Scrum Master: The Skilled Facilitator

Roger Schwarz, in his 2002 book “The Skilled Facilitator”, defines the facilitation of a group as “a process in which a person whose selection is acceptable to all members of the group, who is substantively neutral, and who has no substantive decision-making authority diagnoses and intervenes to help a group improve how it identifies and solves problems and makes decisions, to increase the group’s effectiveness.”

Based on this definition, Schwarz created the “skilled facilitator” model. We can use the model created by Schwarz to describe and justify a few characteristics we expect from a Scrum Master in his work alongside the Development Team and the Product Owner – which, together with the Scrum Master himself, make up the Scrum Team. In particular, I adopt here the approach in which the facilitator teaches the team to improve its working processes and depend less and less on him, something Schwarz calls “developmental facilitation”. In this and the following posts, I’m going to detail each of the following elements in relation to the Scrum Master as a facilitator:

  • the Scrum Master is neutral, the theme of this post;
  • the Scrum Master enables the team to increase its effectiveness;
  • the Scrum Master enables the team to increase its autonomy;
  • the Scrum Master isn’t an intermediary or representative;
  • the Scrum Master is a specialist of processes, not content.


The Scrum Master is neutral

The Scrum Master as a facilitator is a sufficiently neutral person whose objective is to increase the responsibility and capacity of the group in resolving its own problems. So he doesn’t interfere directly in the content of the group’s discussions. Preferably, in order for this neutrality to be possible, nor does the Scrum Master fulfill the role of being a member of the Development Team or Product Owner, who have their own opinions and interests and are thereby invariably partial.

A decision-making situation can quickly expose partiality by a Scrum Master who is also a member of the team, undermining his capacity to act as a facilitator. Imagine a team’s opinions are divided and the facilitator-team member takes one side or another. How well do you think the other side, with an differing opinion to the facilitator, will deal with this? Conflict situations involving the facilitator-team member, which do invariably arise, can be even more problematic, since he is unavoidably partial and unable to act as a facilitator to resolve the matter. I understand that many find themselves in this situation of dividing the role of a Scrum Master with, mostly, that of a Development Team member. Although as I’ve described here, this situation is far from ideal, it is the departure point for many starting to work with Scrum. The advice I’d give is to work together with other Scrum Masters to help the organization better understand the role’s importance and the whole field of activity so that they can change this scenario.

Want to know more about Scrum?

SCHWARZ, R. _The skilled facilitator_: a comprehensive resource for consultants, facilitators, managers, trainers and coaches. 2. ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.


Foto de Rafael Sabbagh
Rafael Sabbagh

Rafael Sabbagh, cofounder at Knowledge21 and member of the Scrum Alliance Board of Directors between 2015 and 2017, is a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) by Scrum Alliance and an Accredited Kanban Trainer by Kanban University. As an Executive, he has extensive experience in Product Management...


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