How to Build and Motivate Your Scrum Team: Part 2

How to Build and Motivate Your Scrum Team: Part 2

Rugby Team

In part one of this article, we took into consideration the group’s past project experience and focused on laying a foundation for shaping this group into a Scrum team. We addressed how we made the initial logical and emotional connection with the group and took the first steps in empowering them. 

We now continue the journey and discuss how to build on this foundation as we guide a team through the adoption of the Scrum practices.

My Sprint Cycle

I always use the two-week sprint cycle for my teams unless circumstances dictate otherwise. However, I structure the sprint cycle with one preparation day (also known as a lag day) and nine working days. The preparation day is the first day of sprint, where I schedule the sprint review, followed by the retrospective in the morning and sprint planning in the afternoon. 

The reason for this is that it better ensures the retrospective is done regularly. The retrospective is your primary tool for building this group into a team and helping the team to continuously improve. 

But, I have often seen situations where the retrospective fell into disuse because the team felt they were behind in their work and didn’t have time to spare. I’ve also discovered that since the team is doing something entirely different for the day, it provides them a mental break from the rigors of the nine working days.

The Journey Line

Since the first sprint does not require conducting the sprint review or retrospective, I generally utilize this time to conduct a journey line exercise as described in Lyssa Adkins' book: “Coaching Agile Teams.”   

I have each person draw a journey line of their career on a large sticky pad sheet. I ask them to start at whatever point they want to and take it to the present day. If they ask for suggestions, I generally tell them to start with high school, college or a point in their life when first they developed an interest in IT. However, before I ask them to do their own journey line, I first share my own journey.

The intention of this exercise is to learn about the skills, experience and knowledge they garnered along the way and share what they bring to the team. They are given about 20 minutes to complete their journey lines and then place it up on the wall. Then each person will talk about their journey with the group.

While each person is presenting, I have the rest of the team take notes on the skills, experience or knowledge most relevant to the current team's work. At end of each presentation, each person in the audience will then read aloud their notes and stick them up on the presenter’s journey line.

At the end of this session, I ask them to come up with a team name and avatar that the whole team can agree upon, and we finalize their decision during our first retrospective. I feel that a team identity is critical to the team-building process. Once a name is chosen, from then on, I always address them by their team name.

The purpose of this exercise is the next step in their transition from a group of people who merely work together to a real team that knows the value each team member brings. It also gives them an opportunity to think outside their technical box and talk about why they like what they do, how they got there and perhaps where they see themselves going. Essentially, it’s to further build the emotional connections within the team and with their coach or Scrum Master.

The exercise also provides some insights as to what motivates each team member and what may motivate the team. It is important to remember that motivation is done on a team level and on an individual level. I use the journey line information for each member as a guide for motivation and to aid them in the adoption of agile practices on an individual basis.

Sprint Planning

Sprint planning is where you show the team you’re serious about breaking away from the detrimental waterfall work patterns and empowering them to take ownership of the work. Using my sprint cycle as a reference, I limit team member capacity to 54 hours for project work per sprint. The limit is based on the concept of the ideal day being six hours.

The remaining time is used for backlog grooming sessions and a buffer to account for the fact that an estimate is not a certainty. I also allot four hours for sprint planning to allow them sufficient time to carefully plan. I want them to understand that sprint planning is all about planning for a sustainable pace and that the team as a whole is responsible for the success of the sprint. 

There is nothing more motivating for a team than completing all their stories in the sprint as a team and being able to do it consistently. The fact that they plan their work and then succeed reinforces not only teamwork, but also a sense of pride that can only be found in having ownership of the work.


The retrospective is not only about continuing improvement, it is also an opportunity to start empowering the team. In the confines of the safe and blame–free environment of the retrospective, I use the first two sprint retrospectives to give them the opportunity to tell me what went well and what didn’t go well.

I create three columns on the wall titled “Stop,” “Start” and “Keep.” Using sticky notes, I have everybody write one thought per sticky note and have them place each one in the appropriate column. Upon completion, the team then eliminates any duplicate notes. 

Moving forward I then open the discussion with the “Keep” list items to confirm with the team that these are practices we should keep doing. Next, we review the “Start” list and the “Stop” list items together to see if there is any correlation between the items in both lists. In other words, there may be a practice in the “Start” list that automatically eliminates a corresponding practice in the “Stop” list if we choose to implement that practice.

The important items will generally show up in both columns, confirming that they represent priority issues for the team. I then ask the team to select two items for action and come up with a quick plan to resolve them during the next sprint and report on progress in the next retrospective.

The purpose of this exercise is to show the team that when they have an issue, it is not only heard, but they can also take part in how it’s resolved. They are empowered to make their work environment better. The information gathered from these two retrospectives provides the basis for many improvements that can be taken on during future sprints, and frees up time in future retrospectives for exploration into other areas.

Another exercise, which I do during every retrospective, is the “note of appreciation.” I ask each team member to take one or two sticky notes and write down how another team member helped them out during the sprint. After everybody is finished, we go around the table and each team member reads their note aloud and hands it to that team member.

The purpose of the note of appreciation exercise is to show that while outside of the team, they will always be recognized by their team name for their successes, inside the team, we will always take time to recognize our teammates.


We continued our team building with a journey line exercise, using it to introduce the team members to each other. They learned about each other’s history and then acknowledged each person’s skills and the value that each brings to the team.

In doing so, we increased the individual comfort level that comes from being part of a team. We also talked about the importance of having a team identity to foster a sense of belonging.

We then moved to sprint planning where they were told the “what” and “why” that was needed and gave them the opportunity to determine “how” it was to be accomplished. We set reasonable boundaries by determining the team’s real capacity, thereby setting the stage for them to plan for success rather than putting them in a situation that was doomed to failure.

In doing so, we not only empowered them, but also gave an opportunity to take ownership of the work and an opportunity take pride in their success.

In the retrospective, we showed that it’s OK to fail (what didn’t go well) because we learn more from failures than we do from our successes, and when we resolve a failure, that success is all the sweeter.

They also learned that recognition comes in two forms:

  1. Recognition for being part of a successful team
  2. Recognition for your work by people who really know your value

In the end, team building and motivation are all about people and how we regard one another. 


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

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