Context explains a lot of our behavior.
This is a most intriguing case, that I feel I can now retell. For much time has passed by and my metaphorical obfuscation will protect the innocent.
In the warm summer months of August, I was engaged to a client most ambitious in pursuit of scrum adoption across the board. Alas, this enthusiasm will draw the most unexpected price from the servant of the ‘flying wizards’ company (team). The flying wizards, was readied for the first wave. This group, veterans of two previous sprints, spear headed the assault against a corporate culture that demanded action, a culture where stories of their mongolian style releases (raids) regaled in after release parties amidst much wine and rancor. These are fighting folks who soon realized that much is placed at risk over waging big wars, much more can be achieved if they were to master their lost art of guerilla warfare, of winning regular manageable battles. Under this pursuit was ushered in ‘scrum’ – to bring back collective spirit of teamwork, shared accountability and smooth releases.
As the coach for the flying wizards and two more first wave teams, I was thrilled to see these teams get on to a stable start. Being one of the only two coaches at this organization, my day to day attention soon shifted to other teams. I would however maintain medium to light touch consultation with the flying wizards and other first wave teams. Over my ritualistic morning coffee, I would often run into the ScrumMaster for the flying wizards team. Soon a pattern seem to emerge where the dutiful ScrumMaster would appear very tense, worried with little to no time to talk until noon. Strangely enough our banter would return after lunch time. I decided to investigate further.
I attended their daily scrum, realized that the nature of the meeting had drastically changed into a ‘command and control’ style operation. Later, that afternoon, I talked to him about, how I was puzzled by his behavior and enquired why he is driving the team like a drill sergeant. He explained his behavior by saying that he feels responsible for the sprint commitment and will do whatever it takes to make sure that the team delivers. To ensure this he needs to understand a solution path fully or have the team follow his commands. Therefore he is very busy before and after the stand up in the morning and it is typically by noon, when he gets free from his micro-monitoring tasks. He needed to know and keep track of what the team was doing and how! (Afternoon ScrumMaster)
After further inquiry, I learned that the Generals had reverted to form. At a recent departmental meeting, their senior vice president had talked about the seriousness of organizations commitment about scrum. To accomplish their objective it was declared that the ScrumMaster are the ‘single-wringable’ neck. A slap on my forehead later, it was clear why this had back fired.
Able leaders, do not pass the buck. After my conversation with the ScrumMaster, I found audience with the Sr. VP, who took ownership of these unintended consequences. He recognized that the rest of the organization had interpreted his commitment towards scrum as reverting of form towards the hierarchical ways of past. He promptly clarified his messaging through various channels at disposal to his rank.
Epilogue, mis-interpretations are common within any large organization. This is part of the any organizational fabric. The courage to seek clarity is a trait most desired from ScrumMaster. Would you have succumbed? Are you an Afternoon ScrumMaster?