3 Core Skills that All Scrum Masters Need to Know

When I work with teams that are just starting to adopt Scrum, I often get many of the same questions. One of the most common questions I get is: “What does it take to be a good Scrum Master?”

Although it might be easy to just look up the Scrum Guide and recite what is already written there, there are usually other factors that need to be considered before I can answer this type of question. Being effective in any role within a team or an organization depends on a lot of things that will likely vary greatly because it is often related to the culture of that organization. What is perceived as “good” or “effective” may not be seen as such in another organization.

This means that we usually need to think about the specific context of the team and the organization when we try to identify the skills and traits that would be necessary, not just for a Scrum Master role, but any other role.

Having worked with different organizations from various industries, I have found the following skills to be important in nearly all of the teams that I have engaged with. Take a look and see if you agree with my observations.

Core Skill #1 – Ability to adapt to changing conditions

This is a very broad skill but it is still quite important. An effective Scrum Master is someone who can be an agent of change, someone who embraces change and helps others take that journey in a meaningful way. In order for this person to be effective in influencing others, he/she must already possess that ability to pivot when the unexpected occurs, either for the project or for the organization as a whole.

Core Skill #2 – Ability to listen and empathize

An effective Scrum Master can only operate successfully if he/she can gain the trust and respect of the team, which means that the ability to truly listen to the team with the goal of understanding is a critical skill to have. This is one of those skills that is difficult to learn and master, and will likely require years of practice.

Core Skill #3 – Ability to facilitate healthy dialog

An effective Agile team must be able to have healthy conflict in order to solicit the best solutions that leverage the collective wisdom of the whole team. This is a tricky balance to strike; too little conflict will result in group-think that stifles innovative thinking, and too much conflict erodes collaboration. This is where the Scrum Master comes in. If the Scrum Master understands how to establish an environment of mutual respect and trust for the team, it is much easier to have productive debates when solving challenging problems together.

In closing, being a highly-effective Scrum Master will not happen over-night, but being able to develop key skills will more than likely make the difference between a mediocre Scrum Master and a top-performing one.

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