The Importance of Understanding Team Dynamics as a Scrum Master
One of the biggest challenges a Scrum Master or Agile Coach who really wants to have an impact on his/her team faces is knowing how to get through to and inspire EVERYONE in the team. I’m not just talking about facilitating scrum meetings or taking the stand-ups every morning, no, I mean leaving an impact on the team, such that the team has your blueprint and can succeed effortlessly without you. Your presence becomes less needed for them to function properly (yeah, I know the thought of that can be crazy!).
For me, there’s one major way to do that, and that is...
Understanding the dynamics of your scrum team.
What is Team Dynamics?
I really love how team technology defines Team Dynamics:
Team dynamics are the unconscious, psychological forces that influence the direction of a team’s behaviour and performance.
Dynamics in a Scrum team works just like dynamics in every other sphere of life.
Let’s take football (of course) for example. You hear talk of a team not having enough personalities in the dressing room to take them through rough patches (Hey gunners), or the dressing room having too many egos (Madrid, your sub’s been served). These are all examples of team dynamics that can either take the team in a positive direction, influence how the team behaves and performs, or even affect the general harmony and happiness within the team.
Most coaches employ Psychologists to be a part of the coaching staff and to help with unraveling the player dynamics so that he/she can know how to coach the club effectively. Yeah, it’s that important!
Example of Team Dynamics from the best football management simulation game — FM
Understanding the dynamics of that small scrum team of 4 backend devs., one QA, one product designer and the guy we love to hate; the Product Owner could be the difference between the team succeeding or failing; and unfortunately, this is the aspect most of us SMs seem to ignore.
Most times it is hard to change or affect the dynamics in the team (except your company has the funds to change the people themselves), but what is most important is that you even know what the dynamics are so you can take advantage of it, harness it properly, and use it as a tool to succeed, and with time, you just might see the team wanting to perform for you, chasing one goal aggressively. Talk about making lemonades out of lemons.
How can this be linked to our scrum teams?
Let me bring it down home with examples we can all relate to — the guy in the team who never agrees with the others in the team just for the fun of it, The guy who somehow influences every other person in the room with their own opinion, The team member who is able to work so well even under extreme pressure, The clown of the group because ‘life is never that serious’, or the guy who feels his experience compared to the others is nothing so he better just keep quiet and keep his amateur opinions to himself.
Oh! I forgot the love birds in the group. The quiet ones, the “I-work-best-in-isolation”, the motivators, the over-analytical ones, the risk-takers, the intern who is just happy to grab as much knowledge within three months, the list goes on and on really.
These are traits you will find in your team, and it is your work as the Scrum Master to identify them early enough and start harnessing them for good.
Study your team, write down the traits and dynamics that you can see based on their influence levels, their personality, their experience, their relationship patterns in the team, etc.; read up on things like personalities, team dynamics, etc., to keep yourself updated and to know how to deal with situations; apply your learnings on the team from time to time to improve your experience.
Why bother understanding the team dynamics?
There are a lot of benefits of understanding the team dynamics of your scrum team, but for the sake of keeping this short, I will try to outline some of the main ones I have experienced, managing different types of teams.
- When there is conflict, your knowledge of the team can help resolve it properly. Understanding the friendship patterns, the proxies that can be explored, and how to approach each person are all things that will help ensure a normal team conflict is not blown out of proportion or escalated beyond the team level
- “Bug reported, if not fixed in 30 mins, we start losing money!!!” When those high-pressured moments come (and trust me they will, and they are never planned for), you will need to know your go-to guy, the cool-as-a-cucumber, seasoned developer. You want to be sure Ronaldo, Hazard, or Jorginho is the one taking that last-minute penalty that wins you the World Cup, right?
- During meetings and brainstorming sessions, it is very important everyone in the team contributes. It’s a very common theme to have the same set of outspoken and influential members talking and contributing, every time, thereby depriving the team of hearing the intelligent suggestions that can be hidden in the brains of the more quiet and introverted members. It is your job as the Scrum Master to facilitate those sessions such that everyone feels comfortable to contribute, and not get easily influenced by more vocal team members.
- As a cross-functional and self-organizing team, they need each other to grow. Pairing the ‘upcomings’ with the influential and mentor-figure members of the team is a great way to speed up that growth. Also, knowing which personalities to peer up can be very useful to avoid conflicts.
While it is very good to ensure the basics are done — the scrum events, scrum artefacts are in place, team metrics are tracked, etc., it is also very important to pay attention to the little details — personality, friendship patterns within the team, etc., as these things form up the dynamics of the team, and you will be surprised how these little details can either make the team stronger, and achieve their goals with so much ease, OR mar the team and make it harder to achieve those set scrum goals.
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About the Author:
Ebong is an experienced Agile Scrum Master, Agile Coach, and Agile Project Manager. He has led multiple local and remote development teams to deliver user-centered products across multiple verticals like fintech, identity management, time and attendance, oil and gas, HR, and peer-to-peer lending, among others. He utilizes frameworks such as Scrum, Kanban, “Scrumban,” and TDD to facilitate exceptional teamwork and successful project delivery.