Scrum Master's Role as a Coach

Podcast Ep. 160: A Scrum Master’s Role as a Coach and Mentor (Part 2) with Jesus Gerardo de la Fuente Garcia

Scrum Master's Role as a Coach
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Episode Description:

This week, Dan Neumann is joined by the AgileThought colleague Jesus Gerardo De La Fuente Garcia to continue the conversation started in Episode 159 about the many hats of a Scrum Master. In the previous episode, they dove deep into the role of a Scrum Master as a teacher and today you will hear their discussion about the roles of mentor and Coach.

In this episode, Gerardo outlines the differences between mentoring and coaching, explaining the various functions a Scrum Master assumes in each of these roles.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Key Takeaways

  • What does a Scrum Master’s coaching position look like?
    • Coaching begins when the team understands the why and the what behind their everyday practices
    • A Scrum Master as a coach opens space for his/her team to experiment, he/she shows new perspectives and possibilities, but before these are possible, there needs to be a relationship based on trust
    • A Scrum Master needs to stimulate a culture of continuous improvement as well as to support the team in problem-solving and conflict resolution
    • A coach helps to change attitudes, mindsets, and behaviors that restrict the team to perform in the best way possible
    • Giving open and honest feedback is also the chore of a coach
    • A Scrum Master should support and encourage collaboration with the Scrum teams
  • A Scrum Master as a mentor
    • The team has a full understanding of the values and principles, and in a way, they have the same knowledge as a coach
    • A mentor is an inspiration to others and guides people to personal and professional growth
    • A mentor needs to be ready to serve others before his or herself
    • A mentor helps the team to become more and more resilient
    • A Scrum Master as a mentor finds what motivates each member of the team and helps them to identify their own goals
    • A mentor promotes these three habits: Thinking, feeling, and executing

Mentioned in this Episode:

Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and may not be completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar.]

Intro: [00:03] Welcome to the Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought. The podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host, coach, and agile expert, Dan Neumann.

Dan Neumann: [00:17] Welcome to this episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast. I’m your host Dan Neumann, and I’m happy today to be joined by Gerardo de la Fuente. And we are going to be doing part two of two. And I’ll tell a little bit more about that, but first of all, Gerardo thank you for joining the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [00:35] Thank you for having me, Dan.

Dan Neumann: [00:37] Last time we spoke, it was the Thanksgiving episode. So in the United States Thanksgiving was Thursday, the 25th of November, and you shared some things that you are thankful for particular things you’ve been able to give. And we explored the context of Scrum Master as a teacher in, in that episode. And then you shared some things you were thankful for. And at the end we said, Hey, there’s more to explore here on things you’ve been able to give as a Scrum Master. And so today we’re going to be exploring the facets of Scrum Master taking a coaching stance and Scrum Master taking a mentoring stance. So maybe you can help people understand just what you have in mind with coaching stance versus mentoring.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [01:23] Yes. On the part of coaching. Then we most of the times where we see is that it is a phase in which the team understands the why and the what behind agile practices. They have been already passed this learning from the teaching. And now the Scrum Master as a coach also tries to open the space for experimentation. So there are some keywords. Some key facts that I want to share with you related of what a as a Scrum Master coach I can give. The first one is helping individuals in the team to see new perspectives and possibilities. So here I want to mention a quote from Martin Kieran’s that he was one of the first three Scrum Masters to be certified in the whole world, by the Scrum Alliance. So what he mentioned is to achieve change in others. It is essential to establish a relationship of trust. So first we need to have these one-on-one conversations with each individual on the, on the, on the team enable these straws that we can speak of any type of topic, always respecting the personal boundaries that they may have, but in that way, we can be sharing with them these new ways of seeing things of working things and, and, and avoid maybe taking or taking away better said these walls, that Imperial seen through that horizon.

Dan Neumann: [02:59] You you talk about raising a new possibilities, kind of making new possibilities known. And for me, I get to thinking of, if you don’t trust somebody, that sounds like an empty promise, or maybe something you don’t really believe in. And as opposed to, if you are working with a person where you have a relationship of trust, then you can start to listen to the things that they say might be possible for you, and really kind of understand those and figure out where to go next.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [03:28]
Correct. And, and also it requires from us to be very patient because building trust is not something that it goes on the first time, right? So it requires like like a plant. It requires to put them everyday water to check in that it’s doing it to take it to the sunlight. So does that kind of follow up the, we want to do with all our, our team members,

Dan Neumann: [03:52] When you talk about plants, that is a reminder to me that I’ve done an episode with Quincy Jordan, director in our innovate practice about agile gardening and agile farming. But regardless of whether you’re gardening or farming, each of those have that concept of how do you nurture the seeds that are being sewn. It’s not just, you know, you throw a seed in the ground and you go, it, my work here is done. It takes some time.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [04:18] Absolutely, absolutely. And that’s also it takes us there to a second point that we also give or stimulate that mindset of continuous improvement, creating a learning culture. So also from our stand, we are able to pursue our team members to be learning more about things that maybe they don’t understand, or that they don’t have enough context. And, and as, and as a coach, you, we also celebrate that behavior and growth the team has, rather than the results. We know the results are important, but what we stand for most is seeing the team grow, improving their capabilities, being better in all the different aspects that we can say.

Dan Neumann: [05:09] There, there are times, and I think this is what you’re talking about, where people are committed to doing the right things, to exhibiting the right behaviors and, and helping the team. That’s what we celebrate, even when the outcome might not be quite what we were looking for.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [05:26] Correct. And that’s also one of the things that we have to share with the leadership also that kind of mindset and the kind of focus also that, that was mentioning on the individual world perspective, but going to a team perspective, supporting the team in problem solving and conflict resolution here is very important just to mention that it is not that we are going to solve the problem. We put them by element and we set questions so that so all the team members can reflect on that. And for example one of the things that as a coach we do is, is to be a pro or practice the active listening, having great periods of silence and observation. So we can collaborate in that way. Also it requires 100 percent attention and energy from us. So that’s why also if it becomes quite a challenge when a Scrum Master has more than two teams or two teams or more, because he needs a complete focus to understand what is happening and to be able to jump in, in the correct moment, because many things can be, or many problems can be resolved when you jump in the correct moment of the things that are happening and that you can bring up these, these these comments and not suggestions, because there is a quote from Katie Harman. She is one director of coach training. And she mentioned that it is better to ask instead of providing suggestions, because providing suggestion, limit the people to understand, to reflect and that they can get to their own answers. Right. Because it will be very easy for someone to say, oh, the Scrum Master is suggesting that yeah, let’s, let’s pick it up from there. No, the idea is, okay, let’s share these insights so they can start processing the guest in their information and they can get to the conclusions and also get to agreements between all the team.

Dan Neumann: [07:34] Yeah. And I think it’s important to kind of point back to the first episode we did on this topic. There’s there is Scrum Master as teacher. What is Scrum? What are the pillars of Scrum? What’s the purpose of a daily Scrum or a sprint review. Those are situations where it’s appropriate to teach. And what you’re describing here is the other stance or a different stance of coaching where it, isn’t the kind of the book answer for what is, you know, what is Scrum about? We don’t want people re-imagining Scrum for themselves, but there are places where it’s appropriate to coach them and help them along the path of their specific challenge. Is, is that kind of how you see it as well?

Gerardo de la Fuente: [08:18] That’s correct. Because right now they already passed that they had already transition because they, they have already had acquire the information. Now it’s time to put it on the practice and to understand it, to go to another level. Right.

Dan Neumann: [08:36]
I think of the the daily Scrum, just cause it’s an easy one to you. The purpose there is to plan for the next 24 hours, the way that the team can choose to do that is completely up to them. And so once they understand the purpose, helping them figure out, or by using the Socratic method or asking questions to help guiding them along their path of figuring out what an effective daily Scrum looks like for their perspective is, is kind of how I see what you’re describing.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [09:03] Yes. And they become accountable for that.

Dan Neumann: [09:06]
Instead of the Scrum Master, wanting the accountability for some reason. Yeah.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [09:10] Yeah. That is one of the how, how to say a bad stance that we are not secretaries. Right.

Dan Neumann: [09:19] And they’re not the, this status keeper when they go into the daily Scrum and it’s always fun to go well now technically who’s even in the daily Scrum, Scrum Master has to be there. No, they don’t go read the Scrum guide. They’re accountable for it being effective and helping the team get to the point where it’s effective, but, but not for being there themselves. So, yeah,

Gerardo de la Fuente: [09:39] That’s great. And also related to that, we have that we help to change the attitude, mindset and behavior that restrict to the team to do Scrum world. And, and this is very much related or for example, being afraid to fail, being afraid to take decisions. That’s something that we need to encourage them on. And also that they note that they for this, for this, there, there is a, an, a specific quote of Lisa Atkins that asset coach, my job is to make the team aware of what they know because they have already, we’ve already taught them about, about agile about the framers Scrum, for example. So they, they need to feel that confidence so they can step in and take decision step in and get to conclusion and get to agreements. And that having that dependency or rely on others to take decisions.

Dan Neumann: [10:39] Yeah, no, that’s powerful when you get teams that, like she said, discover what they already know. A lot of things, they know what the right thing to do is they know the path to get there. They know the customer, but they’re a lot of times conditioned to only fill a very specific niche to do their specialty while I’m the developer. I’m not the analyst. So I couldn’t possibly figure out what needs to be in the news. Just tell me what the requirements are, and I’ll go build that based on your design. And so really helping people get outside of their silo outside of their bubble can be super valuable. That’s a great coach opportunity.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [11:15] Yep. And, and also coaching the team in giving each other open and honest feedback. That is something that many times it is very hard because it depends on the characteristic, personal characteristic of each of the members. Both one of the things that we share with them is that provide the, we need to provide feedback without judge making a judgment is being curious and understand the why’s, the quiet, maybe many times we rely on these questions, but it is part of it. And, and that’s also important that between themselves, they can have this openness. That is one of our Scrum values to share if there is a risk, if there is something that we are not doing wrong, but not, but, and you can also find the ways to do it. For example, you don’t need to mention, Hey, that guy mentioned it. You can say, okay, we had this situation, how we can handle it in a very positive way for the team.

Dan Neumann: [12:17] There’s a framework we’ve talked about in a previous episode, we’ll put it in the show notes. And the framework that we talk about there is a SB high situation, behavior and impact. So where you’re sharing the situation where something happened, you’re talking about the behavior, what the video camera would have seen and then sharing the impact it had to you. So you’re not judging, let’s say the person did the right thing or the wrong thing. You’re sharing. Here’s, here’s the situation, what happened. Here’s how it made me feel. And then exploring that. And the exploration is a, a next step that could be beyond the impact, which is like, okay, what can we do differently next time about the situation? It’s a fairly neutral way of exploring that

Gerardo de la Fuente: [13:08] And that derives also on this inspect and adapt right on the team working agreements. When we have that openness. And if we want to say this, to see it on that organizational perspective, what a coach can give is the support and encourage collaboration and cooperation with the Scrum teams to, to bolster that they have to help enable this environment to the team in which they can work. They can be self-organized that they, they need that, that they can have anything they need so they can work freely without having any dependencies or having any blockers. That that’s something that in most organizations, it takes time as well, because we know that there are many times there are these, the, these bureaucracy, these care key, these power that many individuals have, and that will at the end, what we need is to provide, to give to the team. So the team can be successful is that if the team is successful, your organization is going to be successful. There’s no doubt of it.

Dan Neumann: [14:16] It’s interesting to see how often a team will kind of feel like they have handcuffs on, or that they’re not allowed to make decisions. They’re not allowed to ask questions. They’re not allowed to go directly to the other party. They might need something from, and just reach out. A lot of times, it’s things get lobbed over the wall. You know, like a grenade. I, I let my manager know. They let somebody else’s manager know, and that manager goes down and talks to the people. I need something from. And it’s, maybe you could just reach out to them and share your concern or find a to decouple so that that dependency gets removed.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [14:55] Yeah. Because sometimes it, it, it looks like a very mechanical structure in which Okay. You, if you’re going to get to that person, you require something. You need to go through this one, because this guy’s in another level, we kept to tear apart that kind of thinking, and that we are we going to stay. We are all human beings, right? So there is no powerful entity in there, even though the CEO we need to have that closeness to, to speak and to have those conversations, if we have that many things can flow like this.

Dan Neumann: [15:44] Right? Yeah. It can get decisions flowing so much faster when people are able to reach out to each other, and maybe you have to inform somebody else of the decision that was made, or if there is a, a conflict of priorities elevate to get that reconciled. But I’m just assuming that everything has to go up to somebody else is a very dangerous mindset.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [16:09] And then that’s one of the things that we also look for the simplicity, right? As well.

Dan Neumann: [16:14] Yes. The art of maximizing the amount of work not done, which when I do Scrum training or agile training, that is probably the principle behind the agile manifesto that people most often ask a question about that maximizing the amount of work not done seems very foreign. Like, like people have never even seen the words putting that order, and they really struggle with what it means. So that’s pretty interesting simplicity.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [16:41] And well, that’s quite I have the opportunity to, to give to her teams from a coach perspective and moving to the lesser extent of mentor here we are on another stage in which that team, they have a fully understanding of the values and principles, but as well, they have the same knowledge as that coach. They have, they have, they have evolve during the time, right? So when you are, when you are working and, and have this role of a mentor, you go, for example, in a part of being an inspiration for others, inspiring, inspiring with your life, with your experiences, with your long lists and these goals, but on, on another level, right? So some insights of what we are I, I have been able to, to share guiding the people to personal and professional growth and that they can work them in independent ways, because as, as mentor it’s maybe it’s too basic, but it’s like a Mr. Miyagi, Daniel LaRusso relationship.

Dan Neumann: [17:55] Yeah. From karate kid right there. Yep.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [17:59] Yeah. So I, I mentor goes, goes to those different angles, right on the personal and the professional side to help this person grow because I has acquired the information, has practiced it and has known and cars get to an upper level in which they require more more, how can they say punctual guidance on certain topics? So one of these topics is the integrity, integrity to influence in people, by adding values to their life, because integrity, you know, you, you have to do to show the people or train them on, on, on integrity’s thinking or being focused on us, not on I, so that’s also a different perspective, right? Because you are all quads, you are willing is to serve others, not yourself.

Dan Neumann: [18:59] Yeah. That’s, that’s interesting. And so from the stance of, of being a mentor, you’re seeing obviously a relationship between the two parties involved in that mentor relationship and a willingness to then obviously serve the interests of the other. But also doing it, I think from, from a standpoint of you know, some expertise in the field in which you are mentoring somebody through, I think there’s coaching can be done without knowing the specific situation, but I feel like mentoring, you have to have some Mastery of the domain in order to mentor effectively. I don’t know if you see it the same way or not.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [19:40] Well, on a mentoring, what I have seen is that you need to have a very close relationship with the person, right? So that, that is something that happens on, on the coaching stage that you start making this follow up, these one-on-ones, and then this person has the, I can say that is a key factor, the attitude that they are willing to get more, they are going for more, they want an extra mile, not everyone on the on team members go to this. And, and it is very respectful, but with the ones that you identify, that they have this hinge that they want to get more and be I improve the sales more that’s when then you start making this transition to a coach, to a mentor, but that’s has that it has it has to be a role that you have already work with them certain time.

Dan Neumann: [20:33] And I, I think of a, an instance where we had, we, it was called the coach mentorship program, but we were working with coaches in my client and really helping them along their coaching journey. We had a cohort, we actually did it three different times. And, and really when we had participants who were really willing to dig into the subject matter, and they brought their own passion to what they were doing, that was certainly the most effective of the programs when, when you had really passionate, involved people.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [21:07] Yeah. And that’s, and that’s something that it has to be built. Right. And that it takes time and also takes patience. Right. But, but that’s also, as I mentioned, a hundred percent energy and focus on them from our, from our part.

Dan Neumann: [21:23] Well, and I want to just pull on that thread of patients. That is something that I feel like gets lost. A lot of times, organizations want to, you know, become more agile or they want to have really effective Scrum teams. And we don’t want to foot drag with that process, but at the same time, it can take time. It sometimes requires patience as organizational impediments are removed. And, and we really start to explore how the system works, not just getting a Scrum team, you know, during the Scrum events and filling the roles and deciding that’s really good agile.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [22:02] Yeah. And, and you know, that from my perspective is a very good investment that they do with that. Because if you have this vision, this, this, these people that you are mentoring, they’re going to be then coaches of someone else. And then it is going to start propagated by in a cascade way. So I think that is very good knowing this potential people that they can be mentored and that they can then be coaches and then they can be mentors and that’s, and, and the will goes on. Right. And also there is related to this also a mentor helps the their mentoree on the part of resilience because they can be temped during the journey to return to the bad habits when something doesn’t go well, or doesn’t go as they expect, or they fail a lot of times. So that’s also part of our of why we give on, on this closeness and, and, and follow up on them is to have this resilience that even though you fail, even though you are on a very critic situation, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t return to the bad habits continue and be perseverant on that yearning.

Dan Neumann: [23:28] The I’ve called it back sliding in the past where an organization or a person, they try a new approach and it doesn’t go well. And they go see that, that agile, thing’s not going to work. Oh, maybe. I mean, it’s possible. However, there are some other, instead of just reverting to your prior behavior, let’s look at what happened. Let’s figure out why maybe we got the outcome we did instead of the one we wanted and then find out how we’re going to take another run at the, the, the new process of the new approach.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [24:02] Absolutely. also I think that it’s very important that we, as mentors can also find what motivates them, what are their goals, what they want to achieve. So also we can do a direct mentorship with them because sometimes we can, we can fall on assumptions and that’s very risky, right? It is very hard to, to, to, to listen, to try to, because sometimes also it is not something very like at the first time, what are you goals? What are those? It motivates you. It’s not something that maybe it’s an, an immediate answer. So you have to make some journeys go to different. How can I say channels, roads to get to that I’m getting to, that does inquiries, you, can you give an effective mentorship with them?

Dan Neumann: [24:56] Yeah. And that person may not know what actually motivates them. They may be so used to doing the thing they’ve been asked to do for so long. And they might not stop to think about, oh, I wonder what, what actually is the motivation for me personally, in this context?

Gerardo de la Fuente: [25:12] Yeah. It it’s it requires a lot of reflection time to think. And it is something very deep, right. So but it is worth a hundred percent. And also we need to help provide that safe environment in which they can improve those habits of thinking, feeling and executing, because there are different things. Right.

Dan Neumann: [25:41] I was just gonna see if you could go a little deeper on the thinking and feeling and executing parts.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [25:48] Yeah. For example on improving the habits on thinking it’s okay. The weight that I take decisions. How are I am driving this? Do I have the complete context? Do I digest it or do I only because some organizations when taking decisions fast, okay, you have this yes or no. No, you, you need to, to, to make the proper questions to interiorize it. And and after that you can get to a conclusion or to a definition also on the part of feeling you, you need to be very careful on the emotions because obviously the emotions are important, but you cannot take a decision when you have I don’t know, unlike an emotional roller coaster. Right. Because we had a great results. Okay. So because of this, we’re going to take the decision or because we didn’t get to the goals, okay. We’re going to have this this like punishment, maybe there’s another word. Sorry, but that is the thing, right. We need to understand, we need to, we need to be stable on the part of feelings for taking decisions and also for setting our oral goals and in the part of the security as well, you, you, you cannot be executing things like a tour, like being a doer, just doing, doing, doing, doing, because it’s like, what is the sense of, of doing that, the back of the background for that. So you also need to know, okay, this is the journey I want to follow. This is the roadmap of all the things that I’m going to do. So in that way, I will do step one, step two, step three, step four.

Dan Neumann: [27:41] Hmm. Yeah. That’s, it’s interesting to think through there, there are definitely some times where you know, taking that more prudent approach can avoid some traps. And it makes me wonder if there are instances maybe where moving faster through that. I think of Kahneman’s book thinking fast and slow, maybe where it talks about the two different ways of thinking each with their own kind of appropriate or beneficial behavior. Cause not if we stopped to think about everything, nothing will get happened. At the same time, we want to make sure that at those key moments where the reflection is going to be more valuable, that’s the place to make sure we’re not accidentally getting put into an environment act without thinking.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [28:28]
And that’s part of the balance that we got to.

Dan Neumann: [28:32] Yeah. Tough, tough to find the balance. Gerardo I want to appreciate that you took time now second week in a row to talk about the stance of coach and of mentor in the Scrum Master responsibilities. So thank you very much for doing that. Really appreciate it.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [28:48] Dan, thank you for the invitation.

Dan Neumann: [28:50] Always happy to, I know you said you last week, you were working on Scrum Mastery as part of your continuous learning journey. So not too much pressure, but is there anything different on your journey now than last week?

Gerardo de la Fuente: [29:03] Yeah, I can share that the coaching agile teams by Lisa Atkins it’s a book that maybe we have all on the Scrum people who are related to Scrum rated, but it is always good to give again a second look, a third look, because I can assure you every time that you read it, you are going to find something new and something related to the current situations that you’re experiencing on your team.

Dan Neumann: [29:33] Yes. I know. I’ve found myself going back. She’s in, there has a section on multiple levels of conflict. I know I found myself going back to that multiple times when I’m just trying to think through a scenario, where is it from? We have a problem to solve too, like at the top where it’s like world war three type of thing. Like where are we in? What strategies make sense? So definitely love that you’re advocating folks. Maybe go back and take a second. Look if they’ve already consumed it in the past. Thank you again, Gerardo. Really appreciate you sharing with the listeners. Thank you.

Gerardo de la Fuente: [30:03] Thank you, Dan.

Outro: [30:06] This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought. The views, opinions and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and the guests, and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips for this episode and other episodes at

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