How to Build and Motivate Your Scrum Team: Part 1

How to Build and Motivate Your Scrum Team: Part 1

Rugby Team

“Understand their past so that you can better guide them toward their future.”

As an agile coach or Scrum Master, at one time or another, we have all faced the situation of introducing Scrum to a new team or turning around a Scrum team that has lost its way. I feel that the old saying about Scrum that “the concept is simple, it’s the execution that is hard” is referring to those two situations.

In either situation, the first thing you need to do is start from or go back to the beginning and treat these teams as if they were a new group of people.

You need to keep in mind that most core team members either come from:

  1. A Waterfall environment where they were subjected to unrealistic deadlines, long work hours and their expert opinion ignored or never fully leveraged
  2. An agile environment that was agile in name only where the product owner and Scrum Master operated with Waterfall’s mentality, and the benefits that come from working on real a Scrum team were never realized.

Thus, calling a group of people a team, even if they have worked together before, does not necessarily make them a team. A team is composed of members that know through experience the value and the level of commitment that each team member brings to the team. This is something that does not happen overnight. It’s a journey that you and the team take together.

As an agile coach or Scrum Master, you need to connect with your team on a logical and emotional level. The logical level stems from your knowledge of Scrum and how well you transfer that knowledge to your team. The emotional level stems from the trust you build with the team and within the team as you guide them through the adoption of the Scrum framework and they come realize its benefits.

The First Step

The first step in the journey is level-setting the team through training. To make the logical connection, I want them to know what I know.

As part of my own continuing improvement, I’ve put together training slide decks for the Scrum Master, the product owner and the core team roles, which I use to ensure that they gain that all-important shared understanding of the Scrum roles and associated responsibilities.

I also find these training decks to be useful for bringing new members up to speed when changes occur within the team, and I continue to update them as I encounter new and better ways to express ideas.

The Second Step

The second step is to help them to decide what kind of team they really want to become and is where I lay the groundwork for building a team and starting to make the emotional connection. So, it is here that I ask them to tell me their thoughts on what makes a great team.

For this exercise, I have them write one thought per Post-It note and when finished, put them on the board. I often use Post-It notes to ensure full participation, especially from the less-vocal members in the group.

Once complete, we rack and stack the notes into three to five categories. Based on the number of categories, each member receives the same number of votes and is asked to go up to the board and select those thoughts on the board they feel are the most important characteristics of great team.

After the votes are tallied, we take the winning thoughts and turn them into value statements that are positive and mean same thing to everyone in the group.

The following is a sample of some actual team value statements:

  • Sharing knowledge and information freely and openly among team members.
  • Putting the team first and the willingness to do any task necessary to reach each sprint goal.
  • Asking for help when you need it and without delay, and helping others when they need help or when you find yourself with spare time.
  • Taking the time to listen, understand and respect your teammates’ opinions and views.

I have been in many team spaces over the years where I’ve seen team values expressed using single words such as “responsibility,” “commitment,” “trust,” “respect,” etc. and find it sadly lacking because if I don’t know what the word “respect” means to the team, how can one expect those team members to know?

And if that is indeed the case, does this team really know what kind of team they really want to become?

However, when you look at the team value statements mentioned above, there is no question about what that team thinks it takes to be a great team. I would also like point out that value team statements are not a one-time exercise where you are done after you print it out and post it in the team’s space.

This is a tool you will use from time to time in your retrospectives where you might ask the team, “Did we as team live up to a specific team value during this sprint?” … or to remind them what kind of team they want to become. You might also add or adjust a team value statement as the result of what the team learned during a sprint.

The Third Step

The third step is to have this group of people come together to decide how they want to organize their workday. This is what I call a “team agreement,” an example of which is shown below.

  • Business Hours: 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
  • Daily Standup: 9:40 a.m. – 9:55 a.m.
  • Coding Hours: 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Mid-Sprint Check: Sprint Day 5

Business hours is the timeframe that the team agrees everyone should be on the premises. The daily standup time is when the team agrees to meet and plan their work for the day. Core hours are generally used for the team to engage with others. Coding hours is a period where the team is not to be disturbed so they can focus on work.

And, the mid-sprint check is the point in the sprint cycle where the team reviews the task board to determine if they are still on track to complete all the stories, and if not, how to adjust their work strategy to get back on track.


With this process, we take into consideration the group’s past project experience and focus on laying down a foundation for shaping this group of people into a team.

We start off making a logical connection by explaining the Scrum framework roles and responsibilities for every person in the group so that they now know what the job entails. We then engage them to tell us what they think makes a great team.

We ask them what is most important to each of them, and then assist them in creating their value statements, thereby making that first emotional connection. In the last step, we take our first opportunity to empower them by asking to self-organize their workday.

In Part 2 of this article, we will continue the journey and discuss how we further build on this foundation we laid out in Part 1 as we guide a team through the adoption of the Scrum framework. 


Jim Sywilok is an agile practitioner and agile coach with more than 25 years of progressive technical and business experience.

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