Retrospectives. When Facilitating. Facilitate. Don’t Participate.

As a ScrumMaster when you are “running” a retrospective it is easy to fall into the trap of actively participating in it. It is extremely difficult to do this well (if not impossible), because your role should be as a facilitator not a participant. The minute you start participating you are no longer neutral and severely impact your ability to effectively facilitate.

Sometimes the need to take advantage of coaching moment or provide input is too great. One way to handle this is let the group know you are taking your facilitator hat off for a moment and acting as a coach or a participant to briefly add the input and then put your facilitator hat back on. This should be used sparingly and know that it will greatly affect your ability to be seen as neutral. However, it will at least signal to the participants your understanding that a facilitator should not be a participant. Clear boundaries are good.

A way to prevent frustration (and burn out) is to not be the one always facilitating the retrospective. Ask another scrum master to switch it up with you. Ask a team member if they want a turn. They might just surprise you.

5 Comments

  1. I second that completely.

    The best is to have someone completely neutral as a facilitator. Even as a scrum master facilitating a retrospective for your own team, you and the team have already created biases toward each other. Even if you try to act neutral you probably aren’t neutral.

    Also having different people facilitating retros is also a nice way to keep them fresh. Even if I personally vary the exercises as much as possible when facilitating all the retros end up looking like “me”. I can’t escape my own personality.

    Also making team members take turn is also another way to teach them to take responsibility and help the team grow to a totally self organizing state.

    The best scrum masters render themselves complete useless over time 🙂

    -Piet

  2. Hi Derek, as a project manager managing an Agile team, and a cross functional team member (analysis, testing), this is one reason I have always resisted doing full scrum – I just can’t see myself enjoying the scrum master role with guidelines like this. I believe I’m a valuable part of the team, and participate in all retrospectives as well as running them. If being a scrum master means not participating, it’s definitely not a role is ever like to fulfill (or be any good at). Do you see a lot of resistance from project managers moving to a scrum master role, and if so, do you notice any common traits among these PMs? Am I just stuck in my ways?! Thanks.

  3. Nothing says the Scrum Master has to run the retrospective. I am simply saying that it is impossible to be an effective facilitator and a participant. It is possible to have someone else facilitate. I do see a lot of PM’s struggling moving into the role. A common trait is relinquishing control and still requiring regular status update like behaviors (usually in standup). Doesn’t sound like you are stuck in your ways as much as you want your contribution on the team to matter. There is nothing wrong with that. I would just suggest rotating facilitator or getting someone outside the team to facilitate on occasion and see if has positive effects.

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