Monday, March 07, 2011

Team motivation and the role of the ScrumMaster

Before reading this article, watch this 20 minute presentation by Dan Pink at TED (if you haven't already):

Take-away: Motivated teams perform FAR better than unmotivated one and creative workers respond best to intrinsic motivation.

Research has shown that the following three factors influence intrinsic motivation the most:

Autonomy - The urge to direct our own lives
Mastery - The desire to get better at something that matters
Purpose - The yearning to do what we do in service of something larger than ourselves

We want motivated teams.  We want to be on motivated teams.  We want to be motivated ourselves.

Motivation and the daily stand-up meeting

The daily stand-up is a window into the motivation level of the team.  Stand-ups with motivated teams are noisy, complex, often chaotic, and information rich.   They often seem like football huddles when the score is tied and there are no timeouts left in the final two minutes of the game.  There is humor, intensity and a sense of "being in it together".

The stand-up meeting for an unmotivated team is different.  It's common to sense the boredom or an impatience for it to end.  It often feels like a group of individuals reporting to the ScrumMaster, who is writing everything down, or even worse, with everyone sitting at a conference table looking at a projection of a spreadsheet on a wall and only paying attention when it's their turn to report.

A tedious daily stand-up meeting is a symptom that the team lacks one or more of the factors of intrinsic motivation.  It's often easiest to examine the team's autonomy and the practices of the ScrumMaster, whose role is to foster and grow autonomy.

Old dog, new tricks.

Often, ScrumMasters are recruited from the ranks of management.  They have years of experience managing people by creating estimates, assigning resources and tracking progress daily.  Scrum is meant to shift  these responsibilities to the team.  The practices for doing this are simple but, like  learning chess, the mastery of them takes time.  A common barrier is that the manager doesn't know how to trust the team and the team doesn't trust management's motivation.  This cultural clash was captured in a mockumentary we made years ago at High Moon:

Often new ScrumMasters think their job is to manage  details for the team and let them focus on  their  coding, asset creation or tuning tasks.  However, we all know that plans are fuzzy.  Even a two-week plan to create something compelling won't cover every conceivable bit of work (e.g. how many hours of tuning do you plan to make sure a mechanic "feels right"?) .  We need everyone on the team thinking about and examining what they are doing on a daily basis, not just following the plan made at the start of the sprint.  A sense of ownership, even for a mere two weeks, greatly benefits the goal. 

Emboldening the team to take ownership

Teams rarely take ownership at the start of a Scrum adoption and management rarely hands it out.  It takes time for roles, practices and trust to shift.   It's the ScrumMaster's role to insure that this shift occurs and that the inevitable collisions with studio culture are managed.

This includes emboldening the team to accept the risk of occasionally taking on too much and seeing their goal as primarily one of adding value, not simply reducing all their task times to zero.  Discovery and innovation are fueled by passion and motivation, but these both increase risk.  Playing it safe, padding out tasks so they are never late, or punishing teams whenever they challenge themselves too much kills motivation, and therefore innovation, fast.

A ScrumMaster is like a parent, in this regard.  All parents have some apprehension when their toddlers are ready to take their first step.  They pad every hard edge in an enclosed area and try to make it as safe as possible for their child to learn to walk, but parents have to let go at a certain point and let the risk of a bump or bruise outweigh their desire to protect their child from every possible mishap.  Growth is necessary.   Soon enough, the padding and gates are taken down and we marvel in pride that our children are strolling up and down the stairs we once considered life-threatening!

Similarly a ScrumMaster emboldens the team to take more ownership, but creates an environment where it's safe to fail (yet desirable not to).  They  shift layers of management responsibility to the team, always with the goal of coaching the team to higher levels of autonomy, which leads to more motivation, greater performance and, as a result, a better working experience.