Second day as Scrum Master

In the first post of this series, First day as Scrum Master, I talked a little about he first day with your new team. In this post I want to talk about conducting your first one-on-ones with the team members.

After your first day or so with your new team, it’s time to get intimate and personal through one-on-one discussions – I don’t call them interviews because I want an informal atmosphere for a discussion and not one where people feel they’re playing a role.

I use one-on-one to gain insight into the team members world in a non-threatening way. This is a three step process, setting up an one-on-one, conducting the one-on-one, and making sense of the results. For the team members, this process generally gives them a chance to voice their concerns and issues but it almost always leaves them with a sense that someone cares. For you as a Scrum Master, you do care but it’s important the team gets the idea that you are there to serve them, that you actually care more about them than yourself.

Setting up the one-on-one

To get started I approach each of the team members and simply ask if I could have 30 minutes of their time to talk about what’s working and what isn’t from their unique point of view. This establishes a few things:

1) I value their time by setting a time limit,
2) I value their opinion because I want it from their point of view, and
3) I hold out hope and optimism that I might be improving their personal situation.

Most often the person will give me their time right then but if they’re too busy, I don’t press too hard but ask when would be a better time and suggest a time. This gives them lots of space in case there’s apprehension but also lets them know I’m respectful to their time.

For the one-on-one session, select a neutral, non-threatening, private, and casual space. You should avoid meeting rooms if you can as these are usually sterile and a bit too formal for your purposes. At one company they had a room with sofas where I did these and it provided a very relaxed atmosphere.

Conduct the one-on-one

I open the discussion with a promise of non-attribution and ask if it’s ok for me to take notes. If you can do this without notes that’s better. I have a standard set of questions that ask, worded appropriately for the context. I ask these specifically in this order starting with what are their expectations of me followed by things that might be slowing them or the team down. I finish with a very personal question that almost always is a surprise to the team member. Examples of these are:

1. Why do you think I am coaching your team?
2. What difference do you hope I’ll make?
3. What do you want to learn from me?
4. What outside influences hold the team back?
5. What internal barriers/impediments hold the team back?
6. What can we continue doing or do more of to make life on the team better?
7. How can we work more effectively?
8. Why did you come to work this morning?

The first question is important as it sets up all the followup questions but it also sets the tone. I might specifically say, “My job description says to implement Scrum but I didn’t get a strong sense of team’s perspective of what that means. Why do you think I’m here?” The tone I’m trying to set is I’m here to learn and not coming in with an agenda.

It’s also important that however these questions are put forward, use the exact same structure if not word for word, with each team member. This makes it better and easier to compare and consolidate their responses.

At the end of 30 minutes, conclude the session with a very sincere thank you, repeating the key results and promises to follow up.

Spend a few minutes after the person’s left to collect your impressions. Clearly note the issues brought up and what you may have promised to do.

Making sense of the results

Once you’ve gathered your notes from all discussions with team members, including the Product Owner, begin consolidation and looking for common threads. Use this to help prioritize you contributions for improvements. How to do this with examples will be the topic of my next post coming soon.

Thank you for reading and I welcome your comments and suggestions.