Coaching self-organising teams


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Today, the Scrumtisch organised by Marion Eickmann from Agile 42 met in Berlin Friedrichshain. Though no talk was scheduled for this evening the room was packed with guests from various companies and backgrounds interested in participating in discussions on Scrum.

As usual we started collecting topics (timeboxed to five minutes). The list was rather short, however it contained several interesting pieces:

  • (6) Management buy-in
  • (6+) CSP - Certified Scrum Professional - what changes compared to the practitioner?
  • (4) Roles of Management in Scrum - how do they change?
  • (13) Coaching self-organising teams - team buy in.


Team buy-in


As prioritised by the participants the first topic discussed was on coaching self organising teams - with a heavy focus on team buy-in. The problem described dealt with transforming water fall teams that are used to receiving their work items into self organising teams that voluntarily accept responsibility for the whole project instead of just their own little work package.

The definition of self organising here really is about teams, that have no (and need no) dedicated team leader. On the contrary: leadership is automatically transferred to the person who - based on his skills and experiences - is best suited for the user story that is being implemented at any given time.

The problem the question targets is about teams, that really are not self organising, where developers do not take responsibility for the whole project, but just for their little pieces: They have their gardens - with fences around that protect them from others but also protect themselves from looking into other pieces of the project. Even worse - they tend to take these fences with them as soon as work items change.

Several ways to mitigate the problem were discussed:

  • Teams should work in a collaborative environment, should have clear tasks and priorities, whould get some pressure from the outside to get things done.
  • Some teams need to learn what working in a team - together - really means. It may sound trivial, but what about solving problems together: Spending one day climbing hills?
  • Committments should not happen on tasks (which by definition are well defined and small) but rather on Features/ user stories. Task breakdown should happen after the committment.
  • There are patterns to break user stories that are too large into multiple user stories. (Marion: Would be great, if I could add a link here ;) )
  • Teams need to be coached - not only the scrum master should get education, but the complete team. There are people interested in management that tend to read up on the topic after working hours - however these are rather rare...
  • Teams must be empowered - they must be responsible for the whole project and for the user stories they commit to. In return they must get what the need to get their tasks done.
  • Newly formed teams inexperienced with Scrum have to get the chance to make mistakes - to fail - and to learn from hat.


A great way to explain Scrum really is as a two-fold process: First half is about getting a product done, reviewing quality by the end of each sprint during the review. Second half is about improving the process to get the product done. Meeting to review the process quality is called retrospective.

Management buy-in



The second topic discussed was on the role of management in scrum - and how to convince management of Scrum. To some extend, Scrum means loosing power and control for management. Instead of micro-manageing people it's suddenly about communicating your vision and scope. To get there, it helps to view lean management as the result of a long transformation:

  • First there is hierarchical management - with the manager at the top and employees underneath.
  • Second there is shared management - with the manager sitting between his employees enabling communication.
  • Third there is collaborative management - here the manager really is part of the team.
  • Fourth comes empowering management - this time the manager is only responsible for defining goals.
  • Last but not least there is lean management - where managers are merely coordinating and communicating the vision of a project.


To establish a more agile management form, there are several tasks to keep in mind: First and foremost, do talk to each other. Explain your manager what you are doing and why you are working in pairs, for instance. Being a manager, do not be afraid to ask questions - understanding what your developers do, helps you trust their work. Scrum is established, however there needs to be a clear communication of what managers loose - and what they win instead.

Scaling can only be done via delegation - however people need to learn how to delegate tasks. In technology we are used to learning new stuff every few years. In management this improvement cycle is not yet very common. However especially in IT it should be.

Being able to sell Scrum to customers is yet another problem: You need good marketing to sell Scrum to your customers. "Money for nothing change for free" is a nice to read on formulating agile contracts. Keep in mind, that the only way to really win all benefits is by doing all of Scrum - cherry picking may work to some extend, however you won't get the full benefit from it. In most cases it works worse than traditionally managed projects.

After two very interesting and lively discussions moderated by Andrea Tomasini we finally had pizza, pasta and drinks - taking some of the topics offline.

Looking forward to seeing you in F-Hain for the next Scrumtisch in April.