Friday, November 23, 2018

The Case of the Self-Conscious Scrum Master

As an Agile Coach your success depends on helping others succeed. Sharing your Agile expertise will help them achieve their goals, but first you will need to leverage your interpersonal skills in order to uncover and understand their goals and motivations.

The better your interpersonal skills, the more successful you will be as an Agile Coach. We all have some level of skill with the various interpersonal skills needed as an Agile Coach. A good starting place for further mastery is to review these skills and employ them intentionally as you interact with others.

Emotional Intelligence
One of the most important set of interpersonal skills are the four skills of Emotional Intelligence. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to successfully navigate the muddy waters of human emotions. That includes self-awareness of your own emotional state, social awareness of the emotional state of others, self-management of your own emotional state, and creating and maintaining good relationships.

An interesting experience I had when working with a manager illustrates the four parts of emotional intelligence. This particular manager was also the Scrum Master for the team that he managed. He invited me to his standup, but was very self-conscious about it. He said “I know it isn’t the best idea to have a Scrum Master that is also a manager, but I think it is working out ok.” I acknowledged what he said, but didn’t add my opinion.

Social Awareness
This is awareness of what is going on with others. The surface level of social awareness is fairly straightforward, though it requires intention. By simply paying attention to other people’s words, tone, and body language, one can get a decent sense of how they are feeling and how they are reacting to whatever is happening.

The manager ran his standup like a staff meeting. He would call on each person, comment on what they said, and then offer “suggestions” that were clearly more than suggestions. The level of engagement from the team was close to non-existent. More than once people had facial expressions and body language that expressed feelings of disappointment and disapproval.

After the meeting, in private, the manager turned to me and said “that was horrible, wasn’t it?” I told him that from a purely process perspective, the standup meeting had served most of its purpose and asked him what made him say what he said. He shared his observations of the team member reactions during the meeting, which matched my own observations.

Self-awareness is a combination of paying attention to what is going on in our heads and considering how our emotional state and behavior play a part in the emotional state and behavior of others.

I asked the manager about why he might have been running the standup as he was and his understanding of what a good standup looks like. He demonstrated a remarkable amount of self-awareness about how his behavior had impacted the team and had a good understanding of self-organization. He just hadn’t had an opportunity to see the difference between what he hoped for and what was actually happening.

Self-management is taking advantage of being in the moment by changing your own behavior based on your social awareness and your self-awareness. When you see somebody reacting in an unexpected way, your self-awareness kicks in and you consider how your behavior may have had a part in that reaction and then take steps to change your behavior.

The next day, the manager explained to his team that he wanted them to run the standup on their own and his only requirement was that they finish in 15 minutes and leave follow-up for after that initial 15 minutes. It took them a few tries to take advantage of their new found freedom, but soon they were sharing with each other and suggesting follow-up actions. I didn’t see any eye-rolls in that meeting and their engagement was through the roof compared to the previous standup. I could see the manager catching himself a few times, but his desire to “have a real Scrum team” won out and he only interjected when the team was getting off track.

Relationship Management
Relationship management is what gives emotional intelligence its full potential. Practicing self-awareness, social awareness, and self-management can help to create and maintain good relationships, and good relationships reinforce self-awareness, social awareness, and self-management. To put it simply, the higher your EQ, the better your relationships will be and the better your relationships are, the more people will share with you about their internal emotional state and the more people will help you when your EQ is failing you in the moment.

In the case of the Scrum Master manager, the EQ that he demonstrated in the second standup had an immediate effect on his relationships with his team. I could tell from earlier 1-1 conversations with team members that they already appreciated him as a manager. In listening to their conversations with him after the second standup it was clear that his actions of involving an Agile Coach and making adjustments that they appreciated were just the latest reasons for appreciating him.

The Key to Emotional Intelligence
I’m not saying that just by being present I usually get the kind of result that occurred with the manager. It was his personal interest in doing the right thing that made him hyper self-conscious. It is that heightened awareness that I want to highlight. By consciously paying attention to others he was able to realize that something needed to change.

The key to emotional intelligence is to be in the same frame of mind as the manager. Practice reminding yourself during any interaction with others to ask the following questions until it becomes second nature:
  • How am I feeling and behaving?
  • How are others feeling and behaving?
  • How are my feelings and behavior affecting others?
  • How are other people's feelings and behavior affecting me?
  • Based on the above, should I do something differently in order to create better outcomes?
  • Am I acting in a way that is good for all of the relationships involved?
Next: Coach As Mirror - Neutrality

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