5 Things to do When Joining Existing Teams as a Scrum Master

Scrum Team Hanging out with Scrum Master

Joining an existing Scrum Team can be an intimidating experience for even the most seasoned Scrum Master. There is no way to tell what you are walking into, how things are done on the team, or why.  Making things more difficult, you are often joining the team as an outsider. The team may know each other well and may have even had another Scrum Master in the past.

Our instinct will be to start making suggestions and pointing things out to the team right away, but with no trust or relationship that could be a grave mistake that will be difficult to recover from. Instead, try accomplishing these 5 things before you suggest anything:

1) Have a 1-on-1 with every member of the team

Building a relationship with the team is priority number one for any Scrum Mater. Spending time with them as a group can shed some light on the group dynamic, but there is no substitute for spending some time with team members individually. I generally spend 30 minutes with each person on the development team. 1-2 hours with the Product Owner as soon as possible is also a good call.

It’s best not to be too formal, so going out for coffee or chatting privately is a good start. This gives you the chance to hear about what the team members are thinking about, and what they are looking for in a Scrum Master. It also gives you an opportunity to share some of your vision and how you think you can help the team moving forward. Trust can only be built through personal experience, and a solid chat with every team member can jumpstart that process, and provide you with valuable insight.

2) Observe their process

When you are joining an existing team, there will definitely be some culture shock. Every Scrum Team does things a bit differently. At first glance it may be your instinct to jump in and “correct” a situation or behaviour. I have learned that spending some time after joining the team simply observing gives you some time to understand what meetings they are having, who takes the lead on certain things, and what issues they may be facing.  What seems counter intuitive initially may be done for a great reason. The only way to know for sure is to watch and learn. Jumping in without all the facts could spell disaster and distrust for months to come. It’s best to be patient.

3) Get some history

Whenever possible, find out the context of team habits. Context is our friend, and can help you decide where to focus your attention. Maybe there is a history to that strange meeting, or odd behaviour that would help you understand the team mindset. If we jump in without understanding, we may end up damaging the teams process rather than helping them. Spend time talking to the Product Owner, other Scrum Masters, managers, and even former team members to get their sense of any issues, and why things are the way they are.

4) Find a quick win

Iterative processes are about building value incrementally, and being a Scrum Master is no different. When you join a team, they will not know you or trust you. You have not proven to be of any value yet. The fastest way to deal with this is to keep your eyes out for a quick win. These are small changes that could be made without ruffling too many feathers. Quick Wins  show the team that you intend to help and have some valuable insight to share. In the past, I have found updating the Definition of Done, adding Acceptance Criteria, or even forming a team working agreement can provide the right amount of value to kick start things.

5) Meet the Stakeholders

As a Scrum Master you’re not the point person with the stakeholders, but it is useful to meet with them. Stakeholders have a unique perspective on how the team works. They know what the team is delivering and how value is flowing to them. Taking time to meet with them at the begining is a great way to set the tone of your relationship. Stakeholders can help you understand how the team is viewed and what things they need to work on.

 

Regardless of how you proceed, remember that your responsibility is team health and facilitating the team’s needs and decisions. As long as you are building trust and relationships you will do just fine! Good luck on your new position.

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