Often Asked Question: Can a Scrum Team run without a Scrum Master?

The primary charges of a Scrum Master are as follows:

  1. Be the protector of the team (keep distractions and counter-culture from disrupting their work and time)
  2. Be the champion of both the team and the philosophy (in this case Scrum and the Agile approach)
  3. Be the mediator for the team if differences are not being resolved by the team members themselves

Now ask the following questions:

  1. Is the culture in the company such that the team does not need protection from the org culture to operate properly in a sustainable way (the culture is in good alignment with the agile mindset and philosophy)?
  2. Is the team cross-functional enough, empowered enough, and takes ownership of their work and role enough that they are their own “cheerleaders” and motivators (they prop up, support, educate and motivate each other regularly)?
  3. Is the team dynamic, open, professional, confident, and honest enough that the team self-manages opportunities, conflicts and differences of opinion without the need for a mediator?

If you answered “yes” to all three, you and your environment have evolved past the specific need for a person on the team called the Scrum Master. Your team has now assumed the responsibilities of the Scrum Master role, and as long as they continue to do so and their environment is supportive of their approach, you do not need a separate role to address these three critical areas. I have seen plenty of high-performing teams run without Scrum Masters (I’ve even been on two myself), however everyone of those high-performing teams assumed the responsibility a Scrum Master would have within their team. The team became the Scrum Master for themselves, nearly invisible but very much there. The Scrum Masters in these cases were able to move on to assume new roles within the companies expanding the organizations capabilities.

Remember, frameworks, roles, ceremonies, artifacts, and other elements of any toolkit for adopting new philosophies and techniques are there to help people start the journey successfully and maintain success long enough for the people to become confident with their ability to wield the new elements. They are starting points and guardrails not end states.  Every organization needs to be constantly inspecting itself to see where evolution from current state is valuable and possible…Scrum Masters included.

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