Updated with new information on March 8, 2021.

Contents of this blog post:

If the output of a great Product Owner is a great product, the output of a great ScrumMaster is a great team.

Creating a great (that is, maximum outcomes) team is the ultimate goal of any ScrumMaster. To do this, you need a couple things…

  1. You need to understand what YOU need to do to create a great team
  2. You need to understand how great teams come together.

You can learn a lot of the skills that follow in Artisan Agility’s Advanced ScrumMastering course for ScrumMasters. If you’re a leader in an organization, you will really want to check out Artisan Agility’s The Leadership Edge Training System (more at the bottom of this post).

Creating a Great Team

  • Inspire– teams shouldn’t be pushed to do something. They need to WANT to work because the team is “on a mission” and what the team is doing is of great importance.
  • Address conflict quickly and directly– facilitate discussion to resolve conflict; reduce competition and increase cooperation.
  • Set the bar high– continually encourage your team to accomplish more; anyone can be average, encourage your team to be great.
  • Communicate – repeat the vision again and again. Keep your team focused on the stated goals (i.e., Sprint goals) and remove distractions and other shiny objects.
  • Be Trustworthy – support your team; go to bat for them. Defend when necessary, sell the team merits when possible. Understand what your team is trying to accomplish and always be ready with what they need next to get it done. Here’s an example of what NOT to do when demonstrating trust with your teams.

How Great Teams Come Together


Drexler/Sibbet suggests steps the teams goes through as they mature and even things that must be accomplished to move the team to the next step.

  • Team Creation Steps
    • Orientation (why am I here?) – team needs purpose, identity, membership and works to resolve disorientation, uncertainty, and fear.
      • In Scrum, we recommend that teams create a team name and even a mascot. But, more importantly, teams should have a purpose (compelling vision). It should be desirable to be on the team.
    • Trust Building (who are you?) – team needs mutual regard, forthrightness, reliability and works to resolve caution, mistrust, and facade
      • Teamwork cannot happen without respect and openness (two of the five Scrum values).
    • Goal Clarification (what are we doing?) – team needs explicit assumptions, clear integrated goals, shared vision and works to resolve apathy, skepticism, and individual agendas/competition.
      • Scrum is built to provide clear goals and a shared vision. Product Owners create and communicate that shared vision and the goals are set by the entire team during Sprint Planning. These goals are revisited by the Development team with every Daily Scrum.
  • Commitment (how will we do it?) – team needs roles, resources, decisions made and works to resolve dependence and resistance.
    • Commitment is also one of the five Scrum values. Everyone on the team needs to be fully engaged. Likewise, the Agile principles talk about “Give [the team] the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done.”
  • Team Sustaining Steps
    • Implementation (who does what, when, where?) – team needs clear processes, alignment, disciplined execution and works to resolve conflict, non-alignment, and missed deadlines.
      • Daily Scrums help to align who, what, and when every day of the Sprint.
      • Scrum teams also engage in retrospectives following every Sprint with the primary focus on how the team works and how to improve.
      • High Performance (WOW!) – team needs spontaneous interaction, synergy surpassing results and works to resolve overload and disharmony.
        • Scrum sets the stage for high-performance. Spontaneous interaction is often grown by improving collaboration during the Sprint and the result is often significant improvements in performance.
        • Renewal (why continue?) – team needs recognition, change mastery, staying power and works to resolve boredom and burnout.
          • Once high-performing, a team should be regularly exposed to new ideas, new goals, and even new team members.

Tuckman Model of Team Development

By far the most popular most well-known is a simplified model where the team goes through five general stages of development:

  • Forming – team members get to know each other; ground rules are set
  • Storming – team members communicate, but still see themselves as individuals rather than part of a team; boundaries are tested; leadership by team members is resisted.
  • Norming – team members are starting to see themselves as part of a team and realize that not only can they disagree, but they can benefit from disagreement to get work done.
  • Performing – team members are open and trusting; flexibility is key, and hierarchy is unimportant.
  • Adjourning – assessment, transition, recognition of team members.

Wheelan Integrated Model of Group Development

Wheelan Integrated Model of Group Development is a model built by integrating other models, trying to get the best from each. Wheelan’s model has stages:

  • Stage 1: Dependency and Inclusion – team is dependent on someone to provide direction and individuals members are seeking some evidence of inclusion onto the team.
  • Stage 2: Counter-Dependency and Fight – inclusion onto the team has led to concerns of illegitimate leadership, inconsistent direction, unclear goals and vision. Team members experience significant conflict with one another.
  • Stage 3: Trust/Structure – direction has been clarified, goals and vision described; team members are beginning to trust one another.
  • Stage 4: Work/Productivity – collaboration has led to productivity and effectiveness.
  • Stage 5: Final – the team is to be dissolved; some disruption and conflict will result; recognition is important at this stage.
  • You might notice a VERY close alignment with Tuckman’s model. Stage 1 sounds a lot like “Forming,” stage 2, a lot like “Storming,” etc.

Cog’s Ladder of Group Development

Cog’s Ladder of Group Development is a model with five stages that teams can traverse on their way to performing well together.

  • Polite stage – team is getting acquainted, structure is being implemented
  • Why We’re Here stage – objectives and goals are defined, team identity is low
  • Power stage – team members attempting to influence others, competition for attention and recognition occurs
  • Cooperation stage – team members become more cohesive; openness and trust are established.
  • Esprit de Corps stage – team members accept one another, high degree of team loyalty

No matter what model you prefer, all of the model provide excellent guidance for what you as a ScrumMaster should be trying to do (we’ll use the Tuckman model):

  • Forming– provide direction as appropriate (don’t manage…DO lead); help establish clear objectives
  • Storming – help establish processes and structures; help build trust and good relationships; resolve conflicts swiftly; remain positive.
  • Norming – help team members take responsibility for progress toward the goal.
  • Performing – lighten your touch; do only what is necessary to support your team.
  • Adjourning – celebrate, recognize achievements

What You Need To Do

The reason this is SO important is that productivity is associated with the “normalizing and productivity stages” of the various models (Drexler – Commitment, Implementation, and High Performance, Tuckman – Norming and Performing, Wheelan – Stage 3 Trust and Stage 4 Productivity, and Cog’s Cooperation Stage). Your job as a ScrumMaster is to help your team achieve these stages in these models and sustain them as long as is reasonable and necessary.

What can YOU do?

  • Establish ground rules– these rules help the team work through day-to-day activities (e.g., how to make decisions, what to do if someone is late, etc).
  • Make sure everyone understands everyone else’s capabilities– help everyone on the team learn what everyone else is capable of.
  • Make sure everyone understands the team’s capacity– knowing how much your team is capable of doing is the best way to ensure that the team never knowingly over-commits.
  • Encourage intense collaboration– highly effective Agile teams are characterized by intense collaboration; team members “gang-up” on Product Backlog Items, bringing all of their knowledge and capability together (rather than attacking things one skill at a time as if we were running an assembly line).
  • Look at failure as a positive– teams that are willing to fail are willing to try new things and experiment.
  • Keep your team small – Scrum limits teams to a maximum of 12 members (1 ScrumMaster, 1 Product Owner, 10 on the Development Team). Larger teams are less able to work collaboratively.
  • Keep your work-in-progress (WIP) low – Teams work best when they work on a few different PBIs at the same time. Most teams should set their WIP limit to 2 PBIs (occasionally three when the circumstances require).
  • Keep your work items small– Teams can work more effectively and will produce higher quality results when the complexity of their work items (PBIs) is low. This is most effectively achieved by simply ensuring that no PBI is so complex that your team will need more than a few days to complete the work.
  • Try to ensure your development team is dedicated – no, Scrum doesn’t require full time team members, but when team members switch between multiple teams, productivity is the first victim.
  • Help your development team be cross-functional– Agile teams have all the skills they need to get the job done. When teams are built along skills (for example, “coding team,” a “testing team”), no team is capable of delivering software to the customer and rarely can multiple teams do it quickly enough to satisfy the principles of agile software development.
  • Encourage situational leadership – leadership on an Agile team is a fluid thing. While the Product Owner (or Customer) will tend to provide product leadership, development leadership (how the team works, determines solutions, builds products) is best when different team members step up to the challenge at different times.
  • Communicate Openly – if there’s a problem on an Agile team, team members should discuss it freely and immediately and solve the problem.

Here’s an example of a leadership failure you should definitely try to avoid.

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Sprint Goals – How a Small Thing Makes a BIG Difference

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