Introducing Changes to Your Team

Introducing Changes to Your Team

paper boat leads small paper boats

Joining a new team always brings new challenges to both the team and the Scrum Master. The Scrum Master will be always seeking to introduce new ideas and improve the performance and collaboration within the team. Often, he or she will experience some resistance from the team, which is completely normal given that the team is used to working in a set way.

The first thing the Scrum Master needs to keep in mind is that any change, regardless of how small it is, might take the team back to the forming phase if not handled carefully. 

Beyond the apparent behavior of team members, there is an emotional turmoil as well which was described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her work for helping terminally ill patients. She called this turmoil the Five Stages of Grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This model could be also be used to help you, as a change agent, to understand where your team members stand and how to react at each stage.

Jason Little used this model in his book “Lean Change Management,” and I will present it on a smaller team scale rather than an organizational scale.

kubler-ross change curve

For each of these emotional stages, you’ll need to behave differently to help the team accept and adopt the new approach you introduced.

  • Create Alignment: You owe the team an explanation. Why are we introducing this change? What are the benefits? How will this change help the team perform better? These are the questions you’ll need to answer to get the team’s buy-in and motivation for the change.
  • Maximize Communication: Try to eliminate doubts and be proactive. Ask the team members over a coffee or lunch about their thoughts on the new change. Try to talk to them as much as possible to clarify what might be puzzling them about the change.
  • Spark Motivation: People are different: what motivates one person might be a demotivator for another. Try to understand each person in the team and strive to find the proper motivation each person needs in order to adopt the change. Maybe you can ask one of them to join an agile meetup or a talk addressing the topic to see the impact and benefit from peers in the industry.
  • Develop Capability: Give the team time to experiment with the new approach. You should pick only a few stories for two sprints to give them space for experimentation, allow them to acquire the needed skills or simply practice the new approach.
  • Share Knowledge: Encourage the team to share their story with other teams in the organization and at events they attend. This can give them a sense of accomplishment as well as satisfaction.

Introducing change is not an easy journey, but the reward is worth the trouble. Don’t be afraid to introduce new ideas and adopt new practices. Your major goal as a Scrum Master is to keep the team continually improving, and this won’t happen by always doing the same things in the same way.

What is the latest change you introduced to your team? How successful was it? I would like to hear about your experience in the comments section below.


Islam Kotb Ismail (PMP, CSM, CSPO) is a senior agile project manager and Scrum Master at Wirecard Technologies GmbH in Munich, Germany.

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