Rotating facilitation in Agile ceremonies is game-changing

Photo by Leon on Unsplash

I’ve been a Scrum Master for 7 years at many different organisations, and recently I feel like I’ve been doing something wrong the whole time — I have been the sole facilitator during all ceremonies.

The Scrum Master is a facilitator, but not always the only facilitator. The Scrum Guide says “the Scrum Master serves the Scrum Team in several ways, including ensuring that all Scrum events take place and are positive, productive, and kept within the timebox”. So by doing this, we are facilitating even when we are not “facilitating”. In fact the only actual reference to facilitation in the Scrum Guide is “the Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways, including facilitating stakeholder collaboration as requested or needed.”

So, what’s the deal? Well, I’ve recently joined a really great organisation that is quite mature in its Agile culture, and the individual team members are very experienced and advanced Agile practitioners. The teams rotate facilitation of the daily Standups, and pitch in with the other ceremonies too.

This was a huge revelation to me, and I’m almost embrassed about it! Why hadn’t I ever done this before? Sure, I’d thought about it and even broached the subject with previous teams, but I was in different organisations which clearly didn’t have the same level of Agile understanding and mindset.

The benefits though are huge and wide-reaching. There are clear benefits to the team themselves, most obviously that it truly nurtures self-organisation and self-management. It also helps breaks down the “not my job” syndrome and naturally encourages teamwork in other areas as individuals progress towards thinking about the Sprint Goal as a whole. I’ve noticed the increase in engagement too as the brain focuses on a different person each day, and the variety also helps keep the meetings from merging into the last one. Another fringe benefit is in helping teams prepare for the Scrum Master’s absence, be that sickness, holidays or clashes with other important meetings.

As a Scrum Master we also get to share these benefits, like being able to step back and monitor the Agile behaviours of the team and ensuring processes are followed. This also helps encourage the team not to direct their updates to the Scrum Master or Product Owner and to actually update each other on what they’re working on. I have personally gained from this as I’ve experienced slight differences in others’ techniques in different ceremonies. If like me you get conscious of the sound of your own voice, filling silences or just generally talking too much, then having others facilitate is wonderful for your anxiety!

Having sold this (not new) idea successfully, I can hear you beating on the door to find out how to incorporate it into your teams. First off, don’t spring this on them, not matter how progressive/experienced they are. I’d really recommend bringing this up during a Retrospective and asking the team if they’d be OK with trialling it for the next Sprint, maybe limiting it to just Standups at first.

There are some great tools available to help, below are a few I’ve used:

  • Eeny is a great bot for Slack, which randomly selects a user from a defined group to be that facilitator.
  • Miro is a very useful online whiteboard, and allows simultaneous collaboration from all users.
  • TeamRetro offers a variety of templates for Retrospectives or use your own custom format, and has the ability to vote, group virtual sticky notes and comment/emoji on input.
  • EasyRetro (formerly FunRetro) is another good (free) online Retrospective tool, offering similar functions.
  • Retromat offers a random Retrospective format generator, with the ability to tweak and choose the different parts.
  • Hatjitsu is an estimating tool for virtual planning poker.

So, I hope this has opened someone’s mind and encourages others to take up this practice, I couldn’t recommend it enough. If nothing else, I hope this helps someone realise that there are still things to learn, and it’s not a bad thing to be humbled every now and then.

Scrum Master on the outside, craft beer and DIY anxiety on the inside