Scrum Master as a Facilitator

Can you imagine a Scrum Master with poor facilitation skills? It is like a developer with poor coding skills. It is possible but is it desirable?

YouTube video about Scrum Master as a Facilitator

Facilitation is at the core of a Scrum Master or an Agile Coach role. You might think of it as being a psychologist at the back of the room: sit back, read the room and help the participants achieve the goal of the meeting.

Facilitation, if well done, is an art. Yet, you can learn a few important rules and techniques to considerably increase the effectiveness of team collaboration and on the meetings. Today I’ll share a few of those.

Cover photo with the author on Scrum Master as a Facilitator

What is facilitation?

You might wonder if facilitation is exclusively reserved for meetings, training, and workshops. I wouldn’t say so. However, to be completely clear, we would need to define a “meeting”. Is any discussion a meeting? When we meet with a couple of people to discuss something and we schedule time in our calendars as we have distributed teams, does that automatically become a meeting? But let’s not deviate from the goal here. Facilitation, to me, is indeed about meetings and putting some structure to them, along with achieving a determined goal. However, it can be anything from encouraging collaboration, driving alignment, to making sure people sit and discuss an issue, and find solutions to their problems.

Let’s see what the dictionaries have to say about it:

“Facilitate something to make an action or a process possible or easier.”
To facilitate, Oxford Dictionary

“Someone who helps a person or organization do something more easily or find the answer to a problem, by discussing things and suggesting ways of doing things.”
Facilitator, Cambridge Dictionary

Wikipedia adds to it, that “In doing so, the facilitator remains neutral”, which means that a facilitator would not take a particular position in the discussion.

So what we gathered here is that a facilitator:

  • Helps make actions and processes possible and easier,
  • Helps find answers to problems by introducing some guidelines and practices,
  • Stays neutral to the discussion, not taking sides but rather encouraging collaboration.

And now let’s see what does it have to do with Scrum.

Scrum Guide definition

As per Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master is accountable for establishing Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide along with being accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness.

The only time the Scrum Guide mentions the word “facilitate” is when it says “Scrum Master facilitates stakeholder collaboration as requested or needed”.

As stated above, the Scrum Master facilitates more than just meetings. They facilitate collaboration and alignment of different roles. It can be done in different ways. Let’s explore a few techniques of meeting facilitation.

Why do we have this meeting, anyway?

In her book “Coaching Agile Teams” Lyssa Adkins writes a lot about facilitation, let’s start with the basics:

“Every agile meeting has a specific purpose that answers the question, “Why do we do this meeting, anyway?” Coach teams to achieve the purpose, using it as a check to ensure they are getting as much out of the various agile meetings as possible.”
Coaching Agile Teams, Lyssa Adkins

Pimp my facilitation skills

To Lyssa’s point, I’d like to mention a few “fun” acronyms and questions that can help us up our game as facilitators.

  • Why do we do this meeting, anyway? — before scheduling any meeting ask yourself if it is really needed and what you want to achieve from it. Also ask people to prepare accordingly.
  • GAP | Goals, Agenda, Pre-meeting preparation — you can add to your working agreements that if a meeting doesn’t include all the aforementioned, you could skip it — no GAP, no need to attend.
  • WAIT | Why Am I Talking? with its relevant acronym — before you jump to talk again, think if you might actually wait and give way to other contributors who may need a pause or silence to feel ready to speak.
  • ELMO | Enough, Let’s Move On — is a phrase (and well-known red muppet) you can say and show when you need to gently move on from a speaker or topic that is dominating a meeting.
ELMO, the Muppet, impersonating Enough, Let’s Move On

Resist the urge for attention or how to slowly disappear

Lyssa offers some great advice on becoming a master of facilitation. Lesson number one: start big and then slowly disappear…

Homer disappearing

“Intervene with the team more in the beginning, when you are teaching them agile, and step back as soon as you can to support their continuous self-organization.”
Coaching Agile Teams, Lyssa Adkins

This is getting back to the Teacher stance from my previous article and video. When you’re at the Shu phase, from Shu-Ha-Ri, with the teams, you might need to be more present and intervene more. Once the teams move on to Ha and you move to be their mentor and coach, you can step back and let them take the lead.

“Make a conscious decision before offering anything to a team and only offer the things that carry benefits that far outweigh the interruption.”
Coaching Agile Teams, Lyssa Adkins

I find this one important. We are not there, unfortunately, to still the thunder and shine like a star of the meeting. Remind yourself that it is their meeting, not yours. Let the conversation flow, weigh out the pros and cons of your interruption. Say Why Am I Talking? (WAIT) in your head before you start your monologue.

This is the part we started with being a psychologist at the back of the room: sit back, relax, read the room and help the participants achieve the goal of the meeting. Be a keen observer.

And last but not least: “Become skilled at delivering powerful observations, powerful questions, and powerful challenges.” If you decide to talk make sure it will help take the conversation to a next level.

Create a meeting and share the screen

Sometimes all it takes is to gather the relevant people together and open Miro or any other digital whiteboard tool and start talking. Identify the problems that are bothering them and brainstorm solutions. Make sure everyone speaks and you have concrete actions with an owner to make them happen.

I will leave you today with yet another quote from Lyssa. This time about how we as Scrum masters create a container for the teams to fill in with their content.

The agile coach facilitates by creating a “container” for the team to fill up with their astounding ideas and innovations. The container, often a set of agenda questions or some other lightweight (and flexible) structure, gives the team just enough of a frame to stay on their purpose and promotes an environment for richer interaction, a place where fantastic ideas can be heard. The coach creates the container; the team creates the content.
Coaching Agile Teams, Lyssa Adkins

I hope this article will help you to step up your game as a facilitator and a Scrum Master.



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Maria Chec

Maria Chec

Agile Coach and Content Creator at Agile State of Mind and Head of Agile Practice in Fyllo