When a team is first brought together to accomplish a specific purpose, the world is full of possibility. The team is usually energetic and excited by their own potential. Unfortunately, that energy doesn’t always last forever. It’s normal for teams to encounter issues and roadblocks that bring down morale. Especially in agile software development, it can be common for teams to take heavy hits when working in organizations that don’t understand or trust how agile works. Recovering from those losses and regaining momentum can be hard, but not impossible. If you’re a Scrum Master, here’s how you can help the team find the sunny side of work life again.
One of the questions used on the Gallup Q12 survey to determine employee engagement asks employees if it is evident that someone at work cares about them. That’s a powerful question with interesting implications about the role of a Scrum Master in regards to motivation. Often, people just want to be heard.
When things aren’t going so hot for your team, schedule some time for them (as a whole or on an individual basis) to sit down and talk about what’s going on. Allowing people a safe space to get their frustrations off of their chests without judgement will make them feel appreciated and relieve some of the stress that occurs when things aren’t going as planned. As a bonus, it will give you an opportunity to take note of the roadblocks that the team is encountering so that you can tackle them later.
In Scrum, you’ll recognize that this “venting” can occur naturally within the very important Retrospective event, which is also the perfect place to try out our next tip.
Problem Solve Together
Another finding from the Gallup survey is that employees want to be included in decision making. They want their opinions to matter. But this isn’t just about making the team feel valued—it’s also sound business advice. The people doing the work on the team are always going to have the most knowledge about the factors that play into roadblocks and potential solutions.
When your team runs into a brick wall blocking their progress, ask for their advice on how to tear it down or work around it. As a Scrum Master, it’s your job to remove impediments from the team, but that doesn’t mean that you should do it in a vacuum. Getting the team involved in problem solving gives them agency over a part of their jobs that they likely feel has been taken out of their hands. It also reignites that creative passion and ownership of the project.
Part of the Scrum Retrospective is working as a team to create a game plan to improve on something that didn’t go well in the previous Sprint. Use it as an opportunity to kickstart that motivation again.
Take a Break
It’s a well-known fact that being stressed and overworked leads to burnout, loss of productivity, and less creativity. This is especially true when it feels like you’re repeatedly running into a wall with no progress. Sometimes, your team is going to need to hit the reset button. In this case, it may be vital to just take a break.
In Scrum, there are no gaps between Sprints. So how do you allow the team time to recharge while staying true to the framework? The answer will be different for every team. If you can interrupt your work day without compromising your Sprint goal, try going out for a long team lunch or letting the team leave early one day. If you can’t make time during the work day, consider an after work or weekend activity that allows the team to come together and have fun in a stress-free environment. This will help the team bond and decompress, which should leave everyone feeling refreshed and ready to tackle problems at work again.
Remind the Team of the Vision
When you’re in the midst of a storm, it’s easy to lose sight of where you were headed in the first place. This is especially true when the team is embroiled in project work and things are getting tough. Sometimes it’s necessary to take it back to basics and remind everyone (including yourself) what you’re doing this for.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that you should start talking about increased profits and company growth. No one wants to hear about how they’re helping to put more money in the CEO’s pockets. Instead, focus on how the item or feature you’re working on will benefit others. How will it make the world a better place? The Gallup Q12 study suggests that one of the factors in employee engagement is the knowledge that what they’re doing is important. People want to know that their work is making a positive impact.
This is a perfect time to partner with your Product Owner to bring in some truly inspiring facts about just how important the work is. Together, the two of you can remind the team of the product vision and reinspire them to get back to work.
Putting It All Together
There will always be times when a team loses motivation due to difficult setbacks on a project. If every project went as smoothly as possible every time, we wouldn’t have created an entire industry around figuring out how to manage them effectively. The important thing to remember is that nothing is unfixable. Along with the tips presented above, try having a round table with the team about what’s going well on the project rather than focusing on the negative. Get your hands dirty by digging in and helping with some of the work if you’re able to. And finally, try to work with the team or your organization to find a quick win that you can accomplish easily, and then make it happen in order to regain some momentum. With a little bit of effort and understanding, you’ll have your team chugging along again in no time.