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Dynamics of X and Y for ScrumMasters

4 October 2017

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” — W. Edwards Deming

In my ScrumMaster role, managing the expectations of my team members requires dexterity. As ScrumMasters, we need to manage the morale of our team and support members in becoming a high-performing group. Each team member is unique, with his or her own separate value system, motivations, and beliefs. And yet, as an orchestral conductor, we must provide real-time guidance and leadership to a group of individuals who come together to create something that not any one of them could create alone.

Based on my experience, managing expectations is easier said than done because, as a conductor, the ScrumMaster must also be aware of the capabilities, inclinations, and aspirations of every team member. So, is managing expectations an impossible feat? Absolutely not. ScrumMasters must develop a deep understanding of what motivates each member, in order to create synergy within the team. Luckily, extensive work has been done in the field of organizational behavior, and the most relevant (open to debate) and simplistic (probably yes) involves Theory X and Theory Y.

Theory X and Theory Y

In 1960, Douglas McGregor (from MIT Sloan School of Management) formulated Theory X and Theory Y, to describe two aspects of human behavior at work. He proposed two different perspectives of individuals: Theory X took a pessimistic view of human behavior, in that people are inherently lazy and need to be pushed to achieve better productivity with rewards and punishments. On the other hand, Theory Y proposes that people take pride in their work and see it as a challenge.

The approach that a ScrumMaster takes will have a significant impact on his or her ability to motivate team members. So, by understanding how our perceptions motivate the team, we can shape team dynamics and, ultimately, the team performance.

The ScrumMaster’s view: Theory X or Theory Y?

Agile software development is a natural subset of Theory Y thinking, because the Agile method of software development is linked to this theory’s style of resource management. Agile is built on the tenets of open communication and collaboration by recommending equality in the team. It promotes a flat structure whereby people from different functions of the organization are able to come together and cocreate a product. Scrum enables teams to be self-organized and set their pace without enforcing deadlines. Teams share the responsibility of the outcome of their efforts without primal fear of consequences. Scrum Teams derive great pride and satisfaction in their work and are willing to take on greater challenges over time.

The ScrumMaster, as a process champion, must understand the impacts of his or her perceptions and should be a believer in teamwork. If the ScrumMaster is a proponent of Theory X, then this belief can open a whole can of worms for any Agile transformation. The ScrumMaster’s perception may alienate specialists through micromanagement and could put a serious dent in the level of teamwork. The product leadership has a greater role to play in such circumstances by facilitating proper training and the gradual shift of Theory X individuals toward Theory Y thinking.

ScrumMasters, by the virtue of their role, hold the key to enabling a conducive system in which the Agile team thrives. So if an organization is on the path to being Agile, setting up an empowering environment is a must for reaping the benefits of Agile.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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