delivered.

And if, like my friend, you’re beginning to feel the challenges of Scrum make it untenable, then I’m not painting the picture clearly enough. Because Scrum isn’t the challenge. The challenge is unfair expectations (not implicit in Scrum) that we can or even should be equal.

Those expectations might include expecting all people to want to work longer hours to get the job done, or that the whole team shouldn’t poke holes in each other’s ideas. Or that all the team should be thoughtful, or want to move at top speed.

Faced with all team members who don’t do all those things, we can be two things: frustrated at the apparent lack of unity; or willing to see that Scrum teams don’t have to be equal in all respects.

When Scrum Works

Scrum works when we appreciate the differences. When we see that all team members have something to offer. And though what they have to offer might not be what we expect – like shooting holes in ideas – that doesn’t mean that what’s on offer isn’t valuable. It is. It’s really about can we see the value?

Because when we see that different people have different strengths we begin to catch a glimpse into the mindset of Scrum.

The Six Attributes & Scrum

In terms of the six attributes, most of us excel at some attributes and are challenged by others. That’s good news in a Scrum environment because it means teams composed of people who excel in different attributes can come together to shine at what they do best.

Those who are mindful can be aware of how the team interacts. The genuinely curious can ask the tough questions; those with flexibility of mind can answer those questions and in the doing push the boundaries of what’s possible. Enterprise thinkers can consider what’s best across the business; and the resilient can push on, overcoming obstacles as they come.

So Scrum doesn’t require us to have all six attributes firing to make it work. It just requires us to have the ability to see and respect the strengths of others. And in the doing, to put those strengths to their best use.

And that means we’re able to do the sixth attribute – what Scrum is designed to do, you might say. Create leaders.


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