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Passive Aggressive Facilitation

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Passive Aggressive Facilitation

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Practicing servant leadership as a ScrumMaster requires a great deal of empathy and patience. This includes suppressing actions that would otherwise cause harm to team morale and self organization if unchecked.

One trait in particular that is extremely counterproductive to the role is passive aggressiveness.

As someone who has been known to be snarky on occasion, I’ve had to practice my facilitation skills over time in a real team setting.

While I do feel as though I have several qualities that make up a good servant leader, I have traits that can make it more challenging as well. This is especially true if I’m simmering under the surface because the team has recently:

  • Missed their iteration commitment by a large margin
  • Verbally fleeced one another during a daily scrum or retrospective
  • Stopped showing up for daily scrums
  • Pulled random stories out of the backlog to work on
  • Told me I have no idea how to do my job
  • Decided they didn’t like Scrum and tried to get me fired
  • Performed a myriad of other actions that drive ScrumMasters crazy

Note: most of these will happen to you at some point along the way if you work with enough teams

To address issues such as these you have to take a very zen-like approach to your role, and serve as a mirror for the team without feeding into the negative energy. This requires you to think before you say anything to the team, which takes practice over time.

For example, even short comments such as “Well I guess we won’t make the commitment this time either” off the cuff can seriously undermine your team’s efforts. If they are stressed due to an unforeseen complexity in a story, then you need to simply note that and do your best to help them adapt. It can be addressed in a positive manner at the end of the iteration.

If after a while you feel as though you keep making these comments over and over, then perhaps you should step back and re-evaluate your role. Try to find a local user group to commiserate with, or reach out to an agile coach online. I’ve found this community takes a very collaborative and pay-it-forward approach so don’t go it alone.

Have any of you struggled with suppressing passive aggressive or other counterproductive tendencies while facilitating, and if so where did you turn for help?

Download the free agile tools checklist from 321 Gang. This guide will help you choose the right agile tools to position your team for success. 


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