Scrum Parenting (and how to avoid it)

Let’s borrow an analogy or two from youth athletics, shall we?

You know them.  You might even have been one of them at some point (or are right now!).  The mom who over-nurtures her team, taking on every possible task because nobody else can do it as well.  The dad who makes a spectacle of himself from the stands, screaming at the kids, the coach, the umpires, and the other parents.  Go ahead and reverse the genders on those examples, I’ve certainly seen it work both ways!  If you’re nodding your head right about now, you can probably already guess where I’m going with this post.

As a Scrum Master, it’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap of parenting your team.  I’d even say it’s one of the first traps we need to overcome on our journey from being a novice Scrum Master to being something better.  Learning how to recognize the signs of Scrum Parenting, and how to avoid the perils therein, is essential.


The Scrum Guide states that one of the key roles of the Scrum Master is “removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress.”  This is absolutely true.  The Scrum Parent takes it personally, making it his or her mission to do absolutely everything to clear the path for the team.  Sometimes, the best way to remove an impediment is to ask the team how to remove it, and let them solve their own problem.  Empower your team to handle impediments that don’t need to be escalated to you.  Often, they don’t need you to do the actual work, but to just coach them through the problem.  Allow the team to learn.

Access to the Team

This goes with the first point, really.  It is important to shield the Development Team from things, sometimes.  The key here is sometimes.  When it comes to feedback from the Product Owner and Stakeholders, it’s critical that the team is not shielded, and can take the opportunity to inspect and adapt.  Not everything has to go through you before it gets to the Team.  It’s okay to protect them, but it’s not okay to smother them.

Everyone gets a Trophy

Whether you agree with this philosophy in youth sports or not, it most definitely does NOT apply to Scrum.  It’s important to remember that the Development Team succeeds or fails as a team.  If one person fails, the Team fails.  And that’s okay.  The team doesn’t need to get a trophy every time, or get taken out for ice cream.  It’s important that you do everything reasonable to keep the team from failing, but when they DO fail (and they will), it’s equally important to let it happen, and use that failure as a jumping off point in the Retrospective.  This is an amazing inspect and adapt opportunity, and you should use it to its fullest.

It’s important to note that when the team is performing well, hitting all of their commitments, and functioning at a very high level, we recognize that as well.  Celebrate with the team when a celebration is called for!  Recognize that it’s okay to fail, but don’t dwell on only the failures.  Talk about the positives and congratulate the team!

On the flip side of over-nurturing our teams, we have the person who is perhaps a little TOO passionate about things.

Mistakes happen

Re-read the bit about everyone gets a trophy, and remember that it’s okay to fail.  This is so important that I’m already reiterating it!  It’s so incredibly easy to personalize things when they go wrong.  When a mistake happens (and they will!), don’t get upset.  This is not an affront to you, or to the process.  It’s not some kind of performance indicator on how you are doing as Scrum Master.  It’s just a mistake.  Getting mad at the Team, at the Product Owner, or at yourself will not fix it.  Instead, this is your time to coach the team on identifying the problem, and how to take steps to avoid it going forward.

It’s not about YOU

Remember that your role is that of a servant-leader.  You aren’t in charge of things, you don’t tell the team what to do, and when someone does something in a way you wouldn’t, it’s not the time to stand up and yell.  Are you calling attention to yourself, or guiding your Team toward success?  If there’s even a little danger of the former, it’s time to step back, use the power of silence to your advantage, and then see how you can best serve your team, while coaching them on how to make improvements.

It’s good to be passionate, and it’s great that you want to help the team by assuming some of the load.  The trick lies in finding that magical middle ground where the team can thrive without you being involved in everything they do.  Watch for the warning signs and be ready to take a step back when you notice them, and watch your team grow!

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