ScrumMaster Certification: Answering Crucial Questions – What's A Self-Organizing Team?


In the first two parts of this four-part series, we addressed the broad question of “Why Get Certified?” and how a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) can help an organization transition from a project-based to a product-based organization.  In this post, we examine a unique aspect of the Scrum Framework – a self-organizing team and the role that a ScrumMaster can play in helping the Team become self-organizing.

Before outlining the ScrumMaster’s responsibilities in this regard, it’s important to establish what “self-organization” means or more importantly what it does not mean.  Self-organization is providing the Team with a goal to achieve, constraints to which they must adhere and then getting out of their way as they determine the best way to achieve this goal.  Note that this definition does not state the Team gets to decide the goal, change the goal or generally decide on a day-to-day basis what work it would like to do or not do.  A Team that follows this approach is practicing Scrum or any other Framework, it is engaging in a method known as “Chaos”.

This is the first responsibility that a ScrumMaster has in regards to self-organization – teach its definition and highlight to both the Team and the organization’s broader leadership the implication of this definition.

Beyond teaching this definition, the ScrumMaster must also encourage the Team to practice self-organization.  This means not letting the team wait for direction from management before taking action.  Whether it’s something as simple as gaining access to a server or something as complicated as identifying the source of an intermittent defect, the onus needs to be on the Team to take action.  In organizations with a high-degree of “command and control” leadership, a ScrumMaster’s needs to be both persistent and patient with the Team.  Part of this patience involves the ScrumMaster advocating for action, but not taking that action on the Team’s behalf.  If the ScrumMaster becomes impatient and acts on the Team’s behalf, they have simply replaced management in their former role and the next time the Team needs to take action they will wait for the ScrumMaster to act.

Of course, the ScrumMaster also has to protect the Team while it learns what it means to be self-organizing.  Often times, management will understand the definition of self-organization and will give the team the opportunity to self-organize only to quickly become impatient and fall back to a “command and control” mentality when the team struggles to put the principle into action.  A ScrumMaster in this situation needs to coach management regarding the time it takes for a team to adopt a new way of working and preach patience as the Team works through this timeline.

In our next post, we will address another crucial question related to the ScrumMaster role – “Isn’t a ScrumMaster just a project manager by another name?”  If you are interested in learning more and becoming a Certified Scrum Master (CSM)., click here to view our upcoming classes and register for our next CSM or CSPO course.