Self-Organizing Teams: Asking Questions to Solve Problems

QuestionsOne of the difficult things about being a Scrum Master is encouraging your teams to be self-organising.  What makes it difficult is that, at first, it seems easier just to provide the teams with solutions to their problems.  But just like the teach-a-man-to-fish analogy, in the long run things will be much easier for everyone if you teach your team to solve their own problems where they can.  Your team won’t have to rely on your for solutions (what if you’re sick? what if you get run over by a bus?) and you will have more time to consider the problems which are more Scrum Master specific.

One technique that I like to use to encourage team members to look to themselves for answers is a variation of a theatre sports game I used to play in high school.  In this game everyone must carry out a conversation speaking purely in questions.  The first person to say something that isn’t a question loses.  This game is usually quite rushed but when using it to bring out solutions from another person, consider everything they say carefully before asking them a question.  Often just pausing to think can create pregnant pauses that the other person feels they need to fill, and in filling them they may happen upon the solution.

This is a variation on what is known as Active Listening.  If you are active listening you repeat what you have just heard in different words to confirm what you just heard and that everyone has the same understanding of the problem.  Often just putting a problem into words can make the solution more apparent, especially if you hear someone re-phrase the problem from their perspective.

If your team is new to self-organising then you need to find the balance, challenge your team members just the right amount.  You don’t set them up to fail, especially early on when they are developing their confidence in problem solving.  Start them off with the easy problems and build them up.

Sometimes your team will be frustrated with your lack of solutions, especially if you have a history of solving all their problems for them in the past.  Try to remember that it’s really about the long term effectiveness of your team and not about your ability to be a super hero.

Related Books:

Humble Inquiry
Edgar H Schein
The Servant

James C Hunter
Just Listen

Mark Goulston
Managers As Mentors
Chip R Bell
Marshall Goldsmith

Categories: Continuous Improvement

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