Your Scrum Team Is Shouting...
As a Scrum Master to your Scrum teams, be an anchor while also being a strong speaker when necessary. Learn more about how to do that in this article.
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We are all well aware that better interaction is essential to the success of any project. Along with adhering to Scrum Values, the expectation for Scrum teams is to have seamless communication and improved team collaboration.
As a Scrum Master, I’ve worked with a variety of teams that have distinct dynamics. Some were extroverts, while others were introverts. Let me clarify that an introvert is not someone who never communicates or is always silent. An introvert is someone who prefers to be silent because of some reason.
Introverts can also be excellent leaders. Before we can discuss improving the communication of introverts or less communicative team members in our Scrum teams, we must first define the terms “introvert” and “extrovert.” Given that we’ve already discussed introverts, I’d like to add Simon Sinek, who mentioned Susan Cain and her definition in one of his talks. “It is about energy; An introvert loses energy in social interaction, an extrovert gains energy from social interaction.” An introvert wakes up in the morning with five coins. With every social interaction, they spend a coin. At the end, they are depleted. An extrovert wakes up with no coins. With every social interaction, they gain a coin. At the end, they feel rich.
Returning to our original topic, let’s talk about the dynamics of introverts in Scrum teams and how Scrum Masters can help them so that they contribute more effectively in terms of on-time communication and collaboration.
As a Scrum Master, you’ve probably seen situations where, during a user story/requirement walk-through, whether in Sprint Planning or Backlog Refinement session, a few team members would not even speak up or put forward their views for any questions or to give their opinion on a particular discussion. Sometimes you don’t even know if they exist (thanks to virtual calls and working from home) or if they really grasped the real ask from the customer. The real reason is they may be struggling to communicate how they feel, and they may have wanted to say something but are afraid to talk.
BUT…do you understand they’re SHOUTING very loudly…Yes, a deafening sound that we cannot hear on the outside but inside their heads. Wanting to convey their thoughts and inner feelings but unable to do so due to a variety of factors such as fear, hesitation, believing that the question is irrelevant, and so on.
Most of the articles I read or videos I watch about what the Scrum Master should do in these situations are somewhat startling to me, and I completely disagree with them when they suggest not intervening during the main Scrum events and other meetings like Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, and Backlog Refinement sessions.
As we know, Scrum Masters are more than just servant leaders or facilitators; they are True Leaders as per the latest Scrum guide. So, as a Scrum Master to your Scrum teams, be an anchor while also being a strong speaker when necessary. Intervene and ask if they need any more inputs from the PO/BA, such as screengrabs, attachments, wireframes, clarifications on acceptance criteria, and so on, to remove any ambiguities and unknowns at the beginning of the Sprints and allow them to identify any risks or dependencies before beginning design, development, or testing.
Pre-Covid, almost all of the teams had face-to-face interactions, so it was simpler to understand the teams’ body language or inhibitions. However, most teams are still working virtually post-Covid, and it is extremely difficult for anyone to understand the intent of someone on the other side of the virtual call window.
Some of us are already making efforts to get these less communicative Scrum team members to open up. We are attempting to put ourselves in their shoes, assisting them in understanding that you are always available to them and coaching them by referring to Scrum Values, as well as encouraging them to speak up during key discussions.
Until this point, it is understood that every Scrum Master can ask questions during the backlog refinement and Sprint Planning sessions to determine whether these individual team members are clear with the clarifications, and one can also motivate them to open up, be collaborative, and let the communication flow. But, as I previously stated, there will be some individuals who are hesitant to speak during meetings and who do not understand the requirement during walk-throughs. One simple reason could be that they believe it is too early at that stage to ask any questions, but this is just one of many reasons.
Let us continue to coach them to be open during calls or emails with the PO or any of the other Scrum team members. Also, advise them to interact during the calls, even if it is not an excellent point, and to not be overly concerned with their language at the time, but to simply put out their questions and see whether they are speaking in context with the requirement or not.
Team members that are introverted by nature will take some time to understand when we try to coach them on better team communication. They may also feel offended at times because it is impossible for anyone to abandon their natural tendencies and demonstrate a complete change in character all at once. Furthermore, today’s teams include members from a variety of cultures, locations, and ages. Also, like Scrum, we all agree that any change in behavior will occur only empirically. My main goal is to accomplish it in a way that I’ve been doing for a long time, and I have seen a good success rate.
So, what are our other options?
How do I do that ?…
… After every Sprint event (and sometimes even Daily Scrum), I would have a regular, in-person, face-to-face connection with these team members to see if they had any unknowns or ambiguities in understanding the requirement or if they had any other issues. By demonstrating empathy with clean language and clear communication, I aim to provide confidence and ensure they feel psychologically protected. I’d also ask whether they require any special assistance from other team members or another walk-through from PO.
I never directly ask them to change their nature or character, but I do encourage them to improve their social culture by attending training such as Social and Communication Skills for Introverts, encouraging them to try and make new friends within teams or organizations, and motivating them to be a part of meet-up groups either in-person or online. Personally, I believe that the points described in this paragraph are important and close to my heart because I have done these things for myself and have observed some progress in myself. Yes, I’m a natural introvert.
If the readers believe any of these suggestions will be beneficial for your coaching, begin initiating with your uncommunicative team members and try to discover the reasons for their lack of responsiveness. As they become stronger communicators and team collaborators, continue to assist them in establishing the Scrum values of Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect, and Courage. It will also make it easier for the other team members to work with these persons in a comfortable environment. And without a doubt, this will be an enabler to the project in accomplishing the Sprint goals and Increments.
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