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Does my team really need me?
Where do you fit in a team of superstars?
I’m Vibhor, and welcome to my weekly newsletter, the “Winning Strategy.” Every week I answer one question from you about agile, product, roles, processes, frameworks, career growth, working with humans and anything else that’s stressing you at your office. Send me your questions here, and in return, I’ll offer actionable, down-to-earth, and straightforward advice.
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On to this week’s question!
Q: Recently joined a big firm in my first Scrum Master role, and the design and engineering team are rockstars who work together like a dream and know the customer like the back of their hand. They are super efficient, leaving me wondering, "What's my role here? Am I really needed?
Great question. To get started, let me tell you that this is the question every Scrum Master, Product Manager, Agile Coach, Developer, Designer, BA, QA etc., ask when joining a new team.
This question is frequently asked with the question, “What should I do in the first 30-60-90 days?” Specifically for Scrum Masters, a few weeks back, I wrote a post on Winning Strategy to clarify a set of activities that a new Scrum Master can look to perform in the first 30-60-90 days. You can check it out here.
The question you’ve asked is a little different than the 30-60-90 topic. Here YOU are wondering if you are even needed in the team. What can you add to an already thriving team?
There are 2 ways such a question can enter your mind:
You see your team working efficiently, and you question yourself, “Do they need me?” Or,
The team you are now part of tells you (blatantly) that you’re not needed.
The 2nd point, which is sometimes the case, is generally part of the “team’s resistance.” Here the new team is not welcoming you as a part of their team. Now it may be that they are fully capable of being Agile themselves and see you as an overhead. But in my experience, 80% of the time, this is not the case. In most cases, they DO need you. They just don’t want you to disrupt the way they are doing things.
The best way to get rid of this “resistance” is by getting a good introduction from someone who holds authority and power. This must be done the first time you meet the team; otherwise, it won’t have the desired effect. Once this is done, you can follow the advice given in the 30-60-90 post, and you’re good to go.
The 1st point, however, is more critical.
What to do when it’s YOU who’s asking yourself this question, “Do they really need me?”
In the following post, I am trying to address this conundrum.
Are you forcing yourself on your team?
The short answer is “NO.”
There's a reason you were hired as a Scrum Master. The cost of hiring an employee (let alone a SM) is quite significant in most countries, so it's not just for fun. To know more about what’s the actual cost of hiring an employee, read this.
You are needed for a purpose. All you need to do is find out what that purpose is. And there are a few ways to do just that.
7 ways to find where you fit within your team
1. Open Conversations: Start by having candid conversations with your team. Ask them where they might need extra help or how you could support them better.
For instance, even highly efficient teams can sometimes struggle with managing sprints or planning product roadmaps due to their focus on execution. By providing extra hands in these areas, you can help streamline processes, thereby adding value to the team.
2. Understand Your Role: Reflect on why you were brought on board. Revisit your job description, talk to other Scrum Masters, and understand their unique contributions.
For instance, do they facilitate efficient communication within the team and across the organization? Do they help articulate the team's results and progress? By gaining these insights, you can identify areas where you can leverage your skills and add value.
3. Seek Guidance: It’s perfectly alright to talk to your superior about your role. As a newcomer, it's okay to ask for help to understand how you can be most effective. Remember, it's not about questioning your necessity but figuring out how to maximize your contribution.
For instance, you can ask, “I see a lot of potential here. How can I contribute effectively to harness it?” This not only portrays your eagerness to contribute but also opens up avenues for guidance.
4. Know Your Strengths: As a Scrum Master, you might be instrumental in shaping the product strategy and managing internal/external communications about the product. Your role could extend beyond sprint management to coordinating with marketing, sales, and support teams.
For instance, you could help translate complex product features into accessible language for non-technical stakeholders. Understanding your broader role helps identify opportunities where you can contribute effectively.
5. Be Adaptable: It's not uncommon for your role to evolve within a team. Sometimes, what you were hired to do isn’t exactly what you end up doing. Listening, observing, asking questions, and keeping an open mind is key here.
For example, you might be initially hired to manage sprints, but over time, you may find yourself playing a larger role in stakeholder management or strategy formulation. Embrace these shifts and view them as opportunities to grow and learn.
6. Identify Blind Spots: Is it possible that your star team might be missing something? A long-term product strategy, perhaps, or a structured way to explore new processes? If you can help them identify these areas, that’s a brilliant opportunity for you to step in.
By stepping back and viewing the bigger picture, you can help identify gaps and contribute to strategic discussions, ensuring that the team's hard work is directed toward achieving long-term goals.
7. Focus on Problem Spaces: Guiding the team's focus toward crucial problem spaces can be an effective way to contribute.
For example, facilitating discussions around questions like “Why is this an important problem to solve?” or “What is the most critical issue to address right now?” can help the team prioritize their tasks and focus their energies more efficiently.
The above strategies will help you in figuring out what’s your job within the team. Whether your job is to
TEACH the team about Scrum and various other processes, or it is to
COACH them to fix an existing process
don’t make the mistake of hurrying into Teaching and Coaching right away. Follow the engagement funnel that I made to systemically prime the team for receiving the coaching and knowledge that you want to share.
1. Get Introduced
The introduction stage marks the beginning of the engagement funnel, where first impressions are made, and everyone assesses each other. As a Scrum Master, it's crucial to have a higher authority introduce you to the team to ensure that every member understands the value and significance of your role, especially for those who may not be aware of your responsibilities.
This initial introduction:
sets the tone for your performance
sets the tone for your engagement with the team
It's an opportunity to establish your credibility
express your enthusiasm for the role, and
starts forming personal connections with the team members
2. Build Trust
Building trust is the next step. Trust doesn't come with the title. It's the bedrock of a strong team, and as a Scrum Master, you have a big role to play.
🤔 The question is how you build trust in just a few weeks without demonstrating what you have to offer i.e. without first teaching or coaching them?
Here again, a good introduction plays an important role. Almost 50% of the trust is earned through your first impression. When you get introduced in the right way by the right person, you win half of your trust battle. The right introduction lays the foundation for you to establish your credibility.
The other half of the trust is established when you show that you understand their concerns and context.
Here are a few things that I used to do :
take them for coffee one person at a time (trust is always 1:1)
tell them my work related story candidly
listen to their work related story
This was the list I used to follow during my first week after joining a new team.
Trust is the emotional proof that YOU understand where THEY are coming from through some related/unrelated experience in YOUR past.
Also, look: Team Trust Coaching Cards
3. Deepen Relationship
Now that you have their trust, it’s time to work on making relationships. This can be an extension of building trust, but here the focus is on getting to know your “team” on a more personal level. Understanding their motivations, their challenges, and their aspirations.
This can be done by:
facilitating team-building exercises
facilitating retrospectives to list their work-related challenges
helping them create action items to resolve those challenges
Once trust is built and relationships are deepened, it's time to step into the role of a teacher. As a Scrum Master, you're a situational leader. You are an expert in Scrum and other relevant processes. This is your opportunity to impart that knowledge to your team.
Imagine this like coaching a sports team. The coach not only designs the game plan but also teaches the players the techniques and strategies they need to win.
The final step in the funnel is to coach. At this stage, you're helping the team to self-organize and improve their performance. You're not just teaching them about different Agile approaches but guiding them to be a better team.
Think of it like a music conductor. The conductor doesn't play an instrument; instead, they guide the orchestra to create a harmonious symphony.
In essence, this funnel is a process to create a highly effective, self-organizing Scrum team. As the Scrum Master, you're the facilitator of this process.
We can’t overlook this monster. Especially when we’re looking for an answer to the question, “Does my team really need me?”.
A few years back, I created a video on how I tackled imposter syndrome. You can check it out here:
Finish this monster before it finishes you.
Thing to consider
There might be a case when your team really “doesn’t” need you. This mostly happens when you get assigned to a team by the COE (center of excellence), or your manager and not by the Manager of the team or Product Manager.
If this is the case make sure you discuss your requirement with the team and how you can provide value to them.
If after doing all of the above you come to the conclusion that you’re not needed then prepare an assessment report outlining your observation and present it to the person who assigned you to the team.
You’ll be better of with a team that values your contributions rather than one where you are not needed.
This is it 🙏
If you have any questions (related to this topic), don’t forget to use the comments section to ask the community. I will try my best to get you an answer.
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Till next week!
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