Should the Scrum Master Remove Impediments

Sapper Scrimmers

Sapper Scrimmers on patrol

I want to explore whether it’s better that the scrum master remove impediments or coach teams into removing them?

This is me, many years ago, while serving with the British Army.

On one occasion I led an 8 man ‘section attack’ against an enemy position. After the attack it was necessary to evacuate an enemy casualty on foot, 2-3 miles, to a rendezvous with transport, time was a critical factor so we had to be fast.

As a group we knocked up a make-shift stretcher, basically an poncho with a man on each  corner and either side in the middle, holding on by bunching the material into a clenched fist. Not very comfortable for the injured chap, not very easy to use for the men carrying it. With the injured party weighing around 14 stone (about 196 lb), this meant we didn’t get very far before someones grip slipped and we dropped the poor chap.

With nothing around to create a rigid structure for the stretcher we pushed on for a few minutes. After dropping him for the umpteenth time and not having covered a great deal of distance, and with growing frustration I gave my weapon to someone else, picked the injured man up in a fireman’s carry and ran the rest of the distance with him over my shoulders.

Afterwards I was praised for my decisive leadership, taking action and ensuring the injured combatant was evacuated. My troop commander at that time said I had ‘natural leadership  skills’. I remember this very clearly and at the time felt pleased with myself.

20 Years on, and working as a Scrum Master & Agile Coach, I was minded to recall that this morning when reading about leadership. I hadn’t thought about that day for a long time and found my views had now changed.

I had taken control of a frustrating situation and used my skills (I was an excellent distance athlete) to resolve a problem (carrying the wounded man). As part of the team you could say I’d taken initiative and helped the team achieve it’s objective.

How does that stack up against my leadership views now? As a ‘leader’ of teams now I’d have encouraged my section to resolve the issue through experiment and experiences to derive an outcome that helped that attain a goal. Instead what I’d done was solve a problem for them without consultation or question. If my section had found themselves in a similar position again what would have happened? Would they have learned to resolve problems themselves?

As part of my coaching of scrum teams now, when an impediment crops up, I prefer to help the team find their own way to remove the impediment. I may offer suggestions, which if accepted the team must take ownership of, or help them identify the skills, tools, relationships or anything else they need to remove the obstacles in their way.

20 years ago, I could’ve opted to do this and have the teams collective creativity solve the problem of carrying this individual. I could have help them grow and be better as a whole, instead I opted to solve the problem and only helped them in the short term.

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