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How can a Scrum Master help the team define or arrive at the attributes of a High Performing Team?


Scrum Master is supposed to hold the team compassionately and firmly to the expectation of High Performance.

A Team generally gets the basics of running Scrum within the first few Sprints. However, very soon, the events make the team feel like they are in a never-ending merry go round. The team needs to see different milestones and landmarks along their journey to indicate progress towards something worthwhile.

That something is High Performance.

As a Scrum Master, you believe in high performance, but can you define high performance?

High performance is not about achieving a podium position; it is a journey towards something better. In the book “The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization”, authors Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith mention that the team that “outperform all reasonable expectations” and “even surprise themselves” may be on such a journey. As a Scrum Master, you must help your team start their journey towards high performance.

You start the journey by setting and mentioning your expectation that they will achieve it.

Each team will move to high performance in their way; therefore, the team must create their definition of high performance.

Now the question is, what tool or technique can you use so that the team can arrive at their inspirational vision of high performance. When I talk to a team about how it can be a high-performing team, I get ‘silence’ in return. I get the standard answer in a few cases – meeting our Sprint commitment or delivering on time or code with fewer bugs.

Here is a technique that you can use so that your team arrives at its list of attributes of High Performing team.

The method is known as TRIZ (a three-step process):

Step 1 : Ask the team to list attributes that will prevent the team from being a high performing team.

It is straightforward to come up with destructive ideas. You can use creative destruction to ensure that everyone participates. Think for yourself which question is easier to answer A) What can I do to satisfy my customer? Or B) What can I do to make my customer most unhappy? Set a time-box of 10 minutes for this step.

Step 2 : From the list of attributes, ask the team to make a second list of all the things from the first list that they are currently doing.

Facilitate the team to go through the list created in Step 1. and ask, “Is there any chance that we are doing something which resembles this item in any shape or form? Remind the team that honesty is the key here. Set a time-box for 10 minutes for this section.

Step 3 : For each item in the second list, ask the team to identify the first steps they can take to stop the corresponding unwanted activity/item.

Now that you know what is creating undesirable results, for each item in the second list, you can do two things:-

  1. Invert the negative item to arrive at the attribute of a high performing team.
  2. Discuss and decide what first or next steps will allow you to stop this item (creating undesirable results).

Set a time-box for 10 minutes for this section as well.

Tip: You can also use the above exercise to design your Team Agreement.

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