My existential dilemma


I feel conflicted by asking this question because it’s any given person’s goal to advance to the next level in their profession. But to advance to the next level you should act/perform/show that you’re at that level. Someone who has been in a position for 3 years, trying to prove that they’re ready to move up the ladder seems like they should have the answer to this question. However, I just can’t ignore it anymore. I come in everyday unsure about what exactly I should be doing as a scrum master.

Of course there’s the textbook answers, “responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide” and enforcing agile values and principles. But how does that manifest when 100% of your job is to focus on these things. If I were to go through my day and explain to people what they did that isn’t agile, people would get sick of me. They would start to avoid me or resent me – which is the exact opposite of what I’m supposed to be working towards!

One of the biggest conflicts I deal with internally is this idea of promoting self managing and self organizing teams. Most of my day I come across teams asking me to help them do little things:

  • Can you move this ticket to this team’s board?
  • Can you convert this to a story and put it in our backlog?
  • Can you create a ticket for blah blah blah?
  • Can you setup a meeting for us to talk with this person?
  • This person isn’t getting back to me and need them to do something.
  • Can you create the deck and send it out to the team?

All of these things are just part of working in a professional environment! There’s nothing special about any of them! Should I be telling people to do it themselves or should I save myself the headache of explaining how I’m not a team secretary and do it. If I do it, I’m reinforcing bad behaviors within the team like paying attention to a crying puppy dog when you put it in it’s crate. If I choose to push back, then I don’t actually have anything else to do but attend meetings just to be up-to-speed.

I am truly lost here. I understand that my job is about trying to improve the way we work and the way we think about work, but it’s everyone else’s job around me to do the actual work. If I continuously slow the team down by interrupting and telling them that there’s a better way of doing things then people get stressed because they’re not getting work done. This is in itself a problem that any agile coach would identify and try and correct, but it’s not as easy as sending out an email saying “don’t stress bro”. The solution requires having many discussions with management which can’t happen every day or even every month. So what are you supposed to do in between all the meetings and discussions?!

Maybe the answer is this? Maybe it’s continuing the conversation of agile amongst our peers whether that be through lean coffees, blog articles, random rants like this or just talking to people. But how does any business justify paying us if all we do is talk to people all day. Do we view ourselves as a specialized organization/team psychologist? What do they do all day? Are there any parallels? I don’t know what to think anymore. I need help.


Lots here to unpack. Let me formulate a full response, but I will say this… What you’re going thru is not unique, and I think we’ve all been there. I know I have.


I love this post. This was why we created the coalition. Its for moments like this where we can self reflect, on your self reflection :slight_smile:

I agree with jay that i want to chew on this today, and give some real examples from my travels that may help you to think of other strategies you can employ to get the outcomes you seek. Worst case, none of them work for you but we’ve memorialized the thread for others. Best case, they do work - and we’ve helped a colleague.

Either way, thank you for sharing. We are all part time therapists for each other. And hopefully it feels good to get some support.


I’ll toss out a few thoughts. First, I would stop doing the busy work for your team; you know that. Push back in your own style, let them know you are there for clearing impediments that are preventing them from taking care of something on their own and that you will strive to get rid of impediments as well as clear the way for them to handle such matters on their own in the future. Use the time you gain to do more valuable work. Forming an in-house community of agilists if you do not yet have one would be a great place to start.

Second, Scrum is a framework. There are some “musts” for the role of ScrumMaster, per the Scrum Guide, but what more you do is up to you and the team. Lots of places to gain insights for experiments.

Third, no business pays anyone to just “talk to people all day”. Conversations are core to business and of course Agile, but conversations must have purpose. Trace your team or teams up to the value streams they are part of (not implying SAFe but in the general sense) and all the way up to the company as a whole. What are the relevant strategic goals of the moment? What are the ongoing patterns for your team or teams as work is done, and how can you facilitate them becoming measurably better, more independent from other teams, and more lowercase “a” agile so that they can pivot as business needs change and do the most valuable work routinely? Crunch available data for insights and stage conversations around them.


Consider asking yourself what you want, not what the Scrum Guide says:

  • What does success look like for you, personally?
  • What does success look like for the team?
  • What does success look like for the organization?
  • Who wins, and when?
  • Who loses, and when?

There are more context free questions. Consider if any others are useful.

I wrote this a while ago when working with a coach who thought her job was “Better Scrum.” I bet the organization wants something quite different than what you think the org wants.

You don’t say anything about retros or daily data. I wonder if you would better serve the team by showing them their daily data: cycle time, WIP, a value stream map.

I wonder if you can show a board with the impediments you’re trying to solve, for transparency.

I’m not cynical about Scrum. When the context is right, it’s a terrific agile project framework, especially when you also use the XP practices. But none (as in zero) of my clients has a context where they can use Scrum. None of them. All the organization impediments are much more important to solve than their Scrum issues. And, they can’t solve the Scrum issues without attacking the org impediments.

I suspect that you are solving the “wrong” problem, although it’s the problem you were hired to solve.


I would definitely echo that we have all been here. I think its a common pattern to feel like we are stuck as team secretary or team babysitter. I agree strongly with Paul and Johanna regarding the power in bringing data to the team. I view my greatest value to the team in being their mirror so to speak, holding them accountable by showing them rather than telling them. I look at my job then as to teach them what the numbers are telling them and what control they have over improving them. I’ve also found that showing them the impact of how they work with metrics makes me feel like less of a nag :slight_smile: I’d be happy to share some materials on these data points and how I use them, just let me know!


You’ve received some valuable advice from good people above, so I’ll add a few additional thoughts.

There is no better time to “Re-factor” how you work then today, try to change one thing starting now.

My recommendation, which I have found helpful in the past, is to do a “Liftoff” with the team (Diane Larsen and Ainsley Nies authored a book about it). The liftoff can be your path to a Team Charter - it can include a Working Agreement, Team Mission, Team Vision, and Values. Its an opportunity to have an honest conversation with your team, begin again, and start working the way you want. You don’t need to do a Liftoff at the beginning of a team formation - you can do it anytime.

Finally, Servant Leader is drastically different than “Servant”. Too many people get focused on the word “Servant”. Servant Leadership is focused on the growth and well-being of people and teams while Servant is one who almost becomes a secretary for the team - this is a major problem in alot of organizations and while we don’t intend for it to happen we sometimes find ourselves in that role. Product Owners fall into that trap, but in a different context. Highlight the purpose of a Servant Leader if you choose to do a Liftoff.

You ain’t alone, that’s for sure.


I have found that studying coaching strategies has been very helpful. The Coaching Habit and Coaching Agile Teams are both great books to give you some strategies for helping the team without ‘telling’ them how to work.

Another aspect I only bring up because I’ve seen it in other scrum masters, I don’t know if this applies to your context or not: Even if you are not technical, you should be practicing curiosity towards the work that the team is doing and the problems they have to solve. It shows you are invested in their work and their success. I’ve seen some scrum masters check out of meetings because they are discussing tech matters. I would encourage you to be engaged. It will help give you credibility to the team and put you in the light of collaborator instead of secretary.

I also want to echo my sentiment that we have all been there and have struggled with our teams or org leadership. I’m glad you are reaching out.


Love the conversation here. If you’re looking for truly practical advice, I highly recommend The ScrumMaster Checklist by Michael James. It has a very comprehensive list of activities the SM should be doing in their role of supporting the Team, PO, and Org.


I love all the responses here, and I’m late to the thread, but I’m going to take @johannarothman 's response and make it even more meta.

What would “Great” look like for your team?
How can you as a Scrum Master help them take a step in that direction?
(Don’t get boxed in by just thinking Scrum)

I’ve focused on that for 12 years using agile patterns as my toolset, and it’s given me a lot of job satisfaction. Also, focus on what you can influence, and set aside the things you immediately can’t (with an eye towards building influence so that you eventually can).


I love that question, going to use it at my next retro :grinning:


There are so many fabulous replies here, a treasure trove. I hope you are finding them equal parts solace and helpful. I will add, it is difficult to to make changes to the way you work, you lead, you engage when you are coming from a place of exhaustion, dissapointment, despair, contempt or cynicism - all or some of which might be happening for you. Take a break. Go to that place that tops you up. Top up. Then come back and read the replies. Cluster them into: tomorrow / next week / next month and get cracking :wink: Good luck!


@gustavomk I’m not sure where you are in the world but if you want to chat. I will be glad to grab a few friends, and we could do a zoom or hangouts and talk. I learn the most by experimenting and failing. Start with the simplest thing that could show progress and go from there. I worked with a team for 18 Months before they became self-organizing. I started as their secretary, and by there end was there advisor and facilitator (for mainly messy political situations). What would your simplest change be today? We could try to help you unpack that. There is a wealth of knowledge here in this thread.