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The Toilet Paper

The effect of servant leadership on the effectiveness of Scrum teams

To what extent do Scrum masters make use of servant leadership and how does this affect teams?

Ash Ketchum
2.B.A. master, servant Scrum master~

In a way, Scrum masters can be seen as so-called servant leaders: a scrum master is the facilitator, coach, and coordinator of a Scrum team, but do not have any formal authority over it. They can help a team become high-performing by promoting adherence to Scrum practices and mediating team processes such as trust and psychological safety.

This week’s paper investigates how Scrum masters make use of servant leadership and how this affects a team’s effectiveness.

A conceptual model

A conceptual research model was developed, which suggests that team performance can be affected by interventions and team processes. Interventions include team composition (team size, adherence to Scrum principles) and servant leadership, while team processes include trust in the Scrum master and psychological safety.

The framework differentiates between cognition-based trust and affect-based trust. The first is based on performance in professional dimensions like competence, reliability, and dependency, whereas the latter is more about emotional bonds with the team and affects psychological safety within the team.

Measuring things

The researchers distributed several standardised questionnaires for servant leadership, trust, and team effectiveness among 93 Scrum team members in South Africa, of which 22 were Scrum masters. They also measured the number of Scrum practices followed (“pureness of Scrum”) by each team, although it is not entirely clear how this was done.

Leadership

Results show that team members generally view their Scrum masters as servant leaders. Cognition- and affect-based trust are both high and strongly correlated with each other and perceived team effectiveness.

Team members reacted positively to Scrum masters who were more than just coaches and facilitators, and also led their teams. Merging the Scrum master and team leader roles may therefore help a team improve even more over time.

Learning

Psychological safety was high in both sub-samples of Scrum masters and regular (non-Scrum master) team members. However, less learning took place in the latter subsample, which implies that organisations should work harder to assist teams in their learning process.

Following Scrum practices

One result was particularly surprising: although existing literature has shown that following Scrum practices leads to improved team effectiveness, results from this study suggest that this is not the case: pureness of Scrum does not significantly correlate with team effectiveness in the non-Scrum master subsample.

In the case of Scrum masters, the researchers even found a moderately negative correlation between pureness of Scrum and team effectiveness, and between pureness of Scrum and psychological safety. The proposed solution for this is better training for Scrum masters.

Summary

  1. Scrum masters can improve how teams work by implementing (more) Scrum practices and taking on a leadership role