Are you an Agile Servant Leader?

Building an Agile culture is more important than managing individual Agile projects because it sets the stage for the entire organization to be Agile. Scrum Masters, who lead Agile projects, are responsible for inculcating the right culture and mindset in the organization. But this can be difficult if the Scrum Master is set in old ways.

Picture Credit: Gapingvoid

Scrum Masters lead by facilitating meetings, removing obstacles and coaching team members, not controlling them (a remnant of the old waterfall development approach). This is a “Servant Leader” style of leadership, but often Scrum Masters must learn this style themselves.

In short, they need to unlearn controlling and learn facilitating. This includes networking more and working with flatter structures rather than creating hierarchies. And it includes embracing failure; Agile ways of working promote empirical methods that encourage people to not fear mistakes but rather learn from them.

Picture Credit: Gapingvoid

Let’s consider a few scenarios.

Scenario 1: Scrum Master Joe thinks that because he has been using Scrum for 10 years, he is an Agile guru. But merely practicing a methodology does not guarantee that you have an Agile culture and mindset.

Our Scrum Master Joe shouts at his colleague for a simple mistake and behaves unprofessionally. Joe is still in a controlling mindset.

Scenario 2: Another “Agile guru,” Jane, does not know the scope, length or breadth of a global initiative but tries to push her ideas, which do not reflect the global initiative. This results in conflict in the team. Jane is still in a controlling mindset.

Scenario 3: During a sprint planning, the user stories team asks the product owner questions about the user stories. Our Scrum Master Bob restricts the discussions and tries to shorten the time. This is not acceptable behavior. Bob is still in a controlling mindset.

In sprint planning, a Scrum Master should act as a facilitator for the entire event. A full discussion with the product owner is mandatory so that the team understands the user stories.

No more “I am the manager”

Organizations like Amazon and Salesforce have shown the world how Agile practices can impact the marketplace. How can we follow the path of these wonderful examples of Agile transformation?

We need to change the hierarchical “I am the manager” mindset that blocks agility from taking hold. A person with an “I am the manager” mindset cannot be a successful Scrum Master because it directly conflicts with the Servant Leader. Many organizations need to change “I am the Manager” mindsets to Agile mindsets to bring a truly Agile culture into the DNA of the organization.

It takes time to change a mindset, but having an Agile focus and using sprint retrospection meetings to reflect on behavior and mindset-related problems could change the mindset-related issues of a team, which could improve an organization’s agility overall.

We need to remember that the meaning of the word “scrum” in rugby refers to players interlocking tightly together, heads down, and trying to get the ball. In Agile, the development team, like the rugby team, operates as one unit to deliver the working software, service or business value at the end of the sprint. A good Scrum Master makes sure the team is working together as one unit, establishes the pace that is required to deliver the sprint and acts as a peer to the development team.

Dr. Padmavathi Roy is Agile Program lead for the Office of the CTO at DXC Technology. She is experienced in healthcare IT, business analysis, project management and delivery assurance. Padma graduated in medicine, and with a passion for technology and computers, she pursued a diploma in client server technology and an MBA in IT and General Management. She blogs on medicine, technology, Agile, yoga, pranayama, meditation, health and wellness. @pbhamidipati


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  1. Sarma Bhamidipati says:

    Excellent ….Clear explanation.

  2. Venugopal Rao Gummadi says:

    Hi Padmavahi,

    Very nicely explained the importance of “Servant Leader” importance to become a successful AGILE team.
    As you rightly mentioned traditional “I am the Manager” thought process has to go out from the minds of the leaders..

    Thank you.

    • Padmavathi Roy says:

      Thanks Venugopal,

      Yes, to become an agile organization change of mindset and culture are very much important.

  3. This is a great article. I have been a scrum master for some time and find it was hard to get the balance between manager and facilitator. Currently I am a tech manager. I wrote a post here about it:


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